By Kells McPhillips
Trying to conceive can be more than a full-time job. When you’re receiving fertility treatments, running to and from doctor’s appointments, and dealing with the emotional weight of struggling to get pregnant, your day job may take a backseat. If everything’s starting to feel like too much to juggle, therapists recommend talking to your boss about what you’re going through and what support you need to keep doing a great job.
The first thing you should know is that these feelings are completely normal, according to Camille Tenerife, LMFT, a therapist and career counselor who works with high-achieving professionals. From a physical standpoint, the pain and discomfort associated with some treatments may simply mean that you’re not currently equipped to work at your usual 100 percent. From an emotional perspective, feeling “behind” friends and family can lead to guilt, shame, and depression that harms productivity.
To make matters worse, it’s also difficult to tackle the logistics of receiving these treatments, says Jennifer Kowalski, LPC of Thriveworks in Cheshire, CT, who specializes in grief, loss, behavioral issues, and relationships. “These procedures often require frequent appointments to monitor blood levels, have ultrasounds, egg retrievals, and transfer,” she says. “This could lead to many missed hours of work on its own, but it does not even include any of the potential side effects that come along with the fertility medications that are used, or the emotional roller coaster that is associated with hormone levels, failed cycles, and financial difficulties.”
Now more than ever, it’s time to ask for help from everyone in your life—your boss included. Fortunately, Tenerife and Kowalski offered their best advice for asking your manager for a more flexible schedule, WFH, and/or whatever support would make your life the tiniest bit easier.
Before you set a meeting with your boss, sit down and write a list of the most challenging things about work right now. Do you have too many meetings on your plate? An unruly project that won’t wrap up? A workload that’s keeping you at the office late at night? Now, write down a list of “asks” that would allow you to do your job more easily during this time. Those requests may include:
Now that your list is ready, ask your boss if they’re willing to meet to discuss a private matter. Tenerife recommends grounding yourself before the Zoom call or meeting by practicing box breathing (four-count inhale, four-count hold, four-count exhale, four-count hold) and/or doing an exercise to engage your five senses, identifying one thing you can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. When it’s time to get started, tell yourself you’re prepared and ready (because you are!).
“Explain your situation and ask for what you need from them,” says Kowalski. You don’t need to tell them every detail. They just need to know a general idea of what you’re going through, the obstacles it's presenting at work, and how they can help. For example, “you may need to get blood drawn a few mornings per week, which means you will be arriving late. You may also need to have a few days off, so give advanced notice and offer to do your work at other times or get coverage for yourself if needed,” says Kowalski.
Tenerife adds that you should stay on topic and state your needs clearly. However, you should also ask your manager for their thoughts throughout the conversation. “It's kind of like a contract negotiation where you're trying to figure out what works for your manager, too,” she says. “You can ask: Do you have any other thoughts or questions that you think it would be helpful for me to know about?”
Know that even if your boss okays all your requests in the first meeting, this shouldn’t be a one-and-done conversation. Kowalski and Tenerife both recommend asking your manager to meet once a month for a “status update” as your fertility treatments continue. Your needs will change often, so you should stay in step with your boss as they do.
Depending on your relationship with your manager, you may also want to get your agreement in writing. In this case, contact HR and ask about the correct procedure for doing so.
While it’s ultimately up to you how much information you share with your fellow employees during this time, Kowalski wants you to know that you shouldn’t feel guilty about keeping this to yourself. “This is your private health information, so it isn’t anyone else’s business. The only reason your boss needs the details is because fertility treatments do not qualify for the Family and Medical Leave Act, so you cannot be vague,” she says.
It’s enough for you to say, “I have an appointment today.” “If there is anyone you are close with at work that you want to tell, you certainly can, but it is up to you,” adds Kowalski. “One of the struggles with infertility is that well-meaning people can often remind the person of their struggle just by asking them about how things are going a bit too often. There are people who are open about their fertility journey and those who cannot talk about it without crying. It is going to be up to the individual to decide what is best for them.”
Going over your boss’ head is never fun, but it may be necessary right now. Make an appointment with your company’s human resources department and ask what, if any, support they can offer you.
“It is really important that they find support wherever you can,” says Kowalski. That may look like leaning more on your partner, friends, and family—or hiring someone to help you if that’s financially feasible. “The fertility journey is stressful enough without having an unsupportive employer. It would be beneficial to reach out to the fertility clinic and see if they have any recommendations from past patients.” You could also try reaching out to your state’s department of labor to check your rights and learn how cases like yours have been handled in the past, she adds.
“Please know that [fertility struggles] are more common than you think, and people don’t always share their struggles,” says Kowalski. “If the cycle is not successful, each month feels like you are grieving a loss. Don’t feel like you need to minimize that. The energy that you have put into this child started long before the process of fertility treatment began.”
Assess your needs, create a plan, and check in with your boss (or HR) periodically. Bear in mind that, if support isn’t coming from your nine-to-five, you can still find it elsewhere. Support groups, online communities, and friends and family can help shoulder the weight of this moment.
Calm Health is a mental health wellness product. Calm Health is not intended to diagnose or treat depression, anxiety, or any other disease or condition. Calm Health is not a substitute for care by a physician or other health care provider. Any questions that you may have regarding the diagnosis, care, or treatment of a medical condition should be directed to your physician or health care provider.