Lucy (not her real name) is a teacher in a private school, who needed assisted conception to become pregnant, as she is in a same sex relationship. The road to their baby was both literally and metaphorically long, with an 8 hour road-trip to the fertility clinic and 6 years of unsuccessful attempts.
What were the specific challenges you faced going through fertility treatment?
Lucy: I was in my early 30’s when we started fertility treatment. The clinic we were at for the first three years was a 2 hour car journey each way and I didn’t take any time off work.
There were 3 Headteachers at my school over the course of going through treatment and I found it harder with the 2 male headteachers.
I applied for a Deputy Head position but my headteacher at the time who knew about the IVF said that I wouldn’t be considered as my head wouldn’t be in the right place for this position. This didn’t seem fair that a decision had been made based on my personal circumstances.
Lucy: Teachers are honest people: we go around wearing our hearts on our sleeves bearing all these emotions. It was difficult to teach and go through treatment. I never missed a day of school. I’d be drive back from the clinic and go straight into performance mode- because that’s what you have to do. I didn’t do that after the first few years. I didn’t tell anybody at school what was going on, I told them I had a tummy bug instead.
When we changed clinic the journey time increased. It then became a 4 hour journey each way. I’d be out of the house at 5am and have the first appointment of the day. Sometimes the appointments would fall on weekends which worked out well. Some days I would be on the motorway for 4 hours, to have a quick scan and I’d be out after 10 minutes. I never missed a day of school.
That was hard.
The long hours travelling between the clinics and school sounds tough- did you partner go with you?
Lucy: I made the journeys to the clinic alone. Mainly because I wanted to get back to school as quickly as possible. It was a lonely 8 hour round trip to then be back in the classroom teaching.
Did you experience any discrimination as a teacher in a same sex relationship going through fertility treatment?
Lucy: When the trustees found out I was pregnant, they asked my headteacher if it was an IVF baby. It wasn’t public knowledge that I was in a same sex relationship. I was out, but at the same time I didn’t go about telling everyone my partner was female. But I think they knew- I worked there 10 years and we live in a small community
That's personal. Why do you think they asked this?
Lucy: They were disputing whether I would be entitled to maternity pay.
This is shocking. Are the trustees diverse?
Lucy: No they aren’t very diverse. There is one woman on the board and she is over the age of 50. The rest are men and they are older too.
Private schools operate differently to state- where I work teachers are granted only 6 weeks of maternity pay.
Did the other Headteacher know what was going on? Was he supportive?
Lucy: I think he knew what was going on, but gave me the impression that he didn’t want to know so then he didn’t have to address it. He was happy for me to be out and asked no questions.
Were you given a medical reason as to why it took so long to conceive?
Lucy: Our consultant wrote to us to say that there were no underlying health issues. That if we were in a heterosexual relationship we’d be having sex every night and would eventually fall pregnant that way. They don’t label homosexual couples as ‘unexplained’ when treatment isn’t working. It’s not labelled.
What changes would you like to see in the workplace based on your experience?
Lucy: Schools need to have a pot of money put aside each year to pay for supply.
Teachers need to be out of school for all sorts of personal reasons and life changing events. Schools need to budget for this.
There needs to be an understanding that everyone deserves to have a family. In my circumstance people might think ‘you chose not be with a man’ [laughs].
Wanting a family needs to be looked at not in a traditional sense.
And promotions shouldn’t be affected. The same way they shouldn’t be affected for single women accessing fertility treatment to become a parent.
Policies, like the ones you talk about must be put in place. They’re estimating a lot more people will need help to conceive in the future so we need to get it right now.
In the same way that we expect children to use the correct language when referring to their anatomy-adults need to be having open dialogue when discussing fertility.
Thats where fertility education in the workplace comes in- a lot of people don’t know how to have those conversations without causing offence
Lucy: It’s so important. People don’t mean to put their foot in it, but they do.
How has fertility treatment affected your outlook on teaching?
Lucy:I’ve given up even bothering. I’ve lost my self confidence.
Are you saying fertility treatment has harmed your ambition?
Lucy: Yes I am. I wanted to be a headteacher. It was a passion of mine to get to the top and treat people how i wanted to be treated. But now I don’t have the confidence. IVF knocks you down. You put up a front.
Will you return to the classroom after maternity leave?
Lucy: I’m torn- I miss the children. I doubt I will. Fertility treatment changes you.