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Many women complain about the juggle – that daily dance of handling the pressures of a demanding career while running a household, organizing play dates and finding time to hit the gym.

My own daily juggle hit a breaking point when we tried to have a second child and my biology played havoc with the rest of my life. I spent many early mornings rushing to a fertility clinic in Toronto, hoping to avoid the crowds so I could complete my medical tests and make it to work on time.

I sat among many women at the clinic who, like me, focused intently on their BlackBerrys until their names were called, praying that it would be their lucky day. I recall thinking that the waiting room felt like a modern take on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness: dozens of women dressed impeccably for work but internally focused on one of our most primal needs.

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For many people, infertility remains to some degree a source of embarrassment or a sign of failure. Adding that stress to existing obligations can spell disaster. Only those forced into the world of infertility realize how common it is. In 1993, for example, the Royal Commission for New Reproductive Technology estimated that 250,000 couples in Canada experience infertility (defined as the inability to conceive after 12 months) Royal Commission for New Reproductive Technology.

Overall, Canadian fertility rates remain low, and fewer women under the age of 30 are choosing to have children. As most women facing fertility issues know all too well, the chance of conceiving drops considerably after the age of 35 – coinciding with the time when many hit their career stride.

If companies want to recruit and retain top talent, the fertility struggles of their employees should factor in to the choice of benefits offered. Surely the desire to have a child trumps custom orthotics or regular massage therapy. But fewer than 30 per cent of the companies chosen by Mediacorp Canada in its annual list of the country's top 100 employers, for example, offer in vitro fertilization benefits.

The amount for such benefits could range between $5,000 and $15,000, according to Richard Yerema, editor of the Mediacorp list. The average cost of IVF procedures ranges between $7,000 and $14,000 per cycle. Only one province, Quebec, finances three cycles of IVF treatment. In Ontario, some costs of IVF procedures are covered by provincial health insurance in specific cases. For the most part, however, Canadian couples must pay for IVF on their own.

Any employer that steps in with financial support for those who are medically indicated for the treatment would certainly elicit gratitude from employees.

"When [those employees]finally realize their dream of having a family, they're going to be thankful to that employer for helping make that dream come true, and will most likely be loyal employees as a result," said Erin Miller, a consultant in Toronto who is currently financing her IVF treatment.

"It's important to remember that this is not simply a woman's issue," Ms. Miller stressed. "It affects thousands of men and women and therefore would be an attractive feature for many prospective employees. Employers would be wise to recognize this."

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It was for those very reasons that the Canadian operation of Accenture, a management consulting firm included in the Top 100 Employers list, has offered IVF benefits since 1999, with a lifetime limit of $15,000 to cover the drugs needed for treatment.

"We do believe that making these types of benefits available to employees and their spouses will attract and help retain high-performing men and women," said Charlene Goldring, Toronto-based Accenture's director of human resources in Canada.

"Going through the IVF procedure is extremely stressful, so we can help reduce some of the stress associated with the financial burden by offering this benefit," she added.

The good news for companies is that the number of employees who would use IVF benefits in any given year would be quite small, Mr. Yerema said.

Jeff Nisker, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Schulich School of Medicine at the University of Western Ontario, said about 15 per cent of couples experience fertility issues. That number rises as women delay pregnancy, but only about 10 per cent would require medically indicated IVF, he explained.

Although Dr. Nisker is concerned about how corporate-financed IVF might lead to two-tier health care, he believes that if companies offer benefits for other areas of medical care, they should consider paying for medically indicated IVF as well.

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If a company is paying for dental care, he argued, "then shouldn't it fund medical care that is helping someone have a family? Absolutely."



Leah Eichler is a senior editor at Thomson Reuters who writes about women, their careers and success. E-mail: leah.eichler@rogers.com

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