Taking time off work for my numerous hospital appointments. That was one of the biggest struggles for me…and I’ll bet a for whole lot of other women out there, TTC women in particular, especially those who have opted for the assisted reproduction route.
Even before I opted to go assisted, I had a period when I was shopping around for a good, affordable hospital, as I thought my regular Gynaecologist had gotten too expensive for me. In the beginning, I tried to limit these`1 searches to the weekends, but considering I wanted more than a chat with a hospital receptionist, nurse, or (very) junior doctor on duty, I realized that the Specialists that I wanted to see where hardly ever available on weekends. So I had to get creative. My office at the time was located in Victoria Island, so for the hospitals nearby, I scheduled such appointments for my lunch break and, give or take a few minutes, I was able to get away with this, with nary an eyebrow raised. For the hospitals that were far away, I found myself coming up with excuses to either resume late, or close early, to enable me stop by on my way to/from work.
This was all fine and good when I was just checking out the hospitals, but when I started all the investigative treatment proper…hmm, it got tricky. I opted for a hospital in Onikan, which I chose primarily because it was covered by my health insurance. The day I was scheduled for their investigative tests (hormone profiling, uterus scan, etc.), I was scheduled for 9am in the morning and, in my mind, I thought I would be there for 2 hours, tops. So I called in with an excuse. But oh boy! By noon, I was still there, waiting to even start! Long story short, I didn’t leave the place till past 4pm, meaning I had to make up a story for being absent from work that day. And that wasn’t all. I was scheduled for a hysetroscopy a few days later (a procedure in which a small tube is inserted into your vagina, to examine your cervix and inside of your uterus), meaning yet another day off. And this was just investigative oh…we hadn’t even started the treatment proper.
In the end, I wasn’t happy with the general service in that clinic and, cost savings or not, decided to return to my original Gynaecologist. Great..except it meant I would have to repeat these tests again! I was able to get my scans and blood work done on a Saturday…but alas, I was scheduled for yet another hysteroscopy (fun times, right?!), which was to be combined with a laparoscopy (a surgical procedure surgery in which a thin tube is inserted through an incision in the belly, to look at the abdominal female reproductive organs), and as it was to be performed by my doctor himself, who isn’t available on weekends (except for emergencies), I was scheduled to have the procedures on a Tuesday. In this case, I had to take not only that day off, but the day after, for ‘recovery’. And lest I forget, as this hospital is in Lekki Phase 1, it made making a ‘quick dash’ for hospital appointments so much trickier! At first, I tried scheduling my appointments first thing in the morning (8 am). This didn’t work as my doctor hardly every got there for 8! Lunch break appointments also didn’t work, as by the time I would get there for 1pm, because consultations would have started late, the person going in to see the doctor could probably be the 11am person! In the end, I had to settle for evening appointments, wherein I would get there and get comfortable with a good magazine, pending whenever it was my turn. The downer was that I had to close early on such days, and in the investment banking world I was in at the time, it didn’t quite the stellar employee make, having to close at 4, 5pm, a few times a week. But alas, what could I do?!
And then IVF time came. For my first cycle, I was feeling like a penny pincher again, and found myself in an Ikoyi hospital that was offering the service for cheaper. Luckily, my injections were done at home, but I did have to make my way to the hospital a few times a week, for the necessary scans. Okay, let me paint a picture for you. The hospital is off Awolowo Road…and there were a few fuel scarcities in that period. Yep, you guessed it! Traffic galore! With the numerous fuel stations in that area, the roads were almost always on lockdown! My commute alone, to and fro, was at least 90 minutes. And that wasn’t even accounting for wait time in the hospital. It was a mess! I was absent from work for hours at a stretch. It was just ridiculous. By the time my egg retrieval and embryo transfer were approaching, I just took 2 weeks from my annual vacation jeje, as I had run out of stories for my continued absence from work.
That cycle didn’t work, and off I went back to my old doctor, in Lekki Phase 1. He insisted on me getting some of my shots in the hospital, but as they were nurse-administered, I planned my morning commute such that I would get to the hospital by 6.30am in the morning for my injections, and before 8am, I would be back at work, resuming like every other employee. I scheduled my scans for evenings, so my truancy was at a minimum, and when it was time for the egg retrieval and embryo transfer, like the last time, I took my annual leave.
