Career · Pregnancy

Telling work you’re pregnant

Gold Mini
This isn’t my car but I wish it was

One of the things I worried about most when I got pregnant was telling work. Pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work is endemic in the UK. Most women will experience some sort of discrimination. It’s luck if you don’t.*

Plus, I love my job. Not always on a Monday morning. But in general. It is endlessly fulfilling and stimulating. And I adore managing my team – I am proud of them every day.

Work and my relationship have always been the primary axes of my life – and I want it to stay that way as I add a third, our baby. Things will change – but women have babies all the time, and that shouldn’t mean we lose our careers.**

So I was worried about telling work. Perhaps they’d think I was less committed to my career. Maybe they’d expect my brain to turn to mush. Or that I’d start slowing myself down.

I stewed for several weeks, but as I started to show and the 12 week scan came and went, I ran out of excuses.

At 12+5, I told my boss – the chief executive. She’s got grown-up children of her own, and she brought them up as a single mum in a male-dominated industry. She’s from the first generation of women who had big careers while having a family.

Sometimes older women at work can give off a dismissive attitude towards younger women. I’ve certainly seen this in the dismissals of flexible working. It’s as if they think “We did it the hard way – why should we make allowances for you?”

These women were pioneers – they have my respect and gratitude for the doors they kicked in and the glass ceilings they smashed. But they don’t always get that my generation wants more. We want managing work and family to be a damn sight easier – and we want it as of right.

As a leader I help the parents of my team get the right balance, and I champion their right to lead and to interesting projects and career development. That’s what I want for myself.

My boss reacted well to the initial disclosure. I had underestimated her.

But one comment later from another senior manager cast a pall.

We were coming out of a meeting together, talking about a project that’s off track (no-one’s fault – circumstances). He was suggesting that maybe we should can it, and then said “Well, given your condition, maybe that’s best”.

And there it is. What I was afraid of. 17 years’ professional experience, consistently excellent reviews, the youngest divisional director they have ever had – and my pregnancy factors into a business decision. In that moment I nearly howled.

Look, I’m not accusing anyone of behaving illegally. The senior manager is not my boss. Canning the project is not a done deal. My company will meet all of their legal obligations and more – our policies are generous to a fault.

But my hard-won position, the respect I am held in, the opportunity to win more interesting projects, to extend my reach into more of our operations, to win more resources for my team – that’s what I am afraid of losing. I want them to see the tough forthright operator I have always been. I’m not just a pregnant woman needing allowances made.

Maybe we should can the project – maybe we shouldn’t. But my pregnancy and absence for six months (and make no mistake, my job will be covered by an interim) should play no part in that decision – and no-one should it imply it will.

So. I’ve done the deed and told work. I hope this comment will prove to be an isolated aberration. I will tell my colleague how inappropriate it was.

On the plus side, the first trimester fog and fatigue is fading, so I have a few months to get everything done I want to before I get into the final stretch.

When did you tell your boss and colleagues you were pregnant? How did it go? How are you finding being pregnant at work?

* If you’re having a tough time at work cos you’re pregnant or a parent, get some help. Start with your union – and for the love of god if you’re pregnant or a new mum, working and not in a union, join one!

Don’t want all your legal fees paid if you get discriminated against? Don’t want your flexible working application looked over by an expert? For sure, save the tenner a month. But it’s a false economy.

** Mums reading will be shaking their heads at my naïveté, I’m sure. And I know it won’t be that straightforward. How important work is will change. My life will be as different as it can be when Little One comes. I’m looking forward to it. But babyhood is a season: I have thirty years left in the workforce, and I’m darned if they’re not going to be interesting, fulfilling and rewarding in all senses. In the long run that’s good for me and for Little One. So no: I’m not stepping back, and I’m not giving up on all the things I still want to do in my career.

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17 thoughts on “Telling work you’re pregnant

  1. Thanks for writing about this so honestly, it’s such a grim thing to go through. My experience is a little different as I was forced into telling work much earlier than I wanted (at about 7 weeks) due to debilitating morning sickness and migraines plus having to have loads of extra scans/tests near the beginning so needed to explain why I needed time off. The migraines went, thank god, but the sickness continued for almost the full nine months. I also had pelvic/hip pain so bad that I didn’t have a full night’s sleep for months, so all-round I was totally exhausted. (As an aside, I felt AMAZING in the months after giving birth – loads more sleep than I’d been getting through pregnancy and I was finally able to eat without throwing up.)

    Like you my boss (also a mother) and wider colleagues were initially very sympathetic and helped me to plan my workload and begin a phased transition of my projects. I managed to keep going and on the days where I was late into the office because of the vomiting (ugh) I’d work late or catch up at the weekend. I did a fair amount of travel until 6 months when I fainted on a train back from a workshop and my midwife told me flat-out that I had to slow down. So from that point on I said that I would not be doing any travel, which my boss seemed very supportive of.

