For many people, struggling with infertility, the workplace can be full of triggers. The seemingly endless conveyer belt of other people’s pregnancy milestones can stir-up a whole range of challenging emotions for someone who is struggling to conceive. It can often feel like running the gauntlet.
No one should be denied the opportunity to relish those precious moments on the way to meeting their very own miracle, but there is so often a broken heart waiting in the wings that deserves just as much consideration.
It’s estimated that infertility affects one in seven couples in the UK – and that doesn’t include the many same sex couples and single women who want to conceive. But it’s not a journey that many couples choose to share. It can be too raw, too painful. Every pregnancy announcement, every baby shower, every growing bump, can be agonising.
Those feelings don’t mean that you aren’t happy for other people – although, those ‘we weren’t even trying’ comments can make it tough! It’s just that every special moment for an expectant friend or colleague is a special moment that you increasingly fear you may never have. That doesn’t make you a bad person – it simply means that you really want a baby of your own.
My clients often feel terrible about their reactions to pregnancy news from those close to them, but it can be hard to separate the very real happiness they have for a friend from the cocktail of sadness, fear, inadequacy, anger, grief and insecurity that infertility often brings.
It is a terrifying statistic that, of those who struggle with fertility, 90% will suffer from depression at some time. If you’re finding it tough, you’re not alone.
Though there are tools and techniques/mindset that offer some protection, often, if you are going through infertility, you will need to create boundaries to protect yourself during what can be a very vulnerable time. That might mean saying ‘no’ to social events that feel too hard, avoiding particularly triggering situations at work or even taking some time off. At a time where it feels like you have little control over something so important, choosing to take control of those things you can is really important.
A common misunderstanding about infertility is that it’s something you can ‘get over’. It’s not that simple. It’s an ongoing, open wound. It can be years before a couple either holds that baby in their arms or runs out of options; until then, there will be no closure. And only then can the healing truly begin.
A client was recently told, by her well-meaning but misguided boss, that it was time to ‘get over’ her infertility, to find some coping strategies. Little did she know how many coping strategies this woman already has in place in order to show up for her job every day, build relationships with the children of friends and family, and find joy and gratitude for the wonderful life she has – even though the fear that she may never share it with a child breaks her heart.
For her, the combination of line managing a pregnant colleague, a national lockdown, an endless stream of informal team catch ups on zoom, where the main topic was pregnancy- all whilst waiting on the results an NHS funding application that could change her life - was too much.
It took guts for her to talk to her HR manager about the arrangements that she needed to have in place in order for her to continue working, and her workplace’s response was exemplary. She has, temporarily, handed over line management duties for her pregnant colleague and, she says, she’s also ‘been given carte blanche to duck out of whatever informal online team catch-ups I want. So, this morning I didn't login and I've had one of the most productive days I've had in recent weeks. Just knowing I don't have to brace myself for those conversations every morning already feels like a weight off my shoulders. I'll dip into one or two a week (show people I'm alive) but the decision is mine.’
Seeking support in the workplace:
Kerry Dolan Hypnotherapist and nLP practitioner