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There are so many ways to create a family these days. Fertility treatments and reproductive technology have opened the doors for family building for many people who struggle with infertility and others who might not have the opportunity to have a baby otherwise.
There are also many different options when it comes to fertility treatment and reproductive technology, and the decision is usually made based on medical criteria, cost and personal choice. One option for family building is in vitro fertilization (IVF). Couples and individuals turn to IVF treatment for many reasons, including male or female factor infertility, single parenting, same-sex parenting and other motivations. IVF is a very common fertility treatment option—so much so that many IVF clinics specializing in the treatment exist. The CDC estimates that well over 100,000 IVF cycles were completed in the US alone in 2016 (SART.org).
Before we get started, it might be helpful to know what IVF actually is. We’ve all heard of it, but you may not know what the IVF process actually entails.
With in-vitro fertilization, a woman’s ovaries are stimulated by injecting hormonal medications every day for about 10 days. These fertility medications cause a cohort of eggs to grow and mature. A reproductive endocrinologist (RE) or fertility specialist monitors the growth of the eggs using regular ultrasounds and blood work to check the growth of the follicles (small sacs in the ovaries that house the eggs), usually over four to five visits to the doctor over a two-week period. These ovarian stimulation monitoring visits almost always happen in the morning so the results from the blood tests can come back the same day.
Once the follicles have grown to the right size, an egg retrieval (or egg collection) is scheduled. The retrieval is a minor surgical procedure in which the eggs are aspirated out of the follicles. After an egg collection, the eggs can be frozen (egg freezing) or fertilized with sperm (either partner or donor sperm) to create embryos. A frozen embryo can be stored for later use or one or more embryos can be transferred back into the uterus in the hopes of establishing a pregnancy. All in all, an IVF treatment cycle lasts two to three weeks and can include up to seven visits to the IVF clinics or fertility clinics for monitoring, retrieval, and embryo transfer.
The average cost for one IVF treatment cycle is typically around $15,000 to $20,000, which includes the fertility drugs if you don’t have IVF coverage through your insurance. Some people may choose to repeat an IVF cycle if their initial cycle is unsuccessful. It can be fairly stressful too, especially if you have been trying on your own to conceive for a while and have not had success or if you know that IVF is your only option for pregnancy or family building.
It’s easy to understand how overwhelming IVF can be. It can disrupt your schedule at work, your relationship with your partner, and your finances. So, how do you manage IVF, which can feel like a full-time job, when you have an actual full-time job?
From years of working with fertility patients, here are a few ways to navigate fertility treatment at work.
The price tag can be daunting, and more and more businesses are electing to cover an IVF procedure as part of their benefits package. Hopefully, you have coverage through your company. If you don’t, talk to your HR department about why it’s so important for them to offer coverage. Here’s a great article on how to ask for a fertility benefit.
If you know you’re going to need a few weeks to undergo IVF, try to find a time in your calendar that isn’t packed with high-stress meetings or constant travel. If you feel comfortable, let your supervisor or HR team know that you might need some accommodations to arrive late to work a few mornings and take a day off from work (for the egg retrieval; you may want to take off the day of the embryo transfer as well). There’s no need to take the whole day off for blood tests or meetings with your fertility specialist, but you will need some flexibility.
You can choose to disclose as much or as little as you want. Most fertility specialists are happy to provide you with a letter detailing the need for accommodation at work.
I don’t advocate telling everyone in the world what you’re doing; it’s private and it’s okay to keep it private. However, it is important to have a core group of friends and family members with whom you can discuss your experience with in-vitro fertilization. Can you talk to your partner or your best friend? Do you trust them to keep the uninvited advice to a minimum?
Maybe you know people who have had IVF success or have gone through the process themselves and can help you with some of the emotional ups and downs. Some people find support groups to be very helpful. Resolve offers support groups in most cities and states and is a great place to start for all sorts of resources. It’s a common process, and you’ll find that more people are being open about their experience.
IVF can feel like a rollercoaster. Allow your job and daily tasks to distract you from the constant fixation on your blood results, follicle growth, and frequent desire to Google "IVF success rates." It’s OK to think of other things, and it may be soothing to have something else to focus on.
It’s a good time to learn how to ask for what you need from your family, friends, and colleagues. Start by listening to yourself and being open with those around you. I’ve had so many patients tell me that this was the first time they learned how to say, “What I need from you right now is…” If quiet is what you need, perhaps practice mindfulness. And, of course, there’s an app for that!
IVF can be stressful, frustrating, and disruptive to your life. It can also be a tool to teach you excellent coping skills and new ways to build resilience. The main thing to remember is that it’s always okay to reach out and ask for help.
You should also stay apprised of what you are allowed in terms of flexible work arrangements how accommodating your job can be Remember, you don’t have to disclose what you are doing, only that you’re undergoing a medical procedure.
Support from family and friends is very important too. Ask your friend to take you out for some tea to talk about absolutely anything other than fertility medications, ovarian stimulation, pregnancy rates, and your uterus. If you have a partner, depend on him or her as well. Your partner may be looking for ways to help and not have any idea what you need.
You will get through this, and I promise when you have your child, however you get there, it’ll all be worth it.
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