How one mom experienced infertility as an employee, parent and patient
Katie Cacchiani started fertility treatments and had her IVF procedure only a few weeks before the world shut down because of COVID.
By the time her daughter was born in October of 2020, Katie had undergone three IVF cycles each resulting in different outcomes—pregnancy loss, a failed transfer and, finally, a successful pregnancy.
Before this experience, infertility and pregnancy loss were not topics she really thought about – until she experienced it herself:
“Never in my life did I experience something so painful yet so isolating,” she said. “I was desperate to find community and connect with people who could validate my emotions.”
After navigating IVF for years in silence, Katie realized there were a lot more people in the same position. And she wanted to help them.
She was trying to conceive her second child when a position at the practice where she was a patient opened up. She felt like the opportunity was a sign that she could find purpose by helping others in their fertility journeys.
The unique perspective of being a patient, employee and infertility advocate at the same time helped her illuminate the often hidden struggles hopeful parents experience.
Infertility is a very emotional and personal topic to open up about. Katie realized she saw a lot of IVF success stories, but not as much shared about the ones that don’t work out – even though infertility diagnosis is now as common as 1 in 6.
As a way to help others going through the IVF journey feel less alone, Katie decided to document her journey to conceiving her second child — not knowing if the outcome would result in a baby. She hopes sharing her story helps others going through something similar.
Fortunately, Katie’s story has a happy ending: She just returned from her second maternity leave after her son was born earlier this year.
Read Katie’s full Q&A below to learn more about her journey with infertility and how it inspired a career change to support a mission she cares deeply about.
Please provide a brief professional summary that provides context about your work situation immediately preceding having children through today.
“I always had a full-time, in-office job, which I was still doing before my first successful pregnancy. In February 2020, I underwent fertility treatments and had my IVF procedure only a few weeks before the world shut down. Little did I know ever since March 2020, I would be working from home permanently. All at once I had to adjust to being newly pregnant during a global pandemic, the future state of the world unknown and working from home in our makeshift offices. I learned to love working from home after my daughter was born in October 2020.”
What did you do in preparation for parental leave to help set yourself up for longer-term career success?
“With Nora, I had documentation signed off by my manager that outlined my plans and priorities when returning from leave. That way, we had something to refer back to, and an aligned plan. We also discussed delegating tasks, adjusting timelines and a ‘re-onboarding’ plan. I organized my workload as best as possible and handed off tasks to the appropriate teams while trying to be respectful of their primary duties.
I also communicated my goals upon returning to work, and advocated for long-term projects I wanted to have the green-light on so I was prepared and productive when returning.
With Carter, I met with my manager to review coverage for my responsibilities while I was out (I made recommendations for who would cover what while considering their workload and current priorities). Since my maternity leave overlapped with my first annual review timeframe, it was important to go on leave feeling aligned with my manager on performance, knowledge of potential growth opportunities and expectations upon my return. My manager and I connected shortly before returning to work, so I was brought up to speed.”
What mistakes did you make? Are there things you wish you had done differently before, during or after your parental leave?
“I thought I would have time to ‘upskill’ and take an online course while on maternity leave, along with tackling the house projects I had been putting off. Setting those well-intentioned, but unrealistic expectations for myself ahead of my first baby made me feel disappointed in myself initially. Needless to say, with Carter, I didn’t put any pressure on myself to do or accomplish anything outside of bonding and nurturing him.”
What was the most challenging part of taking parental leave and how did you address or overcome it?
“With my first baby, the biggest challenge was not knowing what to expect, not knowing what each day holds—everything was so new. To suddenly switch job roles from an experienced, full-time digital marketer to inexperienced, full-time mom, was really challenging at first. But, knowing everything was brand new for both me and my daughter, I tried to have the perspective that we were both learning this new life together."
What worked really well in your re-onboarding experiences? What helped you feel good and up to speed faster?
“I set up a core team meeting the week I returned and met with my manager more regularly and as needed until I felt fully back up to speed. I also kept my notes and tasks super organized (thank you, Trello), so I didn’t forget anything and knew where things needed to be picked up when I returned to work.”
What did your manager or company do that was really helpful to your success transitioning back to work?
