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DIFF podcast: Fertility policies at work can give employees a ‘mental and physical break’

  • 08/11/2022
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DIFF podcast: Fertility policies at work can give employees a ‘mental and physical break’
Putting policies in place to support employees dealing with fertility issues and pregnancy loss while working can offer them a “mental and physical break”.


Disclaimer: this article and podcast episode deal with pregnancy loss which some people may find difficult


Speaking on the Diversity and Inclusivity Finance Forum (DIFF) podcast, Stephanie Charman, strategic relationship director at Sesame Bankhall Group (SBG) and Sarah Hartwell, corporate sales manager at Vida Homeloans, advocated for greater support and awareness at work of the above issues. 

Charman said implementing wellbeing champions could help employees with a range of concerns. 

Hartwell said the loss of pregnancy was different to other kinds of losses so it would help to train people to deal specifically with miscarriages. She added that pregnancy loss and fertility treatments also affected non-carrying partners as it caused a mental strain and still required them to take time off work for appointments. 

“It’s not just a woman thing, it’s a man thing. They suffer just as much, just not the physical things,” Hartwell said. 

Charman said her husband’s previous employer was “absolutely shocking” as they gave him two weeks of paternity leave and told him to sign off sick if he wanted more time off. 

She said it caused added financial strain on the couple as it meant she was on statutory maternity pay and he was on statutory sick pay.


Suffering in silence 

Hartwell met her partner Stuart when she was aged 37 and started trying for a baby when she was 40. After six months of unsuccessful attempts, she sought fertility services and was immediately referred to the clinic despite a typical two-year wait. 

It was then that she was diagnosed with endometriosis. She underwent cyst removal then began IVF. 

IVF requires women to undergo a course of Syranel nasal spray which puts them into menopause. Hartwell said she was going through this privately while still working and said this impacted her productivity. 

After this, she went for scans and found her ovarian follicles, which produce eggs, were not stimulating well. She eventually produced two eggs and used some of her holiday allowance to remove them for fertilisation. 

“That night was absolutely horrendous because I was thinking ‘this egg isn’t even going to fertilise’. But it did fertilise, which was great news but the chances were not very good.” 

The egg was then implanted, and a two-week wait followed. “That two-week wait is probably the worst… [and most] anxious wait of your life,” Hartwell said. 

She went back to work during this period, adding: “If I knew what I knew now, I’d have probably… sat with my feet up for that two weeks and just taken the stress out of it.” 

Hartwell did a pregnancy test which was negative, she said she was “absolutely devastated”. 

She was told to go down the donor route, which is where another person’s egg is implanted into her womb. She used her holiday allowance once again to go to a clinic in Barcelona, as the process is done anonymously there. This was also unsuccessful. 

Hartwell made it to her fourth attempt at donor IVF and fell pregnant but two weeks later, she miscarried. 

“It had gone. I felt like someone had literally broken my heart, had stabbed me right in the heart.” It was then that she told work she had a miscarriage and took a week off. 

Hartwell said people around her tried to comfort her with accounts of others getting pregnant following a miscarriage. 

Mentioning that treatment is not free for those over 40, Hartwell said: “What you’ve got to remember with IVF, you’ve only got a limited number of eggs, you might have a limited [amount] of money.  

“So in a way, it’s not just a baby you’ve lost, you’ve lost all your hopes and dreams.” 

Hartwell and her partner went for one more attempt and again, she lied about why she was taking time off. Again, it was unsuccessful. 

Later, while at a meeting with work Hartwell had the “biggest panic attack”.  

“Now I look back, my body was saying ‘Sarah, it’s been through all this, give me a break’.” So she took six months off work and during this time she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

When asked if having a policy in place at work would have made it easier to talk about, Hartwell said it would have been nice because there would have been less pressure. However, she said sometimes people would not want to share these details as it could invite questions about whether treatment had worked. 

“From the point of policy… it gives you a more physical and mental break,” she added. 


‘Your whole world has ended’ 

Charman conceived a year after getting married but said it was “difficult right from the beginning” as she was “incredibly sick” with morning sickness. 

At 34 weeks, it was found that her bump was smaller than normal and at 37 weeks she was induced into labour. 

“Very quickly, that induction didn’t go very well. the baby’s heartbeat kept dropping, they had a theatre prepped for an emergency C-section and luckily enough Isabelle was born naturally very, very quickly and not very pleasantly… but she wasn’t breathing.” 

The baby was taken out of the room, resuscitated and taken to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Charman was put in a ward with other mothers who had given birth. She and her husband went to see the baby the next day and were told Isabelle would need to be kept in for a few weeks but things would be okay. 

“And then our whole world changed,” Charman said. 

A couple of hours later a consultant told them there were a number of things wrong but mainly, they were concerned about the baby’s heart. Isabelle was being prepared to be taken to another hospital in Southampton but Charman and her husband could not go. Shortly after, the ambulance returned and Charman’s husband overheard a nurse saying the baby was brought back as there was nothing they could do. 

“Your whole world just feels like it’s ended,” Charman said. 

Isabelle was diagnosed with Edwards’ syndrome which is a chromosome disorder, and she had other medical issues. Charman and her husband were told they maybe had a couple of hours or days left with Isabelle so they started organising a christening and taking her to see loved ones. 

She seemed to be doing well, so plans were made for them to take Isabelle home. The family spent Christmas together and as Isabelle approached 12 weeks, doctors consulted on whether to have corrective surgery for her heart. 

Unfortunately, a couple of days later, Isabelle got pneumonia and passed away. 

Charman said her and her neighbour went through their pregnancies together and as time went on, life continued. 

“[People] stop visiting, they stop phoning, and so you’re left completely alone. and for me, I was left alone at home watching my next door neighbour – quite rightly – pop her baby boy in the car and [go] off out for trips… if I’m completely honest it was absolute torture.” 

Charman returned to work to get a sense of normalcy, but found her colleagues seemed to be avoiding her. Looking back, she said returning to work was “the worst thing I could have done”. 

She fell pregnant again with twins but miscarried at 14 weeks. Charman then prepared to begin IVF but this time, said she did not feel excited or share the news with those around her. 

She was signed off at 28 weeks and had to be at the hospital every day for monitoring, and at 37 weeks to be induced into labour. 

“After a very easy labour, our beautiful, healthy baby boy Charlie was born.” 

Charman fell pregnant again a year later and decided to be more positive, but she miscarried during a work event. She said it became apparent that her eggs were not healthy, so her husband went through a sterilisation operation. 

Charman said to anyone going through a similar experience, “time does allow you to heal”. 


Behaving normally 

Charman said for people who may not know how to react to someone going through this “try and treat that person normally as much as you can and just talk to them. you’ll soon get a gauge as to whether they want to talk or don’t want to talk”. 

She said it was also okay to not want to discuss the events, adding “don’t be scared that by talking to that person, they’re then going to offload on you”. 


Listen to the first part of the two-part podcast [47:04], hosted by Danielle Moore, operations director at AE3 Media, featuring guests Stephanie Charman, strategic relationship director at Sesame Bankhall Group (SBG) and Sarah Hartwell, corporate sales manager at Vida Homeloans.


Part two:


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