Sunday, May 15, 2011

Infertility + Career = ?

Infertility touches every aspect of your life, and your career is no exception. It is incredibly difficult to balance your career and your increasingly more complicated and challenging efforts to become a parent. Ironically, once parenthood is yours, it doesn't exactly simplify your relationship with your career, either. But if you are infertile, those issues come up early and are particularly sticky.

Infertility and Your Schedule
Infertility demands a lot of time, and doesn't give a flying leap about your schedule. Your appointments are often in the early morning, and as frequently as every day or every other day depending on where you are in your cycle and what treatment you're pursuing. Imagine having to come up with a reason to miss work for an hour every other day for week or two, as often as every month. Imagine the added stress of needing to finagle your schedule and keep on top of everything while you are going to get poked with an internal ultrasound wand and stabbed with the blood draw and getting good/bad news about your follicles. Like you can go back to work and be totally present after an appointment like that. But, unfortunately, if you are going through infertility treatment, constant appointments are a necessary evil. You pretty much live at the clinic. For me, the earliest appointments are at 7:00. Unfortunately, since I teach at a high school, I will be late even if I am lucky enough to get a 7:00 appointment.  And I travel, so I start at a different location that has a slightly later start time (if I started at the actual high school I would be REALLY late with a 7 am appointment!). Plus, my clinic is 25 minutes away from my school. It makes it pretty impossible to not have it affect my work. I don't know if it is easier or harder if you work in an office--you need to be away from your desk on a regular basis, so even if your times for doctor's appointments are more flexible, you are still gone an awful lot. And I'm sure it's noticed. 

You Got Some 'Splaining to Do...
It is near impossible to keep the fact that you are doing infertility treatments completely hush-hush at work. At least, if you don't want to look like a major slacker and/or crazy person. All of these doctor's appointments are pretty suspect, especially when they snowball from once a week to twice a week to every other day and then every day as your cycle progresses. And if you do IVF, you'll probably take time off sick for retrieval and rest after transfer. When the procedures for my second IVF took place the week after winter break, I ended up being out for 2 weeks--I stimmed aggressively and was incredibly uncomfortable and unable to really book it down the halls (or even waddle down the halls) by the end, and then I hyperstimulated and needed to rest so the fluid wouldn't keep building up in my abdominal cavity. I was not expecting to be out for so long, but luckily had the sick time available and had planned 2 weeks' worth of lessons just in case. (Psycho planning worked in my favor for once!) I also snagged an excellent sub. But had I not let key supervisory people know what I was going through, they may not have been as understanding about my lengthy absence. And that was on top of my absences for inseminations and tests and multiple doctor's appointments that have me coming in late on a regular basis. People who haven't gone through this or known someone close who has gone through infertility really can't see a scenario where it would be necessary to miss so much work. At first I tried to explain with the vague, "I have a chronic non-life-threatening medical condition that requires frequent doctor's appointments for treatment and procedures." The non-life-threatening part is very important--otherwise people immediately think that you're dying. Because CANCER is what usually goes through people's minds when you say you have to go in for treatment and you'll be out a lot. I forgot to say that part once and the woman I was talking to went white, grabbed my hand, and whispered, "Oh god, are you ok?" It was very awkward. But back to the 'splaining... vague works for a while, but eventually I think it does help to 'fess up to what, exactly, you are doing. Because if you're doing it for a while, it becomes a little suspect. People who are paying attention might start to figure it out. Telling what you're doing helps when your hormones are wacked out and you may lose it a little at work. I had to explain myself to an administrator last year when I got a bit unreasonably emotional and worked up in a parent meeting. I was on a ton of meds and emotionally undone, and it just caught up to me at an inopportune moment. I don't regret telling her why I was a basketcase--I'd much rather she know it was because I'm doing infertility treatments than think it's because I'm unbalanced and perhaps not meant for education.

Outing Your (Hopefully) Imminent Maternity Leave
The problem with telling people in power is that now they know that, if things work out, you're going to be going out on maternity leave. It could be this year, it could be next year. But you're going out, for at least 6 weeks and possibly more. I can take up to 2 years (unpaid) leave per birth (I don't think you get 4 years for twins), and come back to a job. Not my job, but a job. And while it is illegal to make hiring or assignment decisions based on someone's family planning situation, you can't help but be a little paranoid. I had a situation this year where it was suggested that for my own benefit I tell HR that I'm going through IVF, and that I tell upper level administration as well. I did, but now that I am waiting to hear on a transfer to another position, and my current position doesn't exist next year, I am wondering if that was a mistake. I doubt it, as it's totally illegal to make decisions based on pregnancy or possible pregnancy, but it does make me nervous. In an office job, you might wonder if you are being passed over for projects because of your tardiness/frequent absences/knowledge that you may not be there the whole year to see something through. It's very stressful.

