OPINION15 August 2023

Work, IVF and me: Why I’ve been open with colleagues

Healthcare Opinion Wellbeing

Bethan Blakeley writes about the experience of sharing her IVF journey at work.

purple post-it note with handwritten message 'are you ok?'

You might already have guessed from the title of this one that it isn’t one of my usual angry, ranty pieces. I also want to warn you that this blog does cover infertility, IVF and pregnancy loss – so if you need to stop reading now to protect yourself, please do so. Looking after yourself is priority number one.

That was the conclusion that swayed the initial decision to be completely transparent about my IVF journey at work. I was going back and forth on it, and my wife quite rightly said: “If they don’t know, they can’t support you. They can’t help you look after yourself.”

My son, who’s now two, was born via reciprocal IVF (this just means my wife and I got to split the process – we used her eggs, and I carried them). This was during Covid-19, and although there were many things that were made harder because of the pandemic, going through fertility treatment at my previous employer was not one of them.

There weren’t any face-to-face meetings to contend with, I was working from home and so appointments were quite easy to attend, and as far as IVF goes, I was pretty lucky – the whole thing was fairly straightforward. I managed to keep the whole thing to myself until the magical 12-week mark – which is what society tells you to do, just in case.

For some reason, from the get-go, things felt more difficult the second time around. Whether it was the non-pandemic workplace, stronger medication, or the fact that I already had an energetic two-year-old to run after, who knows. Either way, I knew I would need more support this time. I turned to my workplace – sticking two fingers up at the general rule of telling no one and speaking of nothing before 12 weeks. 

From the off, my team was supportive and understanding. Meetings were scheduled around my plethora of medical appointments. Resource was carefully juggled and allocated around weeks that I knew were likely to be more, or less, difficult (either physically, or emotionally).

It’s not that a lot of people at work understood the horrible intricacies of IVF – they didn’t need to. Instead, they asked: “What do you need? How can we help you?”, and, even when I didn’t know the answer, they helped brainstorm ideas that might be helpful, setting them up as just-in-case solutions. For me, this felt much more comforting than staying silent during one of the periods of your life where you may need the most support, and the voice to ask for it.

Being open about the struggles I was facing on a day-to-day basis at work made them easier to manage – it wasn’t a big, dirty secret. It wasn’t something I had to squash and pretend wasn’t happening. If I was having a bad day, or experiencing horrible reactions to my meds (of which there were many), it meant that I could be honest about it, and plan to accommodate.

It also had another, unexpected impact: it encouraged other people to open up about their experiences. So many people, some I know well, came forward with stories of struggles they’d had in the past that I knew nothing about. It feels good to be able to share that horrible thing – and while I don’t believe anyone can fully understand how someone else feels because every situation is different, it makes you feel considerably less alone.

Even now, as I sit here having had the awful confirmation of a miscarriage and wait for the impending physical effects to start – I’m so, so glad I’ve told people at work. After getting that news, I didn’t know what to do – I just sat, a bit shell-shocked, unsure of what my next move should be. As soon as I informed my team, they sprung into action. Suddenly, any deadline-critical work had been handled by the project teams. Client meetings had been covered. I was encouraged to take all the time and space I needed. I was reassured that whatever support I needed, I would have.

I still don’t know how much time and space I need. I have no idea of what support might help tomorrow, where I’m sure I’ll feel differently from today. I’m unsure of what my next steps might be, if, and when, I’ll be making that call to the fertility clinic and asking to try again.

What I am sure about is that I’ll continue to be open about it with the team at work. Because through everything that’s happened, they’ve always made sure I’m looking after myself. And that has to be priority number one.

Bethan Blakeley is analytics director at Boxclever