Tuesday, January 12, 2010

6 tips for handling a pregnancy and a career

When I was pregnant with my first child, I was determined to be professional and discreet about the issue at work. I didn't even plan on telling my boss until I was past my first trimester. I was determined nothing was going to change -- just because I was pregnant didn't mean I would do my job differently.

Then came the day a co-worker entered my office smoking a cigarette (back in the days when such things were allowed). I took one whiff, and nearly knocked the guy off his feet as I ran for the bathroom, overwhelmed by nausea.

My green complexion until noon every day, and the ongoing exhaustion, made it impossible for me to try and keep the issue quiet. Everyone around my office was so supportive of the news, but I still was determined to keep a professional demeanor -- no easy feat when you begin waddling like a duck and the office starts a betting pool on your delivery date.

Every woman with a job faces tough choices when she becomes pregnant, even more so in this tough economy. I explored the subject in my Gannett column:

When a woman finds out she’s pregnant, it can be a joyous occasion – until she realizes that her juggle to combine motherhood with a career may be just beginning.

There are a multitude of issues to address when a working woman is pregnant, from when to tell the boss about the little bundle on the way to how to handle the nausea and exhaustion while working.

Then, there’s the questions of what she can expect to happen to her career while on maternity leave.
“Everyone feels differently when they become pregnant. It can be a complicated pathway.

Having a child is such a rich part of life, but you have to be realistic about what’s going to happen,” says Dr. Marjorie Greenfield, an obstetrician-gynecologist and author of a new book, “The Working Woman’s Pregnancy Book,” (Yale University Press, $18).

Greenfield says that this tough job market can add to the stress for a pregnant career woman, who may worry that although the law doesn’t allow her to be fired for being pregnant, that can’t stop an employer from eliminating her job. With a 10 percent unemployment rate, pregnant women must plan ahead to make sure that they still have a job when they return from pregnancy leave, she says.

One of first things a woman must learn is that just because she is excited about her pregnancy, it doesn’t mean everyone else feels the same, Greenfield says.

Co-workers who have suffered miscarriages or infertility issues might be bothered by the news, or the boss may be “only thinking of it in terms of how it impacts the workplace,” she says.

“Don’t take any of this personally. Don’t get your feelings hurt by it,” she says. “You can’t assume everyone will feel the way you do.”

Greenfield says that by coming up with a game plan for the pregnancy and the maternity leave, career women can more successfully navigate the new world of being a working mom. She suggests you:

• Don’t whine. If you’re tired or nauseated while at work, plan ways to handle it as discreetly as possible. Take a catnap during your lunch hour, and stick to bland foods until your stomach settles. Take vacation time if you’re feeling really bad until things settle down. Try to find the time of day when you feel best and use that for your most difficult tasks.

• Stay on top of your game. While you may feel a bit distracted during your pregnancy because of all the changes, try to stay sharp and focused at work. Earn the respect – and future help – of others by pitching in when needed. Take a brisk walk outside when you’re feeling sluggish.

• Start planning. Once you tell the boss (make sure the manager isn’t the last to know), follow up the initial news with an outline of how your work can be covered while you’re gone. Don’t plan on keeping up with your career completely while on maternity leave – just checking in via phone or e-mail once a day may be all you can handle. “I have a colleague who tells new mothers that if they take care of two bodily functions a day, they’re doing great.” Greenfield says. “Being home with a newborn is no vacation.”

• Be flexible. Once the baby arrives and you return to work, you’ll need to periodically reassess how your plans are working out for your job and your family. Saying “no” to people who demand too much from you is OK.

• Think creatively. Is it possible to work from home sometimes or adjust your schedule? Could you job share, possibly with another working parent?

• Embrace the guilt. Working moms often struggle with trying to do it all, but they can’t. Accept that sometimes you’ll feel conflicted by your decisions, and move on. Think about all the things you’re able to do, such as hold a job and raise a child. That will always be an inspiration to your family, Greenfield says.

Do you have any suggestions on how a woman can best handle her pregnancy at work?


Wally Bock said...

This is very helpful Anita. Let me add observations from watching a successful pregnancy-while-working up close.

Your employer and the work you do will make a huge difference in how this goes. If you're in retail or nursing or any other job where you have to be at your employer's place of business and on your feet, this will be a lot tougher.

If you can work from home, things can go much better. This is not just about energy management. It's also about avoiding the flu and a variety of other bio-nasties that can be harmful to you and the baby. If you're planning children, I'd start teleworking before you get pregnant to establish the pattern.

