Honest: How to manage IVF and work – Jaz Rabadia
We were so fortunate to be able to talk to Jaz Rabadia MBE about her infertility experiences and challenging journey to motherhood. She gave us an open and honest insight into her journey which consisted of years of trying to conceive naturally, multiple miscarriages and a failed IVF cycle. All this whilst managing a demanding and senior career in sustainability.
Jaz Rabadia MBE was recognised in the Queen’s 2016 New Years Honours for services to sustainability in the energy management sector and promoting diversity in STEM. She was the youngest person in the UK to be awarded the Energy Institute’s Chartered Energy Manager status. Even with all these accolades, her proudest achievement by far, is becoming a Mum!
I’ve always been an ambitious career woman, wanting to climb the corporate ladder and make a difference in the world of energy and sustainability. During a time where I was fairly settled in my career, had a few years of a very happy marriage under my belt, I felt the desire to start a family. I’d always orchestrated where my life was going, the heights it reached, the breadth it spanned. I had no idea how out of my control starting a family would be.
After two years of trying to conceive and experiencing loss along the way, it soon became apparent that having a baby wasn’t going to be that easy after all.
When you decide you are ready to have a family and it doesn’t happen for you, it can eat away at you. I found that I was just not myself. Even at work, I couldn’t escape from the constant reminders that it was happening for everyone but me.
Every baby on board badge I saw on my commute into the office, every mum to be I saw in our kitchen area proudly cupping her baby bump and every job posting I saw for maternity leave cover was consuming me.
One in six couples suffer from infertility and regardless of how common fertility issues are, there is still a social stigma attached to them. In the workplace this is amplified. It’s for this reason I want to help shine a light on the subject.
How did you cope with all of this and work?
Infertility is not something you can leave at the office door. At work I was a very different person during this time and those closest to me spotted that something was wrong. After deciding to go down the route of IVF, I saw a little more light at the end of the tunnel and work became a welcome distraction to all that was going on.
With IVF, timing is key. The process has no appreciation for working mums, their schedules or their prior commitments. This became quite a challenge to manage. I would always try to use my IVF calendar to plan work and meetings around, for I knew I had one of the biggest meetings of my life on the day my treatment concluded.
IVF is very private process, but it can be hard to keep to yourself because of all the appointments and the time needed off work. I remember psyching myself up for what I thought would be a difficult conversation with my manager. I thought that if I let slip that I want to have a baby, I would be showing a weakness, that perhaps I wasn’t as committed to my career as my counterparts, perhaps I didn’t deserve that payrise or promotion. Even though I knew my work environment wasn’t like that, it didn’t stop the doubts sprinting through my mind.
The conversation with my manager was fairly matter of fact. I explained to him that I had a series of upcoming hospital appointments, but I planned to make the time up for my absence from the office. I didn’t ask for permission, I was frank about needing time off and offered a solution.
I think it helped that I am a senior manager in the business and that my time in the office is quite fluid. I can see how this could be quite challenging if you are more junior and perhaps in a fixed office-based role. But my advice to those in this situation, is to be as honest as you can be.
My treatment required me to have days away from the business and time off at short notice. Thankfully my employers were flexible and value employee well-being. Because of the conversation I had with my manager, I didn’t feel guilty about taking this time, nor did it add to all the other stress my body and mind was going through. It actually made the world of difference.
I also had a confidant at work which helped me to endure the whole journey. Just being able to air my thoughts and emotions on a walk at lunch time was a massive help.
When I did finally fall pregnant, I was overcome with a whole host of thoughts. What might my future career look like? When would I return to work? How would I pick up where I left off? I was struck that there seemed to be this huge clash in the timing of my biological clock ticking away and being in the prime of my career. I’d always been very aware of the lack of female representation on corporate boards and started to wonder if this timing had a part to play.
How did you manage your return to work?
I returned to work after eight months of maternity leave, which some would consider early. It just felt like there was the opportunity to earn again and so it didn’t make sense to us as a family to not make the most of that. Would I have taken longer if my maternity pay hadn’t ended? Absolutely!
But, I decided to go back to work predominantly for financial reasons, but also because I had a severe case of FOMO (fear of missing out). To help me transition back to work, I returned doing three days a week for my first four months using accrued annual leave. This allowed me to re- immerse myself into working life, whilst also being able to spend precious time with my son.
Whilst on maternity leave, I also did the maximum number of Keeping In Touch (KIT) days. Some were phone conversations, informal or more formal meetings. It didn’t have to be me and the baby going into the office each time, my manager even came to my local coffee shop a few times. The more I kept in touch the easier it was for me and the easier it was for management to integrate me back into the business.
Just before I went off on maternity leave there were a number of my co-workers that were also pregnant around the same time. We set up a group to share experiences and advice and included some returning mums. We had a meeting with our HR team and invited each of our line managers, to have a very open conversation about our thoughts, concerns and expectations of being on maternity leave. With the help of these returning mums, we gathered feedback on existing processes and put in place some new processes to improve our experience and transition back. This included creating a checklist for line managers to run through prior to someone returning, having to hand key contact numbers particularly for IT and payroll queries and highlighting certain benefits new mums can receive, such as a cashback bonus from medical cover providers.
As a group we maintained contact on Whatsapp throughout our leave and it served as another great way of keeping in touch. I learnt how coming together with peers and colleagues could really have a positive impact on one’s maternity experience and career as working mother.
Learn more about Jaz’s journey on her site. Read all about her thoughts here – From being a Partner to a Parent and eight transferable skills she masters in her eight months of maternity leave.