Guest blog- Lisa’s story

The blog post this week has been written by teacher Lisa (not her real name) whose school had a policy in place for staff undergoing fertility treatment. The problem was that the policy was flawed in ways which added distress to Lisa and an already challenging personal situation.

Lisa’s story

I was confident that I would be supported by my employer before I started IVF for two reasons:

  1. They’d been nothing more than amazing during my partners battle with cancer. He was now in remission and we were ready to try IVF
  2. They had a clear ‘assisted fertility section’ in which formed part of the absence policy.

The policy stated that time off would be paid for appointments relating to the IVF process and I would get up to 7 days after transfer as paid leave. It sounded fine and naively I thought we would be successful in our process first time round. We were both classed as fertile; it was because of my husband’s cancer treatment that we needed to go via the IVF route.


I found the medication aspect of IVF really overwhelming. My employers were mindful that I would perhaps need some delicate care. 

I had spoken to my line manager and HR to tell them I would be embarking on my first IVF cycle. They seemed to be ok, but no allowances were made for the two parent’s evenings and an open day in the same fortnight. I carried on regardless. They’d were giving me time off for appointments, so I felt I owed them to step up to the mark.

On my first day back at work after the embryo transfer and still within the two week wait window I started bleeding before my first lesson. I was sent home and arrangements were made for my lessons to be covered.


I couldn’t have faulted their care.


Our first attempt at IVF had been unsuccessful. I had a further four days off from work and then returned a little bit broken but determined to try again with IVF.


Upon my return to work I had to complete the dreaded ‘return to work’ form. I had no clue what to write down on the ‘reason for absence’ box. I ended up writing ‘bleeding.’ I have no idea why I wrote that and I wish there had been a blanket term suggested to me, or one included in the policy as guidance.

This was the first time I started to see the complexities of the IVF process. Is a failed transfer to be recorded as a pregnancy related issue? Or a procedure? Or illness? 

Luckily, we were able to try again with a frozen embryo transfer (FET) two months later. 


This time we made it through the two week wait and to test day, but I was told my HCG levels weren’t quite high enough and I’d have to be retested in 48 hours. I was a mess, fearing the worst that this embryo transfer had also failed. Work agreed that I should stay at home. It was the summer term I was a middle leader and my exam groups had competed their exams by now so my timetable was minimal meaning my absence caused little disruption.


Two days later it was confirmed that our second attempt at IVF had been unsuccessful.

On returning to work I received an email inviting me to a meeting with the head teacher and the HR manager due to a triggering of the absence policy. I was confused.


I asked for a printout of my absence report and was shocked to see that the days I had been at home dealing with the grief of two failed transfers had been recorded as sickness.

I went straight to HR again and asked why this was. They told me that there is no term for a failed cycle/transfer other than ‘pregnancy related illness’ and at the time I had told them that it would be too distressing to record it as this, so didn’t, as it didn’t make sense to me.

Seeing the word pregnancy when you feel like you’ve failed to achieve exactly that is heart-breaking not just to people going through IVF but also anyone who is unfortunate enough to miscarry. Surely the word ‘fertility’ would be better than ‘pregnancy’ at this stage?

I ended up going to the meeting because I wanted it to be minuted and documented that I believed there to be flaws in the policy.

I explained the full IVF process and possible outcomes to my head teacher along with very detailed accounts of the two outcomes I had experienced. I told them the system was flawed in how unsuccessful IVF cycles should be recorded and that this should not only be considered but it should also be documented in their absence policy. I also had a chance to tell them how distressing it is to see the words ‘pregnancy related illnesses’ on your sickness review form when it was anything but.

They agreed with me but told me that sadly they ‘couldn’t change the wording.’ They promised to investigate it, but said if I wanted these absences to stop triggering the policy, I had to record it as ‘pregnancy related’ for now.

I came away feeling heard but annoyed that I had to sit there and explain myself: that I had to be the one to teach them about the IVF process, and share personal details of my own heartbreaking experience.

All of this should have been considered when initially writing the policy.


I firmly believe a blanket policy in this situation doesn’t work and careful guidelines should be considered in more depth. If nothing but to save someone else having to sit through a meeting where they must pick apart their own unsuccessful cycles.