Women at work, beyond the 9 to 5: The untold realities of working mothers’ lives.
This is part 2 of Charlotte’s* journey, where we talk about her traumatic IVF journey. When she discovered she was successful getting pregnant with her second daughter, after 27 rounds of IVF, she got pushed out of her executive job. You can read about that experience in part 1 of her story .
Having landed on her feet, she now works in consulting and is dealing the challenges of two small kids and two parents with demanding jobs. You can read that part of her story here.
Please note the content of this story may be emotionally challenging. We discuss fertility challenges, pregnancy loss and mental health challenges.
27 rounds of IVF and a high-risk pregnancy
About 1 in 18 babies born in Australia are born as a result of IVF. While it becomes more commonplace to receive fertility support, it doesn’t make the individual experiences any less emotional and difficult.
Charlotte and her husband discovered early on that they would need fertility support to fall pregnant. After a miscarriage in her third round of IVF, Charlotte took another nine rounds to fall pregnant with her oldest daughter in her 12th round.
“I was very sick but she was a straightforward pregnancy. She wasn’t an easy baby because she never bloody slept! But she was a great feeder.”
With her first, Charlotte said she and her husband were grappling with the question of whether they would ever be able to have a child.
“You just never think that you’re not going to be able to have a baby.”
With her second, she desperately wanted to give her oldest a sibling.
“[My second] was round number 27. That’s a lot of IVF. I would say to my doctor, ‘Just tell me when to give up and go and get a dog’. And he said, ‘I will, but we’re not there yet’.”
He was right, and Charlotte had her beautiful second daughter, but not without further challenges.
At the same time that the company restructure was taking place, Charlotte was successful in her 27th round of IVF. She then had a high risk pregnancy and was trying to manage that stress while realising her job was at risk.
The stress of a high risk pregnancy
“It was a horrendous pregnancy. I was actually pregnant with twins, and we found out at 10 weeks that one of them had died.”
Through testing, Charlotte discovered that one of the twins had two complicated genetic disorders, but doctors couldn’t say whether it was the baby that was still alive, or the baby that had passed away.
“Right up until the 21-week mark they couldn’t definitively say that the baby that’s alive is healthy and the baby that’s died is the one that had all these genetic disorders.”
“I had to have an amnio[centesis test to check for foetal abnormalities] at 21 weeks, literally the last day they would let you have one. It’s very risky, especially with my history. That wait was about 10 days before they could ring me and say, yes, the baby that’s alive is healthy.”
“I actually think I went a bit crazy. I remember being in bed holding my mother-in-law’s hand and having a full panic attack. That was probably the last chance for us. How many more tries do you keep going?”
After the difficult wait, doctors confirmed that the live baby was healthy, and Charlotte could share her news with colleagues and friends.
Losing your job for getting pregnant
All this stress was taking place while Charlottes company was going through a restructure, and her job was at risk. Her new boss was making things very challenging for her.
“I was going through this while all that sh!t at work is happening, as well. So when I finally got the all clear and told me new boss I’m pregnant – to have her treat me like she did… Those two realities going on at the same time was just unbelievable. It was very hard. I’m just stubborn and refuse to give up.
Charlotte relied on a Winston Churchill quote to get her through the dark days; Never ever, ever give up.
“Every time I stuck another needle into myself, and it was multiple needles every day, I thought never, ever give up.”
Charlotte was sidelined in her role, given a project to just fill some time, and eventually made redundant. Her vulnerability due to the challenges of her pregnancy meant she didn’t have the fight she might otherwise have had to retain her position and insist on fair treatment. She’s still sad about not even being able to say goodbye to her colleagues and team. You can read more about that part of her journey here.
Managing work and fertility treatment
She’s pleased to see companies now advertising their fertility support now and becoming so much more accommodating.
“I remember when I first started IVF in 2012, running off and hiding and trying to get blood tests and scan appointments secretly booked in my work calendar, and hiding all the drugs in the fridge at work. It’s very different now. It’s really wonderful, because it’s just a fact of life that lots of people go through.”
Throughout IVF, Charlotte worked hard and didn’t take breaks. Following general anaesthetic for egg retrieval she’d be back online in the afternoon. But she really felt the pressure to continue to perform.
“There’s that classic saying that you need to work like you’re not a parent and parent like you’re not at work.”
Now she’s working in consulting, and enjoying the work but finding the juggle a struggle, like so many working mums.
Supporting the parents in your workforce
High attrition rates of women after they have a baby are an indicator that your culture isn’t as inclusive as you may think. Strong programs supporting parents returning from leave can help shift the experience for everyone. Find out more about how I can help here.
*Not her real name. Because of the stigma faced by working mothers, the motherhood penalty, and the fact that the state of women’s relationships directly affects the state of their lives and careers, the women in this series have chosen to remain anonymous.
If you would like to share your story, please send me a message!