Fertility And Me. #FertilityatWork
The Impact Of Fertility On Your Career.
This week is UK Fertility Week and I am posting every day about it.
Today the theme is #FertilityAtWork
I’m going to tell it like it is. Infertility can affect every aspect of your life: physically, emotionally, romantically, financially, socially — professionally.
Yes I know both men and women suffer from infertility, and both men and women go through the journey together. I am not taking anything away from this whatsoever. My husband suffered terribly. But it is the female partner who goes through the physical aspects of any treatment. As well as any subsequent pregnancy or pregnancy loss. My body took a shoeing in the two-and-a-bit years I went through my fertillty crisis. Not to mention my emotions. Both of which took 5 years to heal properly.
Fertility issues are common. Let’s take, miscarriage for example, an estimated 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in miscarriage.
So if it is common, why do so many people suffer in silence. Not even telling friends, let alone work.
Why? I have a few ideas.
Most people know the impact on a woman’s body, their emotions, their relationships and finances. But not many people really consider the impact of infertility on a woman’s career. It is often overlooked. Yet it shouldn’t be underestimated.
The stress, anxiety and heartbreak associated with fertility issues often negatively impacts on work. Prolonged periods of sickness absence happen. It can take its toll on your work life and seep into your career, whether you want it to or not.
Events are unpredictable. It is pretty tough to stand on a stage delivering a keynote speech to a room full of suppliers and peers about a business critical project 15 mins after you discovered you were miscarrying your 12 week old foetus. I should know.
Telling someone you have miscarried or are going through IVF or are having fertility issues is also like waving a big red flag to announce that your are planning a family. And for many women, this can be a ticket to redundancy or waving goodbye to any promotional opportunities.
Some women quit their jobs altogether. I did. My reward for my sacrifice from my successor was a “history written by the victors” public assault on my tenure in the position I had created for him to step into. Self-serving strategies for personal aggrandissement have no space for humilty in some people it would appear. Imagine being a woman also going through silent fertility issues witnessing this dog-eat-dog rhetoric.
Between 2013 and 2014, I functioned as a well-paid high-flying corporate exec (on the surface at least). Winning industry awards, I was featured in the media as a “Rising Star” of the sector. And interviewed regularly about my ability to lead teams and turn around failing functions.
In reality, I was trapped in a living nightmare. Falling pregnant six times in just over two years, with nothing to show for it.
I have a high capacity for pressure, but the unprecedented stress of my job made everything so much worse.
I was fortunate in that my Boss was very sympathetic about my experiences of multiple reoccurring miscarriage as were my team, picking up the reins on more than one occasion. But I didn’t feel I had anyone with specialist professional expertise to talk to about my true feelings. People have no idea how much I worried about my position, losing credibility, managing the challenges of a very difficult and highly pressurised situation at work whilst battling the overwhelming heartache. (No wonder I call fertility issues ‘the last taboo’!)
I made the difficult choice to quit work to give motherhood one last chance. Naively I thought once I was ready, I would return to work, albeit in a different company, at the same or similar level.
Little did I know it would take me almost three years to emerge back out of the career wilderness.
Post-Baby Identity Crisis
Just before my first round of IVF after I quit my job, I fell pregnant with my daughter. But after taking 12 months’ out of the job market on maternity leave, I’d hit another fertility-related career stumbling block. The post-baby identity crisis. A square peg in a round hole, I was too qualified for middle-management roles. And out of contention for positions at my previous Executive level – never mind a promotion!
(I’m far from alone. The Institute of Fiscal Studies found that mothers who return to the workplace have their chances of promotions and pay rises cut to such an extent that they earn 30 percent less than men following the birth of their child.)
My husband and I are among the one in seven couples in the UK who have difficulty in conceiving or carrying babies to term, either at all or after one or more pregnancies. That’s an awful lot of people who either try and reconcile a shattered heart with the demands of the workplace. Or who go off on sickness absence leave. Both are less than ideal solutions, which can have long-term career implications. It’s little wonder then that, according to one study, 90 percent of infertile women say they regularly feel depressed.
All Is Not Lost
My salvation has been to own my truth and say it out loud: “I am a former senior executive with fertility challenges who has struggled with post-baby identity.”
I have found peace and a new sense of purpose in my new career and my new business passions, which I have carved out for myself, and would not swap anything for the world. However – oh. my. goodness, I really wish I had spoken to someone with a neutral perspective, the right skills and the professional compassion to ask me the right questions and give me the support I needed to navigate those waters in those early days. Those days turned into a few years of career wilderness wandering.
My voice sometimes feels like a lone one. But I am prepared to break that ‘last taboo’; to say the things that others are not used to hearing. If it sounds like I am on a crusade, that’s because I am: to fill the void for credible, compassionate support for women and their partners going through fertility journey challenges and post-baby identity crises.
Advice For Business
- Offer specialist support to women and their partners going through fertility issues.
- Be open in your support for women and their partners, even if it is an ear to listen.
- Educate yourself on the physical and emotional impact of fertility on your employees.
My Wellness Centre combines Eastern and Western philosophies to Health and Wellbeing practices, with a spectrum of Fertility specialist services offered to people going through Fertility. From acupucture to talking therapies we can offer your organisation support.
If what I’ve said has struck a chord with you, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org