But the struggle was real.
One of my closest friends decided to have her IVF cycle in Ikeja. She and her husband fell in love with a clinic they found there, likening it to hospitals abroad, and were very impressed by the organization of their staff. Which is all fine and good, except she works in Victoria Island…and lives near Ajah. By the time she was neck deep in her cycle, she realized she had made a mistake. Hospital appointments were tricky…and even though she had the luxury of scheduling weekend appointments, the Saturday traffic on the expressway ensured that her whole day was lost each time. But it was a sacrifice she just had to make.
About a month ago, my cousin had an IVF cycle in Abuja. As we were talking on the phone, she told me how she intended to return to work the day of her egg retrieval, and only take the day of her embryo transfer off. I was aghast! I tried to explain to her cramps and soreness that often follow an egg retrieval process…and also how much of a strong proponent I am about bed rest after embryo transfer, but she refused to listen. Thankfully, her doctor ordered her to take at least a week off. But as she is not due for leave yet, she had to come clean to her boss about what it was she was doing. Luckily for her, he was empathetic and he gave her time off.
Which brings me to my next point…the conundrum of whether, or not, to open up to the authorities at work. A lot of times, this might actually be the best thing, as it could save you from telling a lot of lies and tales. If you come clean with your boss, or Human Resources (HR), maybe, just maybe, you might have someone in your corner, ready to defend all the time you might have to take off. For me, this was not an option, as the HR in my organization was notorious for information leaks. Confidential discussions were anything but, and instead became fodder for office gist. It was that bad! If I had told my HR Manager that I was going through IVF, I might as well have written a neon sign to that effect, on the notice board. So, no. It wasn’t an option for me.
But when I got pregnant, I didn’t have a choice. As I was one of those women prone to early bleeds, I opened up, not to my HR Manager, but to my Managing Partner himself. He was thrilled for me, as he knew how long I’d been trying, and was happy to give me all the time off I needed (as I had to be on bed rest for a little while). He also understood my desire for confidentiality…or so I thought. When I returned to work, I noticed a couple of the other Partners looking at my stomach. It was so fleeting, it could easily have been missed. But I didn’t miss it. And I knew my Managing Partner had spilled the tea.
But in that instance, having my pregnancy announced earlier than I wanted was less important than being able to rest and protect that very pregnancy. So when it was time for my hospital appointments, scans, and even when I had to take a couple of days off for my cervical stitch, since it was already news in the public domain, getting time off was easy peasy.
And that brings me to my last point. Antenatal appointments.
In my case, I would only take off a couple of hours to quickly attend, and then return to work. But I know a lot of women who insist on taking the day off. At first, I thought women like this were just taking advantage of their employers, until someone explained to me how long and tedious it can be in some hospitals. Fair enough, but if you have to take a day off every week (or whatever frequency your antenatal appointments are), not to mention the three months you’ll take for maternity leave, one can almost understand why organizations are not too excited about having pregnant employees. My advise is, if you can, try to go back to work after your antenatal appointment. Trust me, it will earn you the goodwill you will need later on.
And let’s not even go into the time off that comes after having kids, what with immunization appointments and all! It’s hard, it’s difficult, but if we can find a way to strike a balance, such that your work doesn’t suffer, there will be less repercussions in the long run. I’m sure that all my truancy in the time leading up to my pregnancy played a role in my being overlooked for a promotion, the year after I had my kids. As angry as I was for not getting promoted when all my peers were, even I had to admit that, truly, I had pushed the envelope on one too many occasions.
In conclusion, my advise is to schedule your appointments in such a way that there is minimal clash with your work schedule. Try your very best to keep your appointments to the weekends, and if this is impossible, then get scheduled for evenings, after work. That way, you avoid one too many overlaps. This is actually the best thing for you…and for your career.
Good luck, TTC ladies! Here’s blowing you all baby dust, and hoping your journey ends soon.