Fertility and IVF at Work

Eloise Edington  |   5 Dec 2020



These three astonishing ladies continue to do wonders in the fertility community. Natalie, Claire and Becky have started a fertility (IVF) at work initiative called ‘Fertility Matters at Work’. This was founded following their individual experiences in the workplace whilst undergoing fertility treatment. They feel that others experiencing the same thing can benefit from such support. Read on to hear about what they went through, as well as the shocking statistics surrounding lack of support at work for people going through IVF / fertility treatment.

Over to Natalie

www.fertilitymattersatwork.com | @fertilitymattersatwork

When I shared my personal story about not telling my boss at work that I was having IVF (with Grazia’s ‘Womb with a View’ column), I was hoping that it would spark more conversation. That is exactly what happened. I was invited to give a talk at the Global Diversity and Inclusion Festival for AXA Insurance, followed by further invitations to speak within the corporate setting. I could see some of my peers within the Instagram community also beating this drum and it was clear there was a shared passion amongst us.

‘Fertility Matters at Work’ was Born

Claire Ingle had created an Instagram account @ivfatwork which was quickly gaining traction, whilst Becky Kearns had spoken about her experience on her @definingmum account and as part of BBC Radio 2’s Fertility Week. Whenever any of us talked about it online, we had so much feedback. So, we put our heads together and the ‘Fertility Matters at Work’ initiative was founded. It is a new workplace initiative for UK businesses, to raise their awareness, educate business leaders and lead policy development and workplace support for those experiencing fertility issues.

Claire Ingle – After several years of trying to conceive, finally, after 3 rounds of IVF/ICSI, Claire had success – having her first baby at the age of 41.  She works in the field of HR and has a particular interest in employee engagement, improving culture and staff well-being.

Becky Kearns – A fertility blogger and patient advocate, Becky is the founder of Paths to Parent Hub and has over twelve years’ experience working in HR for a number of well-known corporate and public organisations. She is also a mum to three girls, thanks to egg donation.

I (Natalie) have launched The Fertility Podcast, the UK’s first fertility podcast, founded in 2014, after I had successful ICSI treatment for my son. At the time of my fertility treatment, I was hosting a breakfast radio show for Heart FM. I had to be upbeat and jolly, whilst going through one of the most daunting experiences of my life, with no idea of the support I could or should have had access to. I left the radio show in 2015 and have been creating the podcast ever since, highlighting the many ways we are affected by infertility as well as sharing fertility specialist expert advice.

Related Article – Meditation for Fertility: Dealing with Anxiety and Uncertainty on your Fertility Journey


Lack of Support in the Workplace

When Fertility Matters at Work commissioned a survey in early 2020, we had an inkling as to what the results may be, as all three of us had been through fertility treatment, whist employed. Countless other anecdotal conversations and social media messages had also told us that people were struggling to balance work and treatment. Little did we know the gravity of the statistics we would receive back after the detailed interviews we had with 177 people. The staggering facts are that having fertility treatment (IVF) and working is bloody difficult and this is made doubly hard by unsupportive line managers or organisations. Work is challenging enough on its own, but when we received our results back, the message was loud and clear – that organisations weren’t even recognising this was going on with their employees most of the time, with only an underwhelming 1.7% of the people we surveyed having a work/HR policy to support colleagues going through fertility treatment – this wasn’t on the radar of the majority of organisations.

Can you imagine the uproar if only that number had a disability policy or only 1.7% of organisations had a policy on maternity leave? The fact is, IVF is still not viewed as ‘necessary’ and, because it sits firmly in a ‘stigmatised’ area of conversation, with no legislation to support people who are going through it, it simply does not exist and isn’t worth the effort. That is the harsh reality and the statistics clearly support this.

In addition, the results showed that 69% of people who took part in the survey said they took sick leave because of fertility treatment! There is no significant detail to show what the reasons for those sick absences were, but we know that a lot of them were not recorded as IVF and many were dishonest, with other reasons being cited; such as ‘colds’ or ‘sickness bugs’. Other people told us they were honest about their reasons for being off work, but these included baby loss and grief. The latter, under different circumstances, would be supported by policy/guidance and in the majority of cases would be met with compassion and empathy from an employer. If employees were forced to use holiday to attend appointments, they would call in sick instead, using this as an option to cover their leave – at a cost to their employer. To us this is a situation where there are no winners.

Related Article – Demystifying Infertility: Is it Celebrities’ Responsibility to Help Quash Infertility Stigma?


The Impact on Mental Health

The other fact we already knew through our other platforms, but couldn’t evidence prior to this survey, was the mental health impact of fertility treatment. Over half (55%) of those that reached out to us verified that they had sought some sort of external support to manage their mental and emotional well-being, through fertility counselling or CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). Mental health sickness was also cited as a reason for taking time off work, as this was clearly a pronounced effect of treatment on people.

All of the above were so similar to Claire’s experience as she explains:“I was left educating my boss, whilst trying my best at round three of my IVF treatment and what this entailed, but was still faced with questions on how long I would be absent and why I couldn’t come back to work afterwards. We both worked in HR, yet we were both in a foggy space together. The previous two times, I hadn’t disclosed anything and used another excuse to attend appointments, feeling both vulnerable and a failure for not being able to do this the ‘normal’ way. I also had to go into work the day both attempts failed – I will never be able to describe that feeling of utter hopelessness.”

Fertility Matters at Work wants to campaign and educate people that this support is needed to empower them. All three founders are regularly speaking within the TTC (trying to conceive) community online and offline to encourage people to share both best and worst practice. In January 2021 we will be sharing more of our plans to support employers and employees further, with a big emphasis on education around how to have these conversations in the workplace and how to ensure people feel supported.

Click here to sign up to the ‘Fertility Matters at Work’ newsletter to make sure you don’t miss their announcements for ways your company can get involved.

Related Article – IVF Blog: How Inspirational Quotes for (In)Fertility Can Motivate You

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