When I applied for this job, my now-boss asked me if I thought about having children (where I live it’s illegal to ask an interviewee that question. It caught me off guard and I just answered). I told him my husband and I were actively trying. He assured me that wouldn’t be a problem. Next thing I knew, I got the job. A few months later, I found out I was indeed pregnant. I immediately told my boss during my evaluation and he — and his assistant manager who also attends these evaluations — shifted right into panic mode. They quickly calculated the birth date (I was only 7 weeks) and asked me how long I’d be taking off. I told them maybe 6 months in total and they panicked some more, telling me that that would be insane. I didn’t know how to react, so I just kept silent.
One month after that an echo at the hospital showed that I had a blighted ovum. My husband and I were devastated. We cried all day and I took some days off, trying to deal with the situation. Some colleagues called me to express their sympathy. My boss did not.
In fact, he yelled at me once I returned because I didn’t have a proper back-up plan for my work in the days I was absent. We fought over it, long and hard. Afterwards, we both pretended that fight never happened. One other colleague who’s pretty close to my boss, and whom I’d always gotten along with superbly, suddenly started ignoring me. Afterwards, I heard from a close colleague that he had resented me for having wanted a baby that soon after getting a job, and that he thought it had been my plan to get a job and get a baby so that my boss wouldn’t be able to fire me. It’s like I had broken his trust or something. Apparently, my boss never told him I was clear in the beginning about having a baby.
Flash forward to today. I just took a test and I am pregnant again. Aside from the fact that this brings back so many emotions from half a year ago, with my husband and me being scared but excited while most of all careful not to be too happy, I’m now terrified of telling my boss and colleagues. I don’t want to go through the horrible finger-pointing again. I’m tired of the gossip.
I’m still ambitious and don’t want to feel guilty about wanting a baby. I don’t think it’s anyone’s business. But still. I feel like that colleague and my boss will hate me for this, and I hate the fact that I care about that.
Any advice would be welcome…
P.S. There is no “real” HR in the company. There is, however, someone who deals with the payroll, absences, and contracts. There’s also someone else who deals with everyone’s workload. — Pregnant and Worried About Work
First off, congratulations on your pregnancy! As someone who experienced an early miscarriage just last month, I can appreciate the mix of emotions you feel getting pregnant again after your own miscarriage and I wish you a smooth, healthy, uneventful pregnancy. I hope your work woes are the biggest anxieties you face over the course of your pregnancy, and I hope they are minimal. I also hope that you can be empowered to fight back should anyone at work so much as HINT that you are somehow wrong or unprofessional or undeserving of holding down a job while having a baby and taking maternity leave in the weeks or months following your labor, let alone for taking some personal days when you need them.
I’m sure, since you know I’m not a lawyer, that you’re writing to me for advice on how to deal with the interpersonal dynamics in your office and not on the legalities of your situation. But you need legal advice because I believe you’re the victim of illegal discrimination. For one thing, you say that asking an interviewee if she is planning to have children is illegal where you live. For another thing, depending on where you call home, you are most likely guaranteed maternity leave by law, either paid or unpaid (in fact, most places outside the US, which has abysmal family leave policies, are legally required to offer paid maternity leave). So, find a lawyer where you live, explain your situation, and find out what recourse you should pursue for the way you’ve been treated and threatened. In the meantime, DOCUMENT EVERYTHING. And DO NOT share anything about your pregnancy to anyone you work with for the time being. And, if possible, try to keep communication in writing. If you’re addressed about something you think could be at all relevant to your situation, ask that it be confirmed/explained/re-worded over email so that you have it in writing. Save all communication.
The way your boss and colleagues have treated and are treating you is NOT OK. It’s discrimination. You never would have been asked about your family plans if you were a man. You would not be harassed like you have been if you were a man. (I mean, really, could you imagine someone asking a man in a job interview if and when he was planning to have a baby and then getting angry when he announced that a baby was on the way?!). IT IS NOT OK that your colleagues are treating you like this, and you have every right — in fact, you have a duty — to stand up for yourself and demand to be treated with respect and rights equal to your male counterparts.
As for your relationship with your colleagues, please remember that they are not your friends. They have not treated you with professional respect or courtesy. Worse, they have likely broken the law in their treatment of you. And you’re worried about them hating you? No. THEY should be worried about the legal recourse I hope you’ll take. THEY should be worried about losing you. THEY are in the wrong here, not you. NOT you. They’ve had many months to get used to the idea of you potentially having a baby and taking maternity leave. Any anger or surprise they express over your news (either in the past or future) is pure intimidation. They are trying to intimidate you so that you will meet their needs instead of your (legally-approved) own. Are their work needs more important than your personal needs? I don’t think so.
I hope that your letter serves as a cautionary tale to other women who may find themselves in a similar position. If you are EVER asked what your plans are in terms of having children, you should not answer. Educate yourself on family leave laws where you live. If you’re in the job market, ask about family leave policies at potential places of employment AFTER you’ve been offered a position (but before you accept). If you’re pregnant, or are actively trying to get pregnant, or hope to expand your family in the near future, start thinking about how much leave you want to take, how much sick leave and vacation time you might be able to combine with your leave (so that you can start saving days now), and how much money you need to save in order to offset a potential drop in income for a number of weeks or months. As your due date and maternity leave approaches, share the burden of planning for your absence at work with your boss and colleagues. DO NOT try to cram all the work you think you’ll miss into the weeks before you give birth. DO NOT make yourself overly available when you take leave.
Get your ducks in a row and set clear boundaries before you leave so that, while you’re away, you have the peace of mind to focus on the task at hand: nurturing and bonding with your new child. You’ll never ever get that time back. And there’s no reason any of it should be spent worrying about work. It will be there when you get back. And if your colleagues aren’t prepared to handle your absence, that’s on them, and it shouldn’t be your burden. If you have colleagues who pressure you or bully you or harass you about your personal life, including potential baby plans, go straight to your HR representative and/or seek legal support.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.