When I started my career at Cisco as a Customer Support Engineer in Belgium in 2006, my mission was to become the best engineer to support our customers as possible. And, after achieving my CCIE and investing in my education with Cisco’s support, I took a new role in the company and relocated to the United States.  Joana lays in a hospital bed hooked up to medical equipment.

As my husband, Antonio (also a fellow Cisconian) and I settled in to our new country, the thought of starting our family grew. We knew we were ready to embark on the parenting journey, and in my mind – I thought it would be straight forward. After all, my friends were all seemingly having babies very easily without any mention of infertility.  

Months would become years for us, however, and true to my engineer ways – I always have a plan! Our next step was to do a fertility checkup, and when the doctor informed us of the results, we couldn’t believe it, “unexplained infertility”. All infertility is frustrating, but to not have a reason or something we could treat – I was more frustrated by the “unexplained” part. 

I took quick action to reach out to my primary health physician at the Cisco clinic for guidance and was recommended to a fertility specialist. The fertility specialist recommended IVF, and that seemed to be the way to go, but I was still scared of the possible outcome.  

My concerns stemmed from knowing multiple cases where one round of IVF hadn’t been enough, as you could end up with all your embryos not being viable. I needed to speak with someone who had gone through IVF previously – but whom? It occurred to me then that we have a large workforce at Cisco, and I was sure a fellow co-worker within the company had been through this already. So, I emailed the parent’s and women’s groups at Cisco asking if someone might be willing to share their journey with me. 

A couple hours later, I had a reply from a colleague! We met via Webex and shared our stories, and I shared my concerns – it was such a relief to know that I was not alone in this! Her encouragement gave me the strength to go through with the IVF treatments. 

Upon checking our Cisco health insurance, I was positively surprised that we would be covered for one round of IVF treatment, plus a fertility support program in which we would be able to touch base with a nurse with any questions or doubts we experienced.  

Antonio and I thought, “Let’s give that one round of IVF a try and hope for the best!”  

Joana with her first child after giving birth.

Luckily, we were able to get viable embryos on the first cycle, but I knew not everyone had this same experience or good fortune. So, I raised my concerns with Cisco HR to let them know that the current benefit, while wonderful, still came with constraints of only covering one round of IVF. I was hoping I might be able to influence the benefit for other employees in the future who might need additional rounds. And, I’m proud to say that in doing so, along with other employee’s feedback, Cisco listened – and employees are now covered for more than one IVF cycle! 

After recovering from the treatments, we did one embryo transfer and that embryo became Baby Oliver born in May 2017! We couldn’t have been happier to have a journey that started with fear and many doubts become a journey that gave us our little bundle of joy. 

Fast forward to 2019 – we found out that we were expecting our second baby! This time, we weren’t even tryingunexplainable. But this time a very happy unexplainable!  

If that surprise wasn’t enough, we also learned that Cisco had recently increased the Child Bonding Leave benefit, and I would be able to stay home longer with my new baby. Plus, my husband would also be able to take parental leave as well so that we could both focus on our family first and ensure our children are off to the best start possible.

Through this entire experience, I would like other women and those who are trying to start families of their own to know that infertility is not your fault! It is not rare, and it is very difficult to endure – but you are not alone.  

This is just one infertility story, and it is mine. I am so happy that Cisco had my back during this journey, that I was able to connect with others at Cisco during this experience, and that we now have the family we always dreamed of.  

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