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Returning to the Office During Your Fertility Journey

It can feel like Mission: Impossible.

Key points

  • As people start returning to the office, balancing fertility treatments and other aspects of life with in-person work can feel overwhelming.
  • There are ways to continue prioritizing self-care when you return to the office.
  • You can use time in the office to raise your sense of control and remind yourself that you are more than just your infertility diagnosis.
iStock/FG Trade
Source: iStock/FG Trade

In 1991, Bristol-Meyers asked women to add up the time they had each day and the time they needed each day and then compared the numbers. What they found was that the average American woman was running more than 20 minutes short every day.

Now it is 2021, and the time deficit is even greater. We are coming out of a pandemic quarantine, and many are navigating their company’s return to office plans. For most of us, this journey involves adapting to new routines and new workplace protocols, including vaccination mandates and mask requirements, all while balancing feelings of uncertainty about future COVID-19 variants. If you already have children at home, it also means setting up safe schooling, childcare, and getting them comfortable to a new reality where you are not alongside them all day.

But suppose you don’t have a child yet or want to have another, and you’re contemplating starting or are in the middle of fertility treatment. Then add navigating plans to return to our pre-pandemic lives. This is more than multitasking.

Scheduling fertility treatments while figuring out when you need to be in the office is like running two very important and very time-sensitive missions at the same time. And what makes the dual run even more difficult is that most of us were raised to take care of everyone and everything else first, and then use the left-over time for ourselves if we have it. But suppose there’s no more left-over time? Suppose our daily time deficit now feels like hours, not minutes?

Do not give up self-care.

Give up the idea that when you go back to the office, your “personal time” is in the middle of the night when everyone else has finally gone to sleep. If your fertility journey is going to overlap with your in-office plan, you will need all the sleep you can get.

While we were working from home, time spent commuting to work or driving to a store dropped from about 1.2 hours a day to 47 minutes a day, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and most of us used that extra time doing things we enjoy. I tell all my patients: Don’t give up time for self-care if you are going through fertility treatment when you return to the office. Self-care should still be a priority, not a reward after a difficult day at the office or a disappointing result during treatment.

Some things you can do include:

  • Listen to music slower than your heartbeat, and close your eyes to stop the adrenaline flow.
  • Listen to music faster than your heartbeat, and dance around the bedroom to burn up the adrenaline.
  • Take a walk, and take pictures with your phone to reset your perspective.
  • Share humorous memes.
  • Try online games.
  • Take a long shower.
  • Spend time stretching until there are no spots of tension left in your muscles.
  • Do progressive relaxation to feel in control of your body.
  • Meditate to be in the present instead of re-living the past or pre-living the future.
  • Practice gratitude to catch your breath.
  • Pray if it brings you peace.
  • Sing out loud.

You will need self-care to help you move forward in treatment and last for the long run.

Plan for when you have to be in two places at once.

Remind yourself that you are entitled to pursue fertility treatment. On the days you’re double-booked, cross the less pressing, less stressful, and/or less time-consuming items off your "to-do" list.

If returning to the office means you have to schedule in-person appointments with your physician or clinic during your work or commuting hours, that means you may have to confide in your HR department or a supervisor about your treatment plans and schedule, even though you may have preferred to keep your journey private. You will not be the first or last employee to have that discussion.

The more difficult part is that you also may have to notify co-workers that you will be away from the office at times. That could result in unwelcome questions and, if you confide in them, unwanted advice. The good news is that according to many of Progyny’s Patient Care Advocates, returning to the office also means you can build a support team of co-workers and supervisors who offer sympathy, empathy, humor, or encouragement and who are not intrusive relatives or gossip-prone personal friends.

Use the office for counterprogramming.

Every time you find yourself in a time crunch, or if fertility treatments feel too consuming, or things are pushing you into anxious “what ifs,” refocus on work instead. According to a 2020 Pew Poll, almost half of all workers say they feel more motivated to focus on work when they are in the office than at home. This means at home we spend more time worrying, watching, and waiting for treatment results.

In-office or on-the-job work can be a healthy distraction during your fertility journey, as well as a source of positive feedback from job successes. And if your job includes supervising or teaching others, Harvard Business Review reports that you will be more efficient in the office than remotely, and those interactions can raise your sense of control, just when your fertility journey may be lowering that sense of control. Your work can also be a reminder that you are valued and defined by more than your infertility diagnosis.

Practice optimism.

During the pandemic, you probably realized that we are hardwired for survival—that means our brain’s job is to be on constant alert for threats lurking in the unknown. It is constantly ready to arm us with adrenaline and rush us toward quick answers. We have to practice optimism and patience. We have to accept that fertility journeys take time. Learn about all the paths in a fertility journey, from IUI to IVF, ovum or sperm donation, surrogacy, and adoption. And remind yourself every day that if you want to parent, there’s always a way.

References

Managing Yourself | Why You May Actually Want to Go Back to the Office, Art Markman, July 01, 2021) Harvard Business Review

US Bureau of Labor Statistics, July 22, 2021 USDL-21-1359 www.bls.gov/tus Media contact: (202) 691-5902 • AMERICAN TIME USE SURVEY — MAY TO DECEMBER 2019 AND 2020 RESULTS

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