Making Decisions Based on Infertility
If you have options or you are facing a change, a challenge, an opportunity in your career, you automatically have to consider your infertility into whatever you are moving toward. Or at least I do--I am not quite able to live my life as if I might not be pregnant later this year and take on the "I could be hit by a bus tomorrow! I'm taking the high-power promotion anyway!" attitude.  I have been interviewing and was accepted onto the hiring list for a very desirable district (sadly, they do this when they don't have openings, or not enough openings for everyone in the hiring pool). But I had to think... is this the right time for a change? If I start in a brand new classroom, will I be able to have the flexibility I currently have for my appointments? Of course, I am in a bad position because no matter what, I am starting over with something new next year. I will have to figure out a way to get things finagled so that I can make it to all my appointments and stay sane and continue being the hardworking teacher I pride myself in being. It scares the crap out of me. I am hoping that our summer IVF will be successful, and I will start the year pregnant and just have to finagle prenatal appointments, which are much more exciting and people enjoy hearing about SO much more than follicle growth. But I've done this before, where I filled out my plan book dates just until when I thought I would be going out on maternity leave. It was incredibly depressing to have to go back and fill in those dates when it didn't work. What if it isn't successful this summer, again? I know people who have taken leaves, who have lost their jobs, who have elected to not work during treatment because it is just too much to juggle. If my transfer doesn't work out for whatever reason, should I get a part-time job instead so I can fully focus on treatment? Should I not worry about pursuing another job until things work out? It seems kind of crazy, but is it? I don't see myself taking that route, but it really does make me nervous to start something new with all of this on my plate.

Balancing your job and your infertility is incredibly hard. It means sacrifices. It means telling a lot of people you don't know well what you are going through so they don't think that you are in rehab (I might think someone who comes in late like I do as frequently as I do was hung over all the time!). It means making your private business everyone's business. Because on top of dealing with your supervisor, everyone else is noticing your absences and erratic behavior. Sooner or later you won't be able to dodge their inquisitiveness anymore. And then you will have coworkers asking when "we" find out you're pregnant or not (answer, "I find out soon. You find out when I tell you."). This process makes you have to make choices--what can I handle with all of this on my plate? Which is more important, getting pregnant or being awesome in my job? Because it really feels like it's almost impossible to do both, at least long-term. So many people deal with difficult questions once they are pregnant and readying for a maternity leave--how long do I go out for? Do I find awesome and affordable daycare, or stay home for a while? Which is more costly? How long can I stay out on maternity leave and keep my career on track? I feel like I have a whole other set of questions before I even get to those issues. I'm sure it is possible to balance your job and your complex, scientific babymaking mission. It just feels incredibly difficult.


  1. Hi Jess,
    My heart goes out to you. I can only compare this to my own career choices that revolved around caring for a special-needs child. I didn't take a full-time teaching position until my daughters were in high school (and the special needs child was stabilized medically)because I was taking someone to the doctor about three times a week for many years. It was a big financial sacrifice, but for me, that was the best - and only - choice for the good of the family. My advice is to follow your heart. Careers will always be available, but the formative years of child rearing are fleeting indeed.

  2. Hi Jess, I just found your blog randomly. Thanks for sharing. I too, am at the crossroads of deciding if I should take a less stressful social work position to cope w/ fertility treatments... Thanks for verbalizing my thoughts and feelings so well. All the best to you! :)

  3. Just found your blog. I am doing the same thing right now. Praying i do not get fired.

  4. I am in this very position right now! I can go for a big promotion at work but we are also about the embark on the IVF journey. I do not want to tell ANYONE at work what's going on (not even HR because then everyone will DEFINITELY know). Yet, it would be weird for me not to go for the promotion...I might appear unmotivated. Honestly, my instincts are telling me that becoming a Mom needs to come first, before anything else right now. My husband is self-employed so we need my salary and benefits, etc. it would be great to hear an update. How have things turned out for you Jess?