What this tech exec wants you to know about infertility and work

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What this tech exec wants you to know about infertility and work

Becca Chambers wishes she had someone to talk to at work while navigating infertility treatments.

Instead, she kept it to herself.

Chambers, the chief communications officer at monitoring software company ControlUp, detailed her silent struggles in a LinkedIn post that has garnered over 3,000 reactions and comments from people offering her gratitude for sharing her story. 

“I went to work every day and did my job—I smiled, brought a positive attitude, traveled where I was needed, went above and beyond—and my coworkers hadn’t a clue of what I was going through,” she wrote.

Chambers says having someone at work to talk to about her mental struggles, every hurdle and disappointment throughout the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process, and her general feelings and fears would have made all the difference when she was trying to conceive.

Coping with infertility while working

An IVF cycle may require near daily doctor’s appointments, daily hormone injections, invasive procedures, and side effects like tenderness at injection sites, bloating, headaches, and fatigue.

Chambers spent three years trying to conceive through many unsuccessful cycles of intrauterine insemination (IUI)—where sperm is placed directly into the uterus using a catheter—and four cycles of IVF. 

Working around fertility treatments meant Chambers took work calls on the way to doctor’s appointments and waited for the doctor to call her at work each day after an egg retrieval with updates on symmetry and grading. It meant scheduling daily shots around work expectations, and being in pain from the constant shots, pokes, prods, and tests. 

Becca Chambers holds a photo of an embryo that resulted from a successful round of IVF.

Becca Chambers

“It’s so exhausting and dramatic, and we work through that,” she says. “We can’t take a month off of work to do this multiple times, we just work through it and work around it.”

Chambers says she thought many times that it would’ve been helpful if her team at work knew what was going on. 

“The workplace is looked at as not the right place to talk about fertility issues,” Chambers tells Fortune. “It’s one of those topics similar to death that makes people uncomfortable.”

She blames part of her reluctance to talk about her fertility journey on her lower status at her company at the time. She was unsure how senior, mostly male colleagues would have treated her, highlighting how talking about pregnancy and family planning in any way in the workplace is often taboo and many talking about it will negatively impact their careers.

In a 2021 survey by Carrot Fertility and Resolve: The National Infertility Association, 56% of respondents said they would feel uncomfortable telling their boss they need time off for fertility treatments because people don’t openly talk about fertility at work. Seventy-six percent of respondents said they never heard company leadership use terms like “infertility,” “IVF,” or “miscarriage.” Another 34% were concerned that taking time off for fertility treatments would not be seen as professional, and 30% were worried it would put their job at risk.

According to a 2016 survey from Fertility Network UK, 50% of women did not disclose their treatment to their employer out of fear that the employer wouldn’t take them seriously and over 40% due to concerns about its negative effects on their career prospects.

Enduring infertility treatment can be stressful and mentally taxing. Chambers says she has never felt such “torture” in her life–so adding work stress into the equation seems unproductive and irrelevant compared to the stress the body is under, she says. Under the supervision of a therapist, Chambers says she took about a month-long leave of absence from work to focus on her mental health before starting IVF treatments.

Chambers believes employers should include time off for women trying to conceive, just as they do—and should—for maternity leave. And she’s not alone. Carot’s 2023 Fertility at Work report shows 65% of respondents said they’d consider changing jobs for access to fertility benefits, which can include financial support for treatment, fertility preservation procedures, counseling, adoption expenses, and more. Yet in their 2021 report, 31% of respondents said they didn’t feel comfortable asking for them at their current job (this information wasn’t clear in the latest report).

Having to do daily injections from work also puts hopeful mothers in an uncomfortable place: Only 2% of companies have a designated space for employees to give themselves shots. Instead, 38% of people inject in the workplace bathroom, while others do it around their work schedule.

“I’d venture to say trying to conceive for me was one thousand times worse than being pregnant, and way more emotionally and mentally challenging than having a newborn,” Chambers says.

This is why she stresses in her post that you never know what someone is going through, so taking time to check in on your colleagues or giving grace when someone asks for accommodations can go a long way.

Ending stigma around fertility discussions

Becca Chambers and her two children.

Becca Chambers and her two children.

Becca Chambers

Chambers’s infertility treatments ultimately resulted in two viable pregnancies and she gave birth to a son, 9, and daughter, 7. Though the IVF process feels like it was a lifetime ago, she says it also feels like trauma she will never recover from. 

“It was a nightmare. Worth it, but a nightmare,” she says.

Chambers says she was inspired to share her story after reading a post from another woman, Alicia Beaubien, about her own experience with miscarriage and infertility. She says she thinks erasing the stigma comes from open conversations, which also prompted her to talk about her journey.

“​​I’m happy to share my story if it helps normalize this experience for others,” she says. 

Since speaking out, Chambers says she’s received many messages from people who wanted to comment on her post, but didn’t out of fear that a work colleague might see it.

It’s clear “how much there is a need for this to be a conversation,” she says. 

“It’s so interesting to see that we all have the exact same feelings. The thread between all of these women with similar experiences and feelings of isolation, shame, and guilt, it’s crazy.”

Chambers speculates that if she were to undergo infertility treatments now at the place she’s at in her career, she would be “loud” about her experience, and would likely share more of her journey with her colleagues, hoping shatter the idea of it being a taboo topic at work. But she’s hoping that speaking up now helps to erase some of the stigma about infertility at work.

“If you’ve been through it and you’re in a place to be able to talk about it, talk about it, if you can be a face for somebody else to say, ‘Well, she did it and she’s still standing and she has her job,’ that means everything,” she says.