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Announcing Your Pregnancy at Work

Good relations between employer and employee and among coworkers are significant factors in any job. You can't get your work done as promptly and efficiently with a cloud of resentment and anger hanging over your head. For some reason, a pregnant woman raises some people's hackles, especially the boss's, who sometimes feels that becoming pregnant somehow indicates a lack of devotion to the job. Announcing your condition must be approached, in many cases, with caution.

Telling the Boss You're Pregnant
Two people have to feel reassured after you break the news that you're pregnant—you and your supervisor. You're worried about the safety of your expected child, the financial stability of your family, and your own self-esteem, which is often closely tied to your job. Your employer, on the other hand, has other concerns: Will the business suffer? Will you give the same attention to your work with a baby at home to worry about? It's important that you consider the concerns of your employer and follow these suggestions:

  1. Don't announce your pregnancy until after the first trimester, when the risk of miscarriage is much lower—The longer you wait, the less time there is for office speculation about your future. Don't wait until you show, however, because coworkers are apt to notice first. Of course, if you're suffering from morning sickness, or if you're asked to take on a long-term project, you'll have to explain. Tell close friends at work who can keep your secret and a few select people on the been-there/done-that list who can share strategic advice about how to tell the big cheese.
  2. Tell your employer next—It would not be to your benefit to have your boss hear the news from someone else. Your negotiating position could be weakened. So tell your boss after you do your legwork, before you begin to show, and before someone else can. If your employer learns about your pregnancy before you have a chance to tell him, explain that you wanted to get your prenatal test results back first to make sure everything was going well. Then you were going to make an appointment to discuss a rough plan for covering all your responsibilities during your leave.
  3. Choose your moment—Pick the least stressful, most convenient time, perhaps a Friday afternoon. Certainly you would never do it before an important event, such as a major stockholder meeting.
  4. Speak in private—Arrange not to be interrupted during the conversation. If you choose a restaurant, make sure it's quiet and low key. Discourage any over-diligent waiter.
  5. Be positive—Be forthright and optimistic. You want to give the impression that you have everything organized, yet you remain flexible. Never apologize, even if you're aware that you will be leaving your position in the middle of the spring rush, or the fall sales season. Don't say you're sorry. You haven't done anything wrong; you're just having a baby.
  6. Discuss your pregnancy in a business-like manner—Emphasize the temporary nature of the situation. Underline your enthusiasm for your work and your determination to be as productive as ever.
  7. Don't discuss maternity leave yet—Wait awhile and schedule a formal meeting to discuss the details of your leave and your future with the company. In the meantime, contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and your state civil rights commission to find out what your rights are.
  8. Assume you'll be welcomed back—Never ask whether you may come back. Take it for granted that you will (see Managing Your Maternity Leave ).
  9. Tell coworkers—Making it clear after the initial hoopla and congrats that you're working out a plan for your leave won't leave them in a panic.
  10. Let customers, clients, and any outside vendors or consultants know—This can wait, especially if you don't have regular face-to-face meetings with them. Assure them that their needs will be met and any necessary transitions will be handled smoothly.
FYI: Working Women Come Back to Their Jobs
Studies have shown that almost 90 percent of the women who go on maternity leave eventually return to their jobs. Of those women, 43 percent return within three months.

Making a Smooth Transition
The first step for good workplace relations is to treat your employer and coworkers with respect and understanding—basically, the two most important things you want and need from them during and after your pregnancy. For example:

Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Coworkers
Not everyone will be thrilled with the news of your pregnancy. Conflicts between associates stem from many sources; among them is a belief that a working mother will have family problems that conflict with work performance, a feeling of jealousy over perceived special treatment, or a belief that mothers, or expectant mothers, belong in the home. The trick is to try to manage people's reactions and their treatment of you.

Practically speaking, you need your coworkers cooperation to accomplish your job. A hostile associate could cut you out of the loop or forget to give you phone messages with the result that your clients or superiors might begin to think you're unresponsive or worse, incompetent. The time and energy you would devote to such a conflict could be much better spent on improving your production.

The best way to control the situation, as with any management issue, is to be proactive. If you sense any newfound tension, here are some suggestions:

It is always wiser to avoid conflicts than to try and solve them once they've occurred. And sometimes you just have to accept the things you can't change. Some people may never be easy to deal with. You just have to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of your job and decide which ones outweigh others.

Many pregnant women experience having their tummies rubbed by strangers who do it because they are just unthinking and don't realize they're being rude. Try to understand the point of view or the motivation of the people saying or doing offensive or stupid things. Although a sarcastic response may be on the tip of your tongue, humor mixed with information is usually a more effective approach in the long run.

Be firm with people who are genuinely offensive or whose actions constitute harassment. Ask them politely to stop and tell them it makes you uncomfortable, or gently guide their hands off your belly. You'll have to adjust the response to the situation for example, when it's your boss or an important client but don't snap back. It'll make you look unprofessional. (See Managing Your Maternity Leave)

Here are five ways to say "none of your business" to unsolicited advice:

  1. That's something my husband/partner/doctor/midwife has already worked out.
  2. Thank you for your concern.
  3. I'd rather not talk about it.
  4. My, that's awfully personal!
  5. What a question!

© 2005 by Marla Schram Schwartz. Excerpted from The Working Woman's Baby Planner with permission of its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon.com.

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