The Ugly Truth About Fertility Treatments and How it Interferes with Work

It was almost a full year ago that I had a doctor’s appointment confirming my diagnosis of infertility. I was looking at a future of months with 8+ doctors’ appointments and countless blood draws. I realized I had to change my entire lifestyle if I wanted to grow my family from two to three. 

After a year of reflection, I finally feel confident and comfortable to share my story. I could never have sat down and talked about this back then. And that’s not just because I was burning out or because I was still learning what my business needed to become. It was because of something much deeper. 

As the CEO and Founder of a fast-growing tech startup, life can get pretty hectic at times. But I’m pretty dang good at my job, and most of my success can be credited to my excellent planning skills. I live and die by my to-do list. Yes, I’m one of those people. 

So when it came to planning for a family, I thought I would take the same Type A approach to the situation. I bought “The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant”. I checked numerous things off my to-do list such as going to the doctor’s office for an all-clear, planning where the nursery would fit in our small apartment, and so on and so forth. I thought I was ready to go. 

And then for the first time, I faced the reality of a situation that I had absolutely no control over.

I knew something was wrong right away. I could just tell something was off in my body. It turns out my hormone levels were out of balance in a very unique and particular way that affects less than 1% of the fertile female population. Lucky me, right? Not exactly.

The months that followed were hard and required a lot of change. My lifestyle had to undergo a complete 180 due to the physical problems I was having. It wasn’t just the doctors visits – I didn’t have the same amount of time to focus on myself or my business in the way I used to. My health had to become a priority, and so it did.

When your body fails at something so innate, it’s a crushing psychological blow. And the truth is that 1 out of 8 couples suffer from infertility, sometimes for years. In a sense, I was lucky. I could change my schedule or reduce my hours if I needed to. I didn’t need to worry about what my boss or my HR department was going to think or say.

We all want to “lean in”, but it’s hard to put your best foot forward and advance your career when your body feels like it’s failing. The truth is, employers need to find ways to work with women looking to start or expand their families – and that means more than offering to pay to freeze eggs. 

Let’s change the conversation…

Unfortunately, the ugly truth is that most employers don’t understand the psychological struggles that come with fertility treatments, let alone the physical ones. Women in the workforce want to continue to perform well and feel well, and as an employer there are a few things you can do to help the situation. Rather than offering to pay to freeze eggs, try offering help in one of the ways listed below.

A few ways you can help women in your organization struggling with infertility:

  1. Offer supportive working hours. Trying to get pregnant may take more doctors appointments than actually being pregnant! 
  2. Be sensitive about topics like department baby showers or group gifts for anyone currently pregnant in your office. It can be really tough to see other pregnant people when you’re having trouble conceiving.
  3. Check that your health insurance plans cover at least basic fertility appointments (like going to a reproductive endocrinologist). If you’re a startup in the bay area, you’re likely competing with companies like Facebook and Google who have excellent insurance and cover all procedures. That’s the gold standard, but something is always better than nothing.

Infertility affects women in many different ways. After going through it myself as a CEO, I want to make a conscious effort to change the conversation around the workplace to make women more comfortable during these tough times. Making your work environment a more supportive, flexible place for women who are trying to reproduce is important and will also yield positive results for your organization. 

Colette Nataf

Colette Nataf

Started in 2016, Lightning AI has grown from 3 to 300+ accounts in just three years under Colette’s leadership. In addition to her role as CEO, you can also find her speaking on AI, and writing about her experience as a female founder in tech.

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