    At about 7 months I had my annual appraisal. I was exhausted but feeling extremely proud of myself that I’d not only kept going but kept the standard of my work high – I’d exceeded all my targets, I hadn’t dropped the ball once, I had great feedback from clients. I was expecting my boss to feel the same – proud of me for being a trooper in really difficult circumstances. But what I hadn’t managed to do, evidently, was be cheerful and enthusiastic enough. My boss went through the positives but then sort of put them aside, and spent a good half hour upbraiding me for having “lacked enthusiasm” and “been occasionally resistant to taking on extra work”. She said that I no longer seemed to have any ambition to broaden my role. She didn’t mention my pregnancy once and, because of that, I didn’t feel like I could either. She gave a specific example that I was often “too quiet” during our 9am team meetings and seemed in a bad mood. She was totally right about that – my morning routine was to get up at 6.30 in order to give myself a full spare hour to be sick, brush my teeth, try to force in some food, be sick again, re-brush my teeth, etc. etc. then spend the bus journey trying not to be sick. As soon as I arrived in the office I’d have a final vom in the loo and then head straight into the meeting. (Where we all had to *stand* because we’re a trendy trendy place.) The upshot of all of this was that I was the only permanent member of staff (out of 50) not to get a pay rise that year. I only discovered this after I was already on mat leave.

    As an aside, my boss was herself pregnant during some of this time – we overlapped by about 3 months. But she had very easy pregnancies which I think, ironically, made her attitude worse – she didn’t seem to be able to understand or relate to what a struggle it was for me to get through the day, because she was managing just fine.

    Sorry, bit of a rant. Turns out I needed an outlet! x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh Janie! That is such a horrible experience. She should have been praising you for managing to keep going and exceeding your targets during such a difficult pregnancy – not penalising you. As someone who (like your boss) is having an easy pregnancy so far, I can only imagine what it must have taken to keep going. And for that to be compounded by a financial loss to you – so unfair.

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I hope writing it down helped! And I’m so glad to hear that things got better after you’ve given birth. I hope work got better and more understanding too! Take care x

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  3. I’m sorry you went through that! I think what people don’t realise is that it’s more of a problem than you think. I was actually let go from my job at 12+1 after I told them I was pregnant because my role was “no longer needed” – very convenient but because there was no HR and they had done it so well I didn’t have anywhere to turn. And forget getting even a part time job while pregnant! Thank god for freelancing. Anyway, thank you for approaching a tough subject in such an honest and open way.

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    1. Oh Megan! That is so much worse – so unfair on you just when you need stability – and ILLEGAL! If it ever happens again please please get in touch with your union, they will be able to help. And thank you for commenting and for the support. I am very lucky in my situation (#firstworldproblems). Take care.

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  4. So glad you wrote this. I think people underestimate how common this is. In the workplace and also just in society in general , that pregnancy and being a parent instantly makes you ‘less’ of who you were before. #blogcrush

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Totally! I am still the forceful opinionated hardworking focussed woman they appointed. I’m still determined to succeed. I don’t need anyone to make allowances – and heaven forfend they underestimate me!

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  5. I’m terribly sorry that you are placed in such an awkward position to share this wonderful news. Pregnancy should be seen as a blessing and should be a celebration instead of having fears of being discriminated against. I told my manager and colleagues when I was 12 weeks pregnant – both pregnancies. All was so happy when I shared the news and I was given flexi time to attend doctor’s appointments #blogcrush

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    1. That sounds like such a good experience! To be clear: work’s formal policies are amazing (i don’t even have to make up the flexitime for appointments, for example). What I am worried about is the quiet decisions to give interesting projects and more responsibilities to someone else – to think that I don’t need more on my plate right now.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well if you feel that you can handle the projects then you need to state that. Make it clear that office gossip should stop as pregnancy is not an illness but also make it clear that should the stress of added responsibilities be too much then you will need assistance.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. While I agree the statement “in your condition” was inappropriate, I believe that times are changing – albeit slowly – as for example the formal policies you mention. I hope this progress continues.

    The difficulty lies in the decisions made quietly – the subjective decisions. While for some, like yourself – you don’t feel that you need your workload lightened. Others do, and feel equally as worried they will be expected to maintain their standard of performance when they fear they won’t be able to.

    It will always be difficult to maintain the perfect balance, the important thing is to maintain lines of communication.

    Whether you can handle more, or feel you need to lighten the load – you must make it clear to those who can influence it.

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  7. I became a mom before I even started a career so this was never even on my radar. I’ve always been a work-at-home parent. But I’m appalled that the chauvinistic attitudes of the last century still exist in corporate workspaces! That’s disgusting.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. First, I live in the USA. When I had my second child, I was working. My boss was fine with it and there was never a negative remark. When I returned, I opted to continue nursing my child. Now California state law mandate’s that a woman’s right to breastfeed includes being able to pump at work and adequate time is allotted for it. My doctor offered to write a note for a specific amount of time but I didn’t need it. I knew they wouldn’t fight me on it. But…I worked in a man’s world. the construction rental business and I was the only woman in the office. They didn’t provide anything extra for me but I was able to pump in the woman’s restroom. Kind of sucked but I did what I had to do. #Blogcrush

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  9. It’s frustrating what a common attitude this is. I was lucky in the sense that I was self-employed when I became pregnant so I didn’t have this problem, but I have so many friends who’ve faced similar comments through their pregnancies. In a similar way, I’m at the other side where I’ve had my children and want to return to the workplace but nobody will give me a job because apparently being a mum means that all my brains and proven capability of the past have disappeared and I now have nothing to offer…! Soooo annoying!

    I hope this is a one-off incident for you.

    Oh and congratulations on being this week’s featured blogger on #blogcrush

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  10. Thank you for writing about this. What is so striking is that often it is women who descriminate against other pregnant women. We should know better! and we should not be jealous or resentful of women who have decided they want more or want to do things a slightly different way. pen x #DreamTeam

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