Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: Should I give up my stressful job for IVF treatment?

Wednesday 09 July 2008 00:00 BST

Dear Virginia,I've had four tries at IVF. I became pregnant with one, but soon miscarried. The other attempts didn't work. Each time, I stopped working, relaxed – and each time it failed. Now I am having my last try, but I'm starting a stressful job, one that I know I'd enjoy and be good at. Should I ask them if I can start a month later, giving myself a chance to relax (at the risk of getting off to a bad start), or should I just go ahead and hope for the best? Yours sincerely, Miriam

M y father used to say that if you can't decide whether to do something or not, then it doesn't matter a hell of a lot which decision you take. Either way, the plus points are the same and either way the negative points level out.

If you asked for time off before starting the job, it's quite possible there'd be real repercussions later if you didn't get pregnant. You would, probably, never be promoted, and it would be clear to your employer that the bottom line, for you, was your personal life rather than loyalty to the company. Not a good way to start off a new career.

If you decided not to go ahead with the job at all and then didn't get pregnant, you'd be in a different circle of hell. Unemployed, depressed, sitting at home wondering what the point of life was – that's not really an option.

The other factor to take into consideration is the fact that you've done the old lying around in a bath surrounded by scented candles and saying "om" all morning routine, and frankly, it hasn't come up with the goods. But on the other hand, bodies usually respond best when they're not under new stresses.

Looking at the situation as a whole, I think that, marginally, I'd favour taking the job. I don't know how true this is for everyone, but for me there's a sophisticated (well sophisticated-ish) veneer, a coping woman, independent and energetic. Inside, there's not an inner child (how easy that would be – a few boiled sweets and an ice-cream would sort her out every time), but some primeval being who has a mind of its own, one that refuses to have any truck with the other self. I suppose you could call it the subconscious, but I prefer to visualise it as a desperate, dumb refugee from a strange land. And I suspect that while you're "relaxing" away like mad, this being is, unknown to you, biting its nails with anxiety about pregnancy, gibbering with worry and tense as a spring. So why not say to it: "You want to worry? I'll give you something to worry about!" and plunge yourself into a new job. Then (as my possibly barmy theory would run), your subconscious would spend so much time panicking about the new job that it would leave space open for a pregnancy to occur on the sly, as it were.

I don't know how the drugs affected you the past few times, but if you're in a stressful new job the likelihood is that you won't experience the symptoms as badly because you'll be so busy concentrating on things at work. In other words, taking this stressful job could be quite relaxing for the part of you that wants to get pregnant. It would take the attention away from the problem.

One way or another, I imagine that if you want a baby enough you'll have one in the end, whether it's by fertility treatment or even adoption, so none of this matters all that much. Or, at least, that's what you must try to believe. But the best of all worlds, and there's no point in thinking it's beyond your grasp, would be to have a job and get pregnant. Everyone happy, inner lunatic included.

Readers say

Stop relaxing and get busy

I would advise Miriam to go ahead and start her new job as scheduled because she clearly knows that she would enjoy the job and be good at it. This means that she will be busy, her mind will be at rest and she will have less time to worry about conceiving. Having both her body and mind at a normal state will increase the chance of conceiving successfully. There is no good scientific evidence to suggest that stress at work will be a negative factor for the conception. All her previous attempts were associated with stopping work and relaxing and each time it failed.

Nowmi Zaman, St Albans

Why can't you have it all

Miriam, what on earth do you want? Either you go for a child (or at least, a chance to have one), or you go for your lovely stressful job. Make up your mind, for Pete's sake. Just imagine that you do get your job, and a month later you're pregnant. Then what? "Stressful" won't even come close. If you're so desperate to have both, by all means go for the job, and after a while, when you can spare some time, adopt a child. Plenty of kids need a home. Or do it the other way round. But in my opinion, you should choose. Don't try to have it all. That's a recipe for disaster.

Maria de Haas, by email

You want both, so do both...

It sounds to me that you really want the job. So go ahead with it and see what happens with the IVF. Women often get pregnant at the most inconvenient time. And having a great job will keep your mind off the IVF. Good luck with both projects.

Gabrielle Liddy, Chilworth, Surrey

You're too demanding

So, you are thinking about asking your new employer if you can start your job late in order to try to get pregnant, after which, if all goes well, you will presumably demand maternity leave? That's the kind of thing that puts employers off hiring women. It sounds like you are trying to have your cake and eat it.

All too often, women are forced to make a miserable choice between our jobs and our families. You are exploiting both the technology available to make your body do something it doesn't seem to want to do, and maternity laws that allow you to demand time off at the expense of your employer.

Tania Payne, by email

What if it works?

I know exactly how it feels to undergo lengthy infertility treatment and to suffer miscarriage: relaxing is the hardest thing to do when your whole life revolves around completing a successful pregnancy. But Miriam really does want everything her own way, doesn't she? I cannot imagine how she can even contemplate being distracted from her goal to become a mother.

Let's imagine that her next IVF attempt is successful. Will Miriam up and leave her longed-for baby with the childminder while she dashes off to her "really stressful job"? How much time and energy will she have at the end of the day to devote to her baby.

Christine Lock, Wokingham, Berkshire

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