Balancing Work & Trying to Conceive

woman-computer.jpgToday, Priya shares six tips for planning and communication related to balancing work and trying to conceive:

Waiting longer to start a family has increasingly become the norm and for some good reasons. Women are pursuing advanced degrees in increasing numbers and the decision of how to balance career with motherhood is a complicated one. (I trust by now you have all read Anne-Marie Slaughter's article in The Atlantic, which I thought did make some great points about this.)

According to the March of Dimes, a woman who is 35 years old may take twice as long as a woman in her twenties to get pregnant so it is no surprise that there are many women struggling to conceive while working hard at their regular jobs. But despite the increasing number of women in this boat, there is surprisingly little guidance out there on how to manage what can be an overwhelming process so I wanted to share a few things I learned along the way.

1. Read your health insurance policy. Know what kind of benefits your plan covers. A co-worker and I had the same insurance plan and went to the same fertility clinic, but somehow were charged for different things. Fertility treatment can be expensive. Make your dollar stretch farther by knowing what is covered and not leaving it up to your clinic to get right. (Another tip: take advantage of open-enrollment to get yourself into the plan that offers the best coverage or to sign up for a FSA plan, if offered.)

2. Set boundaries. As much as I hated hearing people tell me that I wasn't getting pregnant because I was stressed out, in hind sight, I know there was some truth to that. Yet I always found it hard to say no to work even as I was desperately longing to have a child. Because at some level I was afraid I would hurt my career and still not have a baby to show for it. If you find yourself feeling this way, know that you are not alone and try to make yourself set boundaries anyway. It is okay to work hard when you want to but it is also okay to prioritize yourself at this time. It doesn't make you a bad employee. And if your employer disagrees, it may be time to think about whether they will offer you the supportive environment you will need when you become a working mother.

3. Talk to your doctor about your work schedule. If you are starting the process of selecting a specialist, ask questions about what weekend or extended hour options may be offered. While you need to make time for treatment, convenience is no small thing to keep in mind when choosing a specialist. (And if you need a list of questions to ask, I found this one to be pretty great place to start.)

4. Come up with a disclosure plan. In the beginning, you may be able to get away with the vague excuse that you have a doctor's appointment or need to undergo an unspecified "medical procedure," but at some point you may find yourself in a position where you feel the need to explain what is going on. While it is difficult to be open about something so personal, having a plan can help you through it. Ask yourself:

  • Who do you feel comfortable talking to?
  • Do you want him or her to tell other people for you?
  • How much are you willing to disclose?
  • What do you need them to do?
  • What is your plan for minimizing disruption to your employer?

When in doubt, opt for simple, e.g., "My partner and I are trying to conceive, and I have been advised to see a specialist. I wanted to let you know because I may occasionally need to leave work for an appointment but I can work outside of office hours to catch up if I need to. It is difficult for me to discuss details, but I would appreciate it if you could let others know if you feel it is necessary."

5. Be prepared for your co-workers' reactions. If you let the cat out of the bag, the gossip mill may start churning. I have been both positively and negatively surprised by the reactions I have received from colleagues. Even when folks mean well, they may rub you the wrong way (Oh, don't worry, it'll happen when you least expect it!). Be prepared and remember to be professional in how you respond. Practice something simple to say when you need to get out of awkward situations (Thanks for your concern. It is just difficult for me to talk about. Do you mind if we change the subject?).

6. Don't just talk to your spouse. I miscarried my first pregnancy and it was devastating. At the time, I felt isolated and didn't know how to begin coping with this huge feeling of loss and grief on the one hand and fear that I may never have my own children on the other. I talked to Pete about it for what felt like every waking minute that we were together. He was so worried about me that I felt even worse that I wasn't able to "move on."

I then found a support group and it made a huge difference. I felt free to have normal conversations with my husband because I had such a great outlet for my grief and fears. I felt so relieved to know that my emotions were shared by other women and it gave me hope. Find what works for you, whether it's a therapist, your mom, a friend, a support group, or an online community.

Do you have other tips for how you have handled workplace communication and planning while trying to conceive? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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