After I had a child through IVF, I went to work as a physician providing anesthesia for egg retrievals. I loved connecting with the patients, allaying their fears and anxieties about at least this one little part of their complex infertility journeys. You’re safe with me. I’ve been where you are, and I will take care of you.
Then one of my colleagues became my patient. There were a few other anesthesiologists in our group that worked at the reproductive center, but she had to have me. You see, she refused to tell anyone else at work about her struggles. She’d scramble to get shift coverage with every twist and turn during an IVF cycle, adding stress to an already anxiety-provoking situation. Then, I’d make sure I was available to take care of her any time she needed a retrieval.
Why? Because she only wanted me to know. She was so adamant on keeping her infertility a secret that she was willing to have retrievals without anesthesia.
You heard that right… without anesthesia.
I’ve never been quiet about my infertility, but many women suffer in silence. My colleague is an extreme example. Being a medical professional doesn’t insulate you from the shame and stigma of an infertility diagnosis. Furthermore, caring for patients as a doctor and working in a group practice with shared patient care and call duties while being a patient yourself presents a unique set of stressors. Our work schedules are often completely incompatible with the ever-uncertain timing of an IVF cycle.
Through private social-networking groups, I’ve learned of other women physicians all over the country who’ve forgone anesthesia for retrievals so they can return to work afterwards. I’ve learned of reprimands for “too many unplanned absences.” And I’ve learned of numerous situations where physicians had to completely change their work schedules or jobs due to their infertility.
I’m sure this is happening in other professions. Why can’t we embrace our personal and family needs as an integral foundation for our fulfillment at work? Only when these needs are met can we expect peak performance. Infertility affects the workplace wellness landscape for all team members.
The reality is this: infertility is a medical diagnosis. Miscarriage is a death in the family. An egg retrieval is a minor surgical procedure. Would you sneak chemo treatments around your work schedule without asking for help from co-workers? Would you get a colonoscopy without anesthesia just so you could return to work unnoticed?
#WeCanAll treat infertility the same way we treat other health issues that sometimes get in the way of our work. But we must talk about it.
Dawn B., UT
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