“They didn’t leave me with a backlog of to-dos when I returned. I didn’t feel like I had three-plus months of work to catch up on. It was a nice feeling to start fresh and not worry about making up for ‘lost time.’”
What is one professional achievement that you’re most proud of since becoming a parent and why?
“I joined Illume Fertility while the practice was amid many big changes—a name change, rebrand and plans for a complete website redesign. It was an exciting time to come on board, and my first project upon joining was to assist in leading our website strategy team. At the same time, I was undergoing fertility treatments at the practice as well (I documented my journey to my IVF Baby #2 through the company’s socials and blog!), so I had the unique perspective of being a patient, employee and infertility advocate all at the same time.”
What would it be if you had to name one thing (something you do, something you buy, something you have) that has had the greatest impact on your ability to manage working parenthood?
“I hate to say it, but it’s the truth—multitasking! There are simply not enough hours to do all the things. I learned to set boundaries with my time outside of work hours. I am committed to being productive and focused at work all day. It's equally important to give that same attention to my family and myself outside of work.”
Many parents say that once they had children, their “bar” became higher. They no longer tolerated wasteful work, unproductive meetings, etc. What else would you say changed as it relates to your career or work style once you had kids?
“I agree with the bar becoming higher. Because I hold more responsibility as a parent, I no longer can dwell on work-related issues. I am more protective of my time outside of working hours, and my peace of mind. I find myself always looking for process efficiencies to reduce time waste, and increase productivity."
How would you describe the difference between returning to work after your first child vs. your second child?
“Unlike my daughter, who was a great sleeper from the beginning, my son is eight months and hasn’t slept through the night yet. Being chronically tired and burnt out really took a toll on me. My husband and I recently went on a relaxing vacation, just the two of us, to get some sleep and reset. ATTN: Tired parents! I 10/10 recommend a few nights at an all-inclusive adults-only resort!”
What boundaries do you maintain as it relates to work/home? How have these boundaries shifted over time?
“I manage a team of parents—we all have personal responsibilities before and after work for our kids, and I respect that. I always go by ‘lead by example’—if I sent requests and worked all hours of the day/night, my team may feel like they needed to respond or match that same work style.”
If you could give another parent [in a similar position as you] one piece of advice leading up to their parental leave, what would it be?
“You won’t have time for that online course you’ve wanted to do, so don’t waste your money ;). But with that said, parenthood and postpartum are full of surprises! Be flexible and prepared for unexpected changes and ‘adjusting sails.’"
You changed industries after going through your first IVF journey. Can you talk about how that came about and what it’s meant to you—both personally and professionally?
“Infertility, IVF, pregnancy loss, etc., was never on my radar until it became my personal reality. Never in my life did I experience something so painful yet so isolating. I was desperate to find community and connect with people who could validate my emotions. Through this quest, I realized there were A LOT more people like me out there, and I really wanted to help people who were/are in the same position. When the opportunity to work at the practice I was a patient at came up, I felt like the opportunity enabled me to do just that in this new role.”
You have been vocal about your experience with IVF and even chose to document your second pregnancy to help others understand the process and support others who may be in a similar situation. As an infertility advocate, can you share why this was so important to you?
“Pregnancy loss is as common as 1 in 4. Infertility diagnosis recently changed from 1 in 8 to 1 in 6. Although it’s becoming less stigmatized to talk about, it is still an emotional and personal topic to be open about. I respect that not all people want to share their struggles, but I want to advocate and be an open door for anyone going through something similar.
I noticed there was a lot of content (on social media specifically) that highlights IVF success stories, but what was missing was the flipside of fertility treatments. The misconception is fertility treatments = baby, but unfortunately, not everyone will ‘graduate’ from the clinic. Since I was starting fertility treatments again as a patient and a full-time employee at the practice, I offered to document my journey to Baby #2 in real-time, not knowing the outcome.
I had three previous IVF cycles that all resulted in different outcomes—pregnancy loss, then failed transfer and finally success with a daughter for lucky #3. After going through IVF for years in silence, this was a drastic change in transparency. Still, it was also a really unique experience I am glad I have documented—mainly since it resulted in my now eight-month-old son 😀.”
Where can we see or read more about your IVF journey?
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