#IWD2022: ending the workplace silence around fertility treatment

Philippa Brown #IWD2022 blog

This year’s IWD theme is focused on breaking bias for working women – we’re taking the stance to talk more openly about topics not often discussed over the water cooler.

Today, our conversation with Philippa Brown, Junior Product Manager at Recordsure & TCC, brings us to the subject of fertility treatment, which is often not openly discussed. Philippa talks frankly about what it’s like to be going through the roller-coaster of fertility treatments while working.

When you decide to start a family, you rarely share this exciting decision with anyone beyond your closest family or a small circle of friends – and it’s very unlikely for you to talk about it at your workplace.

Some mothers-to-be can feel anxious at the prospect of sharing their pregnancy news and it is common for them to wonder what impact sharing this news will have on them in the workplace.

Philippa’s story is somewhat different, as she made the decision to share her hopes of becoming a parent even before she conceived. This is why. 

Philippa's story...

“At the time, we’d been trying to start a family for over two years. Sadly, rather than the joy of motherhood, I was left with the trauma of multiple miscarriages,” Philippa starts her story. “Aside from my immediate manager and a couple of close work colleagues, nobody knew of my heartaches and the struggles to become a mother.”

That was when Philippa and her husband decided to start fertility treatment – an exciting, scary, and expensive journey ahead of them. Philippa wanted it to work and realised that she couldn’t do this without people around her – friends, family, work colleagues – knowing about what’s she was going through. She needed their support, encouragement and understanding.  

Being very aware of the side effects of fertility treatments, Philippa was worried about the impact of raging hormones and going through a range of menopausal symptoms. She made one of the scariest decisions of her life – to break the silence and talk honestly and openly about her fertility treatment at work.

“I’m a private person, yet the privilege of privacy was no longer an option for us. When you are trying to grow your family, at any stage, you realise that you need all the support you can get but you also want all the privacy – sadly it doesn’t work like that, you can’t have both. I needed to be open with people around me, including at work, about what I was going through.”

Philippa continues:

“It was important to me that my work colleagues know why I’m not well enough to get up and work, why my brain is too foggy to function, or that I’m falling apart because ‘it didn’t work’. I wanted them to understand that when I’m not at work, it’s not because I don’t care about my job or that I don’t want to work, but it’s because all my energy has been sucked out of me and I simply have nothing else to give.”

Even though many couples go through fertility treatments every year, it is only in recent years that the topic is spoken about more openly, with some businesses now offering guidance to employees and managers in their policies and employee handbooks.

Aside from physically and mentally crippling side effects, fertility treatments also mean many hospital and doctor appointments. And when things don’t go to plan, which is more often the case than not, last-minute changes to the appointment schedule are made. This is another reason why Philippa felt it was right to be open with her manager and her peers about the treatment.

“My line manager was approachable, considerate and very supportive,” reflects Philippa, “yet after the failed first round of IVF, I realised that this might take a while.”

That was when Philippa decided to be open about her struggles:

“With Recordsure & TCC Group being a medium-size business, we all know most people who work here. Last summer, I emailed all employees about my upcoming treatment and what might change while I’m facing the challenge of the possible side-effects, the impact on my mental health and the unpredictability that comes with such treatment.”

“I needed the flexibility and understanding – yet I got so much more. I received so many heart-warming messages, words of kindness and genuine support. I was so surprised to see messages not only from my peers but from all across the business and from a demographic you don’t normally get much interaction with in the ‘fertility world’. I needed that more than I realised.”

Philippa continues:

“I’m grateful to work for an employer who doesn’t use ‘positive company culture’ as a buzz phrase but offers genuine support to their staff when they need it the most. The positive, caring culture and family first approach is well embedded in all of us – and I’m lucky to have experienced this first hand.”

“Throughout my journey, knowing that I never needed to worry about work was a great relief, and has made the experience easier for me. I’ll be forever thankful for the humanity, support and kindness I’ve received.”

Philippa wants to make a difference: “I am very proud to be a part of the generation that uses their voice to help others and won’t keep quiet about fertility and family planning.” 

“I am even more proud to know how much my company is rooting for me in the background, and what they will do for others in the future.”

And while Philippa's story is still unveiling - we thank her for sharing her experience and wish Philippa and her husband a happy ending.

Recordsure and TCC praise themselves for being a considerate employer, putting employees first and taking proactive steps to support our employees to look after their mental and physical well-being.

 Rebecca Swiffen, Senior HR Business Partner, comments:

This year’s IWD theme of breaking bias offered us a new outlook on the bias in the workplace. We’re taking a closer look at the conscious and unconscious bias women face and challenging ourselves, and our HR policies and advice, to make sure we do all we can to proactively support our employees.

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