We know fertility and pregnancy loss affect many of us. It's estimated that 1 in 6 couples are affected by infertility and 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss during pregnancy or at birth. Despite these statistics, there's often a silence that surrounds this issue, and it can be hard to get the support you might need for yourself or for others around you who may be affected.
It might seem to some an unlikely workplace issue, but it's only when we start to have the conversation and understand the impacts that fertility and pregnancy loss can have, that we see just how many of those around us may have been touched by this. Getting the right support in place in the workplace is crucial to help promote health and wellbeing.
Fertility issues can affect both men and women. It's estimated by Fertility Family that 7% of men are infertile, and Gov.uk & NICE report that half of women saw coping with infertility as the most upsetting experience of their lives. While this is a very personal issue, the support that your employer and those around you can provide makes a real difference in helping you to cope and come to terms with infertility and any steps you make take with fertility treatment. Fertility treatment can have both a physical and emotional impact, but there are some practical things that employers can do to assist which we'll cover later in this guidance.
This guide is an introduction to the types of issues that our members may face and the support that's available. It's not intended to replace the guidance and support of the medical professionals who are there to help guide you through the choices that are available to you and the support that you should expect. Accord is focused on helping you gain the support of your employer, and the Bank Workers Charity's support is focused towards the mental, emotional and relationship support that they provide to current and former bank workers (including partners and dependents).
So, let's get talking.
Fertility issues can affect both men and women, and it can affect those who have children already as well as those who want to create a family.
It's estimated by Fertility Family that 7% of men are infertile, and Gov.uk & NICE report that half of women saw coping with infertility as the most upsetting experience of their lives. While this is a very personal issue, the support that your employer and those around you can provide makes a real difference in helping you to cope and come to terms with infertility and any steps you make take with fertility treatment.
Some of the common reasons for infertility are:
What is IVF?
In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is perhaps the most commonly known form of fertility treatment. This is a method of assisted conception that can be used by couples to carry a child. It involves the collection of an egg, which can sometimes be a donor, and this is then fertilised using sperm in a lab. Once the egg is fertilised successfully, it's called an embryo. The embryo is returned to the womb to grow and develop.
Before getting to this point, a couple will undergo various tests, and this will help determine the options for IVF which can include sperm donation, egg donation and surrogacy.
IVF is an option for same-sex couples, when a couple is having difficulty getting pregnant naturally, and if you want to get pregnant as a single parent. Tommy's provide a useful guide for those having difficulties getting pregnant naturally.
There are several stages to IVF treatment which can take between 4-6 weeks for a complete cycle.
It starts with hormone injections to stimulate egg production in the woman which are then collected under a sedated procedure. This period of time can leave you feeling unable to work and your employer should support you by supporting adjustments to your working arrangements or time-off when necessary. You should also be supported with time-off for appointments which may involve both partners. Once an egg is fertilised and begun its development as an embryo, it will then be transferred into the mother's womb. This final period of treatment can be an especially anxious time until a pregnancy test can be taken.
The NHS offers three full cycles of IVF treatment for those that are eligible, but there are criteria that need to be considered. There is a waiting list, which can vary depending upon where you live in the country.
Private treatment is expensive, and costs vary, but it can cost between £4-8,000 on average, and in cases of surrogacy this could be as much as £20-30,000. For most, this is a significant financial constraint and can be a source of stress leading to poor mental wellbeing.
The effects of fertility treatment on wellbeing
Fertility treatment can have a multilayered impact on wellbeing.
It's therefore important to consider the support around you when undergoing fertility treatment and having some plans in place to help you cope or manage some of the potential impacts. These can include lifestyle changes, keeping active and healthy, and sharing how you feel so you're not alone in the process.
Some articles which may help:
A guide from the Bank Workers Charity on recognising depression, managing it, and getting help when you need it.
A post from the Bank Workers Charity on the relationship support available for adults and young people.
Tools from the Bank Workers Charity to help you improve your mental wellbeing and protect from the effects of stress.
The hidden experience
Going through infertility treatment can impact all areas of life. What we know is that talking helps us to process feelings and experiences we may be having. But there are some experiences which are talked about less, or we may feel we need some guidance on how to have a conversation when we know someone is experience fertility issues. We'll look at these experiences in this section.
Baby & pregnancy loss
Whether you're going through natural conception or fertility treatment, many people can experience a pregnancy loss. No matter how it happens, anyone experiencing a loss may need support.
For the birth parent, as well as dealing with the mental effects of loss and bereavement, there's a physical element too. This can include trips to see medical professionals, medications and hormonal and bodily changes as a result of pregnancy. It's important to take time to look after yourself if any of the above is happening to you. In the event of a miscarriage, you're not entitled to maternity leave, but you can still take time off through your employer's sickness and absence policy.
Those around you may also experience issues relating to the loss too. Not everyone processes the grief of loss in the same way. Partners may want to feel strong and supportive and not show their feelings. It can be a hard time, and we'd recommend anyone experiencing baby loss to seek support.
Fertility network provides information to help you learn more about fertility factors, treatments, and how they're helping young people and employers on matters of fertility.
This guide from the Bank Workers Charity highlights the support and services for bereavement and loss, and looks at some of the common themes.
Tommy's provide information and support for anyone who has experienced the loss of a baby, including miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death, or other reasons.
Support from the Bank Workers Charity
The Bank Workers Charity can help in the following areas:
Support from your employer
Issues relating to fertility, pregnancy and baby loss are challenging for those experiencing them. A good manager should be supportive and create an environment where you feel free to share how you're feeling, what you're going through and seek support. We don't expect managers to be experts, but we do expect them to have understanding, to help you by giving you the time and support you need, and to make empathetic decisions.
So, what support should you expect from your employer?
Getting support from Accord
We're able to help you navigate your employers' policies in relation to pregnancy, fertility treatments and baby loss.
Support & contacts
There are many sources of support available to you, we'll start with general support:
And remember, if you’re an Accord member and need a chat about support at work, call the helpline on 0118 934 1808.
Find more mental health related articles on our website.
We teamed up with the Bank Workers Charity for a webinar to talk about the issues surrounding fertility & baby loss, including details about the support that's available to you.
The resource centre provides practical resources and downloadable content for people who are responsible for the health and wellbeing of bank employees.