How To Keep Working While You're Expecting
by Michael Kabel
It's a bit of synchronicity that probably happens only in Hollywood. Two films about working women who try to conceal their pregnancy are among the highest-grossing movies of summer. The larger financed of the two films, Knocked Up, stars Katherine Heigl (of the television series Gray's Anatomy) as a television reporter determined to keep her pregnancy hidden from her boss as long as possible. The other film, Waitress, features Keri Russell (star of Felicity and a former Mickey Mouse Club mouseketeer) as a working-poor diner waitress concealing both her pregnancy and an illicit affair from her husband. Both films have grossed larger than expected box office results, with Waitress on track to become the sleeper hit of the year. In both stories, the new mothers go to great lengths to hide their expectant children. Although the women aren't against having the children, they both often seem disappointed by the event and vaguely resentful of the changes having a baby will certainly bring. Of course, all their attitudes change once the children actually arrive.
Telling Your Boss
In Waitress, Keri Russell dreads telling her unsophisticated male boss and husband about the pregnancy. But is pregnancy something to hide? While it's illegal under federal law to fire someone because of pregnancy, the corporate world has been slow to formalize policies and regulations regarding maternity leave or treatment of pregnant employees. Unfortunately, this has left a lot of "wiggle room" for department heads and executives. Pregnant women are often disingenuously passed over for promotions, raises, or other company benefits. Women who reveal their pregnancy may also find themselves sidelined - barred or excluded from more challenging assignments as their due date nears.
While experts agree that women should divulge their pregnancy, a certain amount of timing and discretion is also strongly encouraged. The best time to tell, experts caution, is shortly before the news of your pregnancy becomes widespread knowledge anyway. By coming forward yourself, you retain an image of honesty and candor with your employers, yet don't compromise your standing in the workplace hierarchy by divulging the news too soon.
Your Company's Maternity Leave Policy
If nothing else, carefully review you company's pregnancy and maternity leave policy, availing yourself of your legal rights and the company's obligations and rights. Your company should have information available regarding your benefits and salary as they relate to the pregnancy and maternity leave, as well.
Knowing your rights is important, because studies show discrimination against pregnant women is on the rise. The number of complaints filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission jumped 39 percent between 1992 and 2003, making it one of the fastest growing types of discrimination the commission polices. The EEOC admits part of this surge is simply due to situation: more pregnant women are choosing to stay in the workplace than ever before. Nonetheless, additional studies in Great Britain have shown the birth rate actually increases in workplaces employing a high number of women, placing concern for the rights of pregnant women in the workplace even further into the legal spotlight.
Changing Your Wardrobe
In Knocked Up, Katherine Heigl is able to conceal her pregnancy by wearing longer, fuller clothes and including lots of slimming black into her wardrobe. This can be a worthwhile bit of "camouflage" for the earlier months, but remember it won't last forever. If you find yourself increasingly at pains to conceal your pregnancy, it's probably time to reveal your situation to your boss.
If your job involves wearing a uniform, you may have fewer opportunities, and obviously the contrived methods sometimes found in television shows (standing behind counters or high-backed chairs) rarely translates well into reality. But ultimately, any job that involves standing for long periods or moving about constantly will only become more difficult as the pregnancy develops, so the maternity leave should begin much sooner.
Dealing With Physical and Emotional Changes
One of Knocked Up's funnier scenes involves Heigl's catastrophic attempt to interview actor James Franco while dealing with convulsive morning sickness. When your pregnancy begins, you'll deal with fatigue, some dizziness, the infamous morning sickness, and increased appetite. Of course, none of these symptoms is conducive to a productive workday.
How you confront these changes and ill effects largely depends on your workplace environment (schedule, productivity demands, and so on) and your ability to comfortably juggle time for yourself and for your job. You may want to reduce the hours you work each day, or work from home part of the week. If your company or supervisor allows, you may also wish to transfer to a less-challenging role within the company, to alleviate the expectations and stress you feel in your current position.
As your pregnancy comes to term, you'll feel the famous "cravings" and become increasingly emotional as your body prepares for labor. These should also be approached with the same strategies listed above. For the duration of your pregnancy, be extremely careful to avoid harmful agents such as lead, chemicals, radiation, and airborne viruses and pathogens that can harm you and cause potentially permanent damage to the child. If the child's father works in an environment where he is at risk for such exposure, he should also take all relevant precautions before interacting with you.