This week is National Infertility Awareness Week. As someone who spent years struggling to have a child, I can tell you that nothing prepares you for dealing with infertility.

I was diagnosed with infertility in 2012, after suffering two early-term miscarriages. Wanting more than anything to start a family, my husband and I began a journey that dragged us through hell.

Over the next four years, I had two more miscarriages. I went through seven failed in vitro fertilization attempts and gave birth to stillborn twins. Finally, I went through an incredibly difficult pregnancy with my daughter, which ended in an emergency C-section.

This is just a taste of what your own employees may be going through. But one of the hardest aspects of infertility is the lack of understanding. Many of those who are afflicted by infertility, suffer in silence. And those who haven't experienced it themselves are unsure of how to help. That's why I challenge you to learn more about infertility and its effects.

While this might not seem like an "employer problem," I can tell you firsthand that having support at work makes a world of difference. The stress and heartache that comes with infertility follows employees into the workplace. And it's up to employers to take the initiative to learn about the obstacles these employees face.

1. The need for privacy.

As a result of the continued stigma surrounding infertility, many are scared or unsure of how to talk about it. As Cathy A. Reilly, founder and CEO of online onboarding platform Onboardia, Inc., discovered, it can be difficult to offer both support and discretion.

Reilly had an employee who needed daily blood tests as part of her fertility treatment. This entailed a long commute, often making her late to the office. Since the rest of the team didn't know about the employee's appointments, they began to question why she was getting away with constant tardiness.

To solve the problem, Reilly created an as-needed flex time policy. All employees could adjust their schedule with leadership's approval. Whether employees were dealing with infertility or a sick relative, they could take time without revealing personal details to the entire office.

Understand that these policies only work with trust. As a leader, that starts with you. Let your employees know you understand they are dedicated to the company, but that doesn't mean life doesn't happen. As long as there's communication about when your employees will be in the office, give them the flexibility they need.

2. The financial burden.

Although infertility is a medical condition, many of the treatments aren't covered by health insurance. Kaitlyn Trabucco discovered this firsthand when doing her own research and was shocked by her lack of options.

"I could have never fathomed the financial and emotional toll infertility can take," she said. Luckily, as the founder and COO of educational marketplace Educents.com, Trabucco was able to make better decisions to help support her employees.

Find out what your current benefits cover and what they don't. If you're not sure where there are gaps in coverage, ask employees for feedback. Chances are, they also have connections within the infertility community who know about benefits you've never heard of.

3. The resulting stress.

Unfortunately, infertility stress pops up in unexpected ways. Certain medications can cause hormonal changes that put a strain on relationships. Other people need to take large amounts of time off from work to recover from the exhaustion.

Although Cassandra Pratt is the vice president of people at fertility benefits company Progyny, she didn't really understand the struggle of infertility until an employee confided in her. This employee had suffered through miscarriages and failed IVF cycles. When she decided to try again, she approached Pratt to explain the toll the journey would take on her.

"It is nearly impossible to completely compartmentalize when going through treatment," Pratt said. "She was nervous and afraid her career would be impacted again by the need to start a family."

Don't add onto employees' stress by letting them think their job is in danger. Throughout their struggle, continue to reach out and ask them what they need from you as an employer.

Understand that every case of infertility is different. So, don't assume the support you offered one employee will fit the needs of another. Chances are, your employees have as many unanswered questions as you.

"What they need is a comprehensive combination of guidance, support, and resources to help them navigate," said Sylvia Sanchez, U.S. benefits manager of credit card processing company Square.

Let your employees know you want to make their lives better however you can. Whether they just want someone to listen or need a few extra vacation days, find ways to help them. During such a difficult time, even the smallest gesture can make a big difference.

Published on: Apr 26, 2018