Long before the test strip turns pink, we brainstorm, talk through scenarios, map out plans, and ultimately make decisions that determine the course of our lives based on personal and professional goals. You probably, at some point, have researched your company’s maternity leave policy, tossed around the idea of a flexible work arrangement, or calculated childcare expenses. Whether you choose to plan having kids around your career or vice versa, we are biologically programmed to consider how children and jobs will affect each other.
What about a negative test result, a grave diagnosis, or a devastating miscarriage, though? We invest so much energy into coordinating pregnancy, children, and working that we often fail to factor in the possibility of not having children. As many women surely can attest, infertility can have just as profound practical, emotional, and physical impacts on our careers as motherhood does.
I first met my dear friend Katie in early 2009, the spring semester of our freshman year of college. We had both just joined our sorority and found ourselves connecting immediately over similar majors, interests, and values. She was, and still is, the type of person whose smile lights up a room and eyes shine with a youthful glow. Together, we survived sorority events, business classes, breakups, and cramped dorm room living until we both graduated in May 2012 and embarked upon our careers.
Over the next two years, Katie’s career progressed as she explored various marketing roles and honed her skills in all aspects of event marketing. By January 2015, she was working as an event marketing coordinator for a Fortune 500 SaaS company. This position demanded time and energy, sending her on frequent trips out of state and country. Married for three years at that point, Katie felt ready to start a family and knew her extended travels and overtime hours would not be conducive to becoming pregnant. She decided to search for a “mom job” that would allow for a smoother transition into motherhood. By March, she had accepted an events manager position for a local not-for-profit organization. The more intimate, less corporate environment, she thought, would serve as the perfect stepping stone to the future she envisioned. Soon after the job change, she and her husband began trying to conceive. Between the joyful anticipation of a growing family and her caring boss and supportive colleagues, she felt sincere contentment.
Less than a year into her new position, though, Katie experienced a complete shift in her professional life. Her beloved boss resigned and was replaced by a drastically different type of personality and leader. From lack of compassion for employees’ personal issues to acting cynically and being generally difficult to work for, her new boss quickly fostered a toxic workplace atmosphere. The job faded into a virtually unfulfilling endeavor for Katie, devoid of strong leadership, time off, and monetary incentives. At home, after months of religiously tracking her cycle, she had yet to see a positive pregnancy test. The drudgery of her career exacerbated the continued disappointment of failing to conceive, and the despair felt each month, in turn, further fueled her negative work life.
The combined stress of work and infertility sent Katie into a downward spiral. She and her husband reached a full year of unsuccessfully trying to get pregnant and decided to consult a fertility specialist. The strict regimen to promote conception was extremely physically, emotionally, mentally, and financially taxing. Between the various medications and endless appointments and procedures, Katie’s physical and emotional states deteriorated. Not only was her personal life in disarray, but her job situation remained stagnant, the already unhealthy environment only perpetuating her inner grief. She suffered intense anxiety attacks while at work, preventing her from adequately running the events she had planned. Eventually, she descended into a full-blown depression, requiring medication and time off work. Returning to her job, though, simply aggravated her condition. Her boss repeatedly shamed her for missing that time, and the general absence of support caused constant stress and continued anxiety.
Katie began to seek out a new job in April 2016, placing her hope in a prospective position that would be the right fit. Not having planned to change jobs so quickly after starting, she approached the search with an especially discerning mindset. Rather than jumping into a workplace prematurely, she wanted to ensure that she would be entering a company where she could plant roots--where she could learn, grow, and be influential. By January of 2017, she finally made the move to a startup tech company and now works as the experiential marketing manager. Initially drawn to the company for the freedom it promised as a fledgling enterprise, she has found her niche. She has never felt more positively challenged and loves being pushed to her potential daily.
Beyond the advance in her career it has facilitated, her new position has played a major role in Katie’s emotional well-being. Though she continues to deal with infertility, work now provides a place of refuge for her, lifting her spirits instead of further crushing them. Katie’s manager believes strongly in transparency and has created a culture of candor within the company. Each meeting starts with everyone sharing a high and a low from whichever facet of life he or she chooses, which affords all the opportunity to be upfront about personal trials that likely are affecting work performance. In addition to confiding her journey with infertility and connecting with others similarly afflicted, she has the understanding and flexibility of her manager, who permits leaving the office for medical appointments. Rather than intensifying an already challenging situation, her job now serves as one of her strategies for coping with infertility, giving her a reason to continue moving forward and setting goals in both personal and professional arenas.
Katie truly has transformed a heavy burden into a source of light in her own life through the countless ways she strives to find joy and be her best self. Above all, though, she prioritizes reaching out to others experiencing infertility, to reassure them of a support system and equip them with methods to manage. From a career standpoint, Katie offers sound advice to anyone struggling with infertility:
- Don’t try to plan your career around when you’re going to have a family because the timeline is unpredictable. Once you do get pregnant, you still have a whole year (9 months + maternity leave) to figure out how you want to integrate your job and motherhood.
- Make sure that you are in a workplace that challenges and fulfills you professionally and supports you on a personal level. If you are in a bad situation, it will only amplify the difficulty of infertility.
- Confide in a few individuals whom you trust at work about your situation. This will make you feel lighter, since you don’t have to bear the burden alone anymore. It also provides you with a support group of people who will understand your bad days.
- It’s ok to have bad/sad days. You should never feel ashamed when you need to take a day off work to avoid a baby shower, or if you need to leave the room when someone announces her pregnancy. This journey is hard, and taking care of your emotional health is most important.
- Find something to do that you love and that you’re passionate about. Whether this need is met during work hours or on your own time, it is crucial to have an outlet for those drives that make you who you are.
Hi, there! I’m Allie Hofer,
an HR professional and work-life integration enthusiast. More officially, I’m a Professional in Human Resources
(PHR), Society of Human Resource Management
– Certified Professional (SHRM-CP), and Recruiter
Academy Certified Recruiter (RACR).
After having my first child, I opted out of the traditional office setting to work from home. Since then, I have been consulting with organizations in the public and private sectors to support the Human Resources function in recruiting, compensation, training and development, and performance management
I started Office Hours to offer a boutique HR solution for small and medium-sized businesses and to help candidates navigate and completely own their career paths.