From working woman
to working mother
Story by E. Colleen Kelly
Being pregnant is a full-time job filled with long-term benefits and lots of sick days. But what about that other full-time job? You know, the one that puts gas in the car, food on the table and a roof over your head.
Today, most expectant mothers continue working right up until the week their baby’s due. And, when it comes to balancing a blossoming career and a burgeoning baby bump, you can expect to work overtime.
Telling Your Boss You’re Pregnant
It just may be the biggest obstacle you face during your entire pregnancy: How and when to tell your boss about baby. Let your employer in on the news by the early part of the second trimester, or about 13 to 16 weeks in. At this point, moms-to-be are at a lower risk of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. Also, by week 12, expectant mothers are much more likely to experience nausea, vomiting and fatigue, which could raise flags with your boss, clients or coworkers.
If your baby bump is interfering with your normal job duties, your employer must react in the same way they would any other employee who is temporarily disabled. Just as a mailman who strains his back lifting heavy packages might be put on letter sorting duties for several weeks, your employer must also make reasonable accommodations to redirect strenuous work. Keep in mind, however, that your employer is also within their rights to place you on unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. This means you retain your position and benefits, but don’t take home a paycheck.
You Can’t Be Fired for Being Pregnant
Last November, Carolyn Kuckertz was relieved to hear the words “you’re hired!” after a month-long job search. But being newly employed as a press secretary in the Alaska State Legislature – and secretly pregnant – it made for an especially stressful nine months.
She knew that under federal law she couldn’t be fired for being pregnant, so why keep the belly under wraps?
Carolyn works during the legislative session that takes place from mid-January through mid-April. After the regular session ends, and providing there is no special session, workers enter interim, or the period between sessions where legislators and aides return to their home districts. Every time a session passes into interim, an employee’s paperwork must be renewed – her employer then has the option to rehire her during interim or wait until the next session.
Carolyn was afraid that if her employer found out she was pregnant, they would suggest she take the summer off and then rehire her for session the following January. It wasn’t until beginning of her third trimester that she could no longer disguise her baby bump and decided to tell the Senate president’s chief of staff her secret.
She dropped the bomb, but to her surprise there was no explosion. The news quickly traveled through the halls of the legislature where she was inundated with congratulations and belly pats. In retrospect, she admits that she should have told her employer sooner. But says that even the passing thought that she might not have been retained was enough of a fright to stay mum on the pregnancy.
While you manage the emotional and physical demands of your new, blissful state, remember that you have an absolute right to work while you are pregnant. A company can’t use your pregnancy (or potential pregnancy) as a reason not to hire or promote you.
Consider Your Options
Changing careers after you become pregnant is likely the farthest thing on your mind. But consider this: Is your workplace not exactly family friendly? Do you dread the daily drive to and from work? Are you interested in working from home or setting a more flexible schedule? If you said yes, it may just be the perfect time to check out a new career.
Two years ago, a pregnant Amanda Camargo was making the hour-long commute from Wasilla to Anchorage where she worked as a technical publications assistant for a cargo company. Five days a week for eight hours each day she was basically glued to a computer screen just pointing and clicking away, creating newsletters and other materials.
During the second trimester, Amanda developed preeclampsia, a condition that caused her blood pressure to skyrocket. That, coupled with regular bouts of morning sickness meant longer and more frequent visits to the doctor during her normally scheduled work shifts – that didn’t sit too well with her boss and colleagues.
Another downer for this mama-to-be? Amanda’s then-doctor discouraged exercise during her pregnancy. Unsatisfied with her sedentary job and non-supportive work environment, Amanda decided to ditch the daily grind.
Now pregnant with baby number two, Amanda hardly sits still (except when she’s on the exercise ball). She spends at least two hours a day at the gym doing cardio and strength training before she starts work as a personal trainer at the same gym. Just a short drive from home, her job entails working with clients for upwards of four to five hours daily in 30-minute sessions.
Still in the early stages of her pregnancy, Amanda attributes her no-fuss first trimester to her low-stress, positive work environment and the support of her clients and coworkers.
A Flexible Workplace
If you are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant, you’ll need to make sure that your work environment is safe for you and your unborn baby. If you are expected to fulfill duties that may present a risk to your pregnancy, your employer may be willing to give you alternate duties for the duration of your pregnancy. You should also ask your healthcare provider to spell out your work limitations to ensure you have a healthy pregnancy.
One of the most important things an employer can do to support working mothers, and mothers-to-be, is to provide for flexibility. Women make up a big part of the workforce, and taking time out to have a baby is just a temporary interruption. Smart employers know that the happiest employees are the ones who are taken care of, and providing workplace flexibility, among other work supports, goes a long way in showing that a mother’s contributions – both to her workplace and to her family – are valued.