I’d been working as a radio presenter for four years when I began IVF. I started on the show in 2010 – the year I met my husband – and, as a result, had shared our whole journey, from meeting to getting married, on air. It felt like the listeners were part of our story. That made the decision to stay quiet about IVF – both on-air and off – feel strange. But I didn’t feel able to share it. I wanted to keep the fact we were struggling to conceive private; I was still getting my head around it and felt vulnerable. And what if it didn’t work – how would people respond?
We’d been trying for a year before we were fast-tracked into treatment when I was 35. Navigating work was difficult. Anybody who’s gone through IVF knows the process can be unpredictable and tiring – I was told there would be periods of time I wouldn’t be able to work. Calling in sick on live radio is really frowned upon because it leaves everybody in the lurch, but I knew I’d need a fair bit of flexibility. There were also a lot of morning appointments – not ideal when you’re presenting a breakfast show. The hours were non-negotiable – I’d get up at 4.30am to be on-air from 6am to 10am, and wouldn’t usually leave until midday.
I felt panicked – I wasn’t sure how to have the conversation with my employers, especially as a freelancer. I had no idea what my rights were or what the company’s policy was. After googling, I found there’s currently no statutory right for employees to take time off work for IVF, although the Equality and Human Rights Commission Code recommends employers treat requests for IVF-related leave ‘sympathetically’. That’s only if you tell them, obviously.
When one woman asked for time off for blood tests, her manager said, ‘Well, take it as annual leave, because it’s a choice, like getting breast implants’
After discussing it with my husband, I decided to tell my boss I was having ‘medical treatment’ that might mean I wasn’t able to work at certain times, often at short notice. My boss agreed to put a Plan B in place and we pre-recorded some content. I felt guilty for not telling the whole story, but didn’t know what else to do. But I did tell my co-host and producer – we worked so closely it was important they knew. That felt weird, too – these are very personal conversations to have with colleagues.
The stress of fitting in appointments around work was hideous. That type of working environment is all about leaving your problems at the door and performing – you’re there to provide entertainment. Some days I really had to pull it out of the bag. Once I was very ill in the night – the injections had an extreme effect. I went in completely drained, with no jokes or banter. Thankfully, my co-host was incredible and really carried the show that day.
Juggling IVF and work was made harder because of the strict timetable involved. The series of injections, along with scans and the egg collection, are all at very specific times. I found myself becoming very anxious – I was trying to mask something huge. The night I was due to give myself my first injection randomly fell on the same night I was hosting an awards event. I’d meticulously planned the ritual with my husband – buying a lovely silk robe, candles and relaxing oil for my pressure points to make it a positive experience. Instead, I did it in a public toilet cubicle, alone.
When we discovered the first round of IVF had been successful (our son Phoenix is now three), we were delighted, but I knew I wanted to help other women going through the same thing, who don’t know how to broach the conversation at work. While my colleagues who knew were supportive, I’ve since learned some companies have IVF policies in place. Knowing who to talk to and that official channels are in place would be really beneficial, as would statutory support for freelancers.
I now host The Fertility Podcast, designed to open up the conversation around fertility, and I’m training to become a fertility coach, too. But it’s workplaces that really need to lead change. One woman who worked in HR recently told me that when she’d asked for time off for blood tests, her manager said, ‘Well, take it as annual leave, because it’s a choice, like getting breast implants.’ I still don’t think society understands that people don’t choose to have IVF – most of us want to get pregnant naturally. That attitude is exactly what I’m hoping to change.