Your employer can make working while pregnant much easier or much harder. Take a look around to see how things went for others. And remember that your employer is more likely to be flexible if you've established the fact that you're valuable. That may not be the ideal world, but it is the real one.

Anita said...

I really value input from someone in the leadership field, because I think you add a very realistic view. You make an excellent point about laying the groundwork by establishing yourself as a key player -- a boss would be much more willing to do what it takes to keep you at the company after your pregnancy and make accommodations during it.

BookMark! Online said...

Very well put together! Though I can not use this advise for myself, it will come in handy when advising some of my clients who are pregnant.

Amber Sosa said...

I don't have kids yet but I found your article really interesting. I have only thought about the "after baby" plan. I have never given any consideration to the "pregnant at work" plan that is also necessary. I have plans to have it all someday, the job, the family, and my sanity and I think some of the tips you provided here are definetly things to take with me. Thanks for the new perspective!
Amber Sosa

Anita said...

Glad you found the information useful. Especially for first-time moms, it's hard to know what to expect and how to plan for all the changes.

Anita said...

So glad you found the information useful!

Barbara Safani said...

Wow Anita! This post brought back so many memories of all the feelings I had while I was working and pregnant with my first child.

I remember thinking that I had to prove that the physical discomforts of pregnancy were "no biggie" and I tried to work even harder than I had before the pregnancy. I remember delivering a training session on a weekend after working a full work week and being on my feet for 8 hours straight during my 9th month. I ended up with preeclampsia.

I should have let my ego take a back seat to my baby's health. I guess the takeaway is do your job but recognize that your pregnancy will affect your energy level and it's ok to adjust accordingly.

Anita said...

I remember when I tried to work until my due date, but I was swollen and so miserable that it hurt to walk. Finally, my boss called me at home and said: "Don't bother to come into work. You're making us all feel terrible watching how miserable you are. Just stay home, put your feet up." I thought that was really nice...especially since it was the last time I got to put my feet up once I had kids! :)
Thanks for your comments!

Rosalie said...

Thank you Anita! This article proved to be very useful as I am currently expecting my first child. With 4 more months to go, I had struggled with the really bad morning sickness and the overwhelmingly tiredness that comes along with the first trimester. I struggled mainly because of myself and my mentality that I shouldn't take a sick day so that I can prove that I can handle becoming a new mom and a career woman at the sometime.

Your article gave me a great perspective and something to think about for the remaining 4 months as well as the years to come.

Anita said...

First of all, congratulations!
Second, I'm glad you found it helpful. I can tell you that trying to be a supermom will never work...you'll be miserable and so will your family. One of the best things about being a mom is that it teaches you to be flexible and let go of the trivial stuff. You're about to begin a wonderful journey...enjoy!

Anonymous said...

A couple of comments from the other side....I work in a small office and have worked side-by-side with two pregnant co-workers. The experiences couldn't have been more different. A couple of comments:

*Moms-to-be....you reap what you sow. If, over the years, you've gone above and beyond to be there for your co-workers, they'll be there for you when you need understanding during your pregnancy and during your maternity leave. However, if you've always done as little as possible to contribute to the team and gone home precisely at 5 o'clock every day, don't expect your co-workers to support you just because you're pregnant, sick, tired, new parent, etc.

*Advice to both new mothers and new fathers: your co-workers don't want to work more just because you have a baby at home and want to put in fewer hours than you used to put in. Trust me....everyone would like to go home at five o'clock. You're no more entitled to this than someone without a child at home.

*Most imporantly, pregnant ladies....don't assume that you're going to work up until your due date. The last gal that went on maternity leave in our office delivered three weeks early and left everyone in the office unaware of her project statuses and processes. Sure she meant to do that in the week before her due date, but MEANING to do it and actually having it DONE are two very different things.

Kingsley Tagbo, IT Career Coach said...

"Stay on Top of Your Game" is the key word here. Long before a pregnancy comes on the scene, you should work to be the best employee you can be. If you are working at your peak, your value to your employer will probably be higher than most others when you are pregnant, giving you the leeway to negotiate a flexible work schedule. It will also make it easier for you to be productive during that period.

Anita said...

These are really great points! It's clear that pregnant moms have got a lot of planning to do...and not just for the new nursery. I love the way you also point out that dads are equally responsible for the changes that will be happening. Thanks so much for adding to this conversation.

Anita said...

Good point...put yourself if the boss's shoes when thinking of ways to gain his or her trust, and show that you're a key player to the success of the company.

Anonymous said...

hi, that's awesome post So glad i found the useful information from your article, thanks

Kate, the founder of non-profit Plan To Get Pregnant