Infertility and adoption at work
Updated: Nov 6
My infertility journey has happened in the shadows of work for the last 9 years. It has never been something I felt comfortable talking to my various bosses about. When I was going through IVF I was sneaking off to appointments, as if I was off to get a sandwich or had a meeting in another building. I was hearing news about the progress of my embryos and making huge decisions, such as which sperm donor to use at work. I remember the embryologist telling me about the letter my sperm donor had written to any perspective children in the office stairwell.
When I was pregnant, I would imagine my joy at being able to let work know I was taking maternity leave. I couldn’t wait. I had always worked out when my maternity leave would start almost as soon as I knew I was pregnant (I’ve had a few boring jobs!). When I lost my babies, only once did my boss at the time know. I didn’t take time off, since I felt leave wasn’t warranted, I wasn’t ill and I felt that others would not think it was a real bereavement. I could luckily work from home, which I did since I could not face the world.
I was always worried about talking to my bosses about what was going on privately. I was worried it would jeopardise any future career aspirations. I felt if it was known that I wanted to have a baby, worse, that I was actively working towards this goal, that I would be overlooked for opportunities, for promotions. I have stayed far too long in roles I had no interest in because I wanted to hold on to a decent maternity package.
Work was what made me so good at hiding my true emotions. I had to. I just pasted on the work face and cracked on with the day, regardless of the often devastating news I’d learnt that day. But I also owe a lot to work, which gave me a focus when life didn’t make sense anymore and friends at work kept me going, even when they were not aware of what I was going through. They were a distraction. I could be ‘normal’ for a while.
Now I am working towards adoption and I’m finding it even more difficult to talk to my boss. When do I have to say something? Its so ambiguous. If we get approved in December, then I have no idea how long it will take to be matched with a child. It could be really soon after. Our Social Worker matched a child with a couple one week after their panel, but it potentially could take months. I really hope not years! I won’t have the nine months of pregnancy to figure it out. If it’s a quick match, we may have only a few weeks notice before we start the process of getting to know our future child. Then I’d feel I’m really landing my boss in it, they will have no time to prepare or advertise for cover. But, if I tell them now and nothing happens for the next year, then I may not get an opportunity or when a new project starts, I may not be asked to lead it.
I know that the world of work is meant to have moved on, in terms of women’s careers and yet still I don’t have the confidence to be open about it. I don’t want my boss to think of me as out of the picture already, when potentially I will still have a long period of time working with them before I do take adoption leave.
I hate that work has played such a huge, silent and oppressive part in my journey to motherhood. I’m not sure how things could change, if the shoe were on the other foot and it was my business, would I entrust it to someone who has a higher priority? Or someone who may not be here long enough to see a project through? Probably not. But, would I want to know that someone’s world had crumbled and that if they seem distant its not because they are disinterested in what they are doing but because life outside work has taken a downward spiral? Yes absolutely. I would think it was my absolute duty to support this person. It’s a fine line and I don’t think equality in the workplace is anywhere near close to facing this.
Work is such a huge player in the infertility game, but its usually not even discussed in the workplace. Women carry the weight of needing to continue performing at the same level when they are sometimes going through the toughest moments of their life. It has in the past shaped whether I have taken a job or not because I wanted to ensure I had a ‘safe’ job with decent maternity pay. Decisions I have sometimes regretted. I have held back from some options because I knew that I would soon be off on maternity leave. Only for that ‘soon’ to drag on for years. It is still now shaping what I do and career conversations I am having with my boss, unable to be entirely open about my short-term work plans. Not to mention the strain infertility, baby loss and fertility treatments can have on partners who will also not be getting support at work.
I think infertility should be talked about more in the workplace. It is such a difficult path to tread anyway, without the added pressure of having to sneak about or having to stay quiet about something which is so life changing and consuming. I’m not sure if I’m just more aware of it now or if more people are actually having treatment, but if it’s the latter, then the workplace needs to move with the times. If those conversations were happening more widely, perhaps I and thousands of other women walking this path, would not be holding back but could have meaningful career conversations with their bosses about real options and choices. It would also make dealing with the disappointments and heartache easier. I guess this is linked to the taboos still hovering around infertility and baby loss. Another reason these things need to be bought into the open.
Workplaces are getting more engaged in the idea of supporting colleagues, for instance with mental health issues, I think its only a matter of time until fertility struggles are also recognised. I have actually taken the opportunity to speak up in a focus group who were looking into maternity and adoption leave at work. A far cry from actually speaking to my boss, I want to be part of the change but still value my career.