Should I tell my boss that I’m starting IVF?

I’m starting IVF in the next couple of weeks. I’m concerned it may be a little challenging with hormone injections and the ups and downs of the process. Do I tell my boss?

First, what an exciting time for you and your partner! I sincerely hope everything goes well.

This is such an interesting question and in our extended correspondence, you’ve done a fantastic job of defining the internal debate you’re having. I won’t quote you verbatim because some of what you mentioned included personal details, but I’ll paraphrase because your explanation sets the scene for your predicament.

Telling your boss sensitive information, such as your decision to undergo IVF, can be a difficult decision.
Telling your boss sensitive information, such as your decision to undergo IVF, can be a difficult decision.Credit: John Shakespeare

The argument for withholding the update comes in part from a desire to protect your privacy – you’re not someone who generally divulges much personal information at work. In part, it also comes from a desire to avoid encouraging assumptions such as “she’ll be going on maternity leave soon”.

The best argument for telling your boss is that you know this will be a challenging time, and you can envision that it might be helpful if one or more colleagues knows what you’re going through. Although you don’t want to be treated differently, you can see there’s a chance that by providing a little bit of information, you’ll make things less awkward for yourself and others.

I spoke with friends who have, in the last couple of years, been through IVF while working. Neither wanted me to use their real names in the article, but both offered what, I hope, are useful insights and advice. I’ll use pseudonyms for them.

If your boss is understanding, trusting and trustworthy, I think you should feel confident (but not obligated) to tell them.

Andrea is in a slightly different position to you in that she is the boss at her work. She said that she understood your dilemma and agreed that “there are challenges if you tell your work and if you don’t”. Ultimately, she decided not to tell her colleagues about her IVF until after she was pregnant, but she doesn’t necessarily think she’d suggest that to everyone in a similar position.

“The beauty of working from home and flexible working [since COVID] means you can try and organise appointments around work. But if you can confide in your boss or colleagues it might make things much easier,” Andrea said. “Most workplaces are very understanding. So many people have been through IVF or know someone who has now, so most people get how hard it can be.”

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Everyone’s experience of IVF is different, and Andrea said she was lucky not to be noticeably affected by the hormones. She did, however, find the need for regular blood tests disruptive to her workweek.

Erica said she struggled with parts of the process, including getting headaches, and was glad she had a boss who she knew would be considerate and keep her news in the strictest confidence.

“Your reader discussed ups and downs, and I had plenty of them. I was lucky that my manager was compassionate and always told me my health and family came first. She also struck an amazing balance between being interested and respecting my privacy. She checked in without making a big deal of the whole thing,” Erica said.

“I thought about telling other members of my immediate team, but I’m happy with my decision not to. I guess that’s mostly because of how good my boss was about it. If I had a more difficult manager, I might have needed the support from someone else at work.”

So, should you tell your boss? I don’t think this is a question with a clearly right or wrong answer. The way you lean, however, will depend on what kind of person the boss is and how you get on with them.

If they’re understanding, trusting and trustworthy, I think you should feel confident (but not obligated) to tell them. If your relationship is cooler, or you’re just not sure how they’ll take the information, perhaps keeping it to yourself – or between you and a close co-worker – is the better way to go.

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