When I announced my second pregnancy at P&N (first to our esteemed editor in chief, Lacey, and then to the rest of the staff), I acquired a special status in the office. All at once, I was blogging at pnmag.com from a firsthand perspective, posing with my baby bump at photo shoots, and testing all kinds of maternity products for review. I was also the expert in residence whenever anyone had a pregnancy question for an article she was working on. Yep, those were the days …
Of course, I realize that I was completely spoiled, working in an environment where pregnancy was honored and valued as a knowledge-collecting asset. In other offices (including the real estate firm where I spent my first pregnancy), a swelling belly can meet doubts regarding competency and commitment. For this reason, many moms-to-be choose to hold off on a public announcement. The end of the first trimester, when you’re at lower risk of miscarriage but probably not showing yet, is a good time to divulge your secret.
There are, however, countless exceptions. When you’re experiencing noticeable fatigue or morning sickness, you may want to alleviate potential concerns by sharing the news with your supervisor and— hopefully—gaining an ally in your struggle. If your work requires lots of time on your feet, heavy lifting or possible exposure to harmful chemicals, it’s important to talk with your boss about making adjustments that will be more conducive to a healthy pregnancy.
On the flip side, if you’re handling your workload and pregnancy demands with ease, you could keep the matter private for longer than 12 weeks, at least until loose-fitting tops can no longer hide the reality of your condition. Do keep in mind that your boss and co-workers could feel a bit ruffled if you keep your pregnancy a secret for a very long time. They might even guess that you’re expecting and wonder why you haven’t confided in them.
You’ve picked the when; the next step is choosing who to communicate with and how. Because you don’t want water cooler rumors to spill your beans for you, speak with your direct supervisor before you share with co-workers. Arrange a time to talk in private. Face-to-face is ideal, but a phone call can work just as well if it’s not convenient to meet up during the workday. (Email? Not so much. And don’t even think about texting.)
In your tête-à-tête, be straightforward and positive—this is not a confession, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for being pregnant! With your tone, you determine whether your pregnancy will be viewed as a detriment or as a manageable personal affair. Be clear about your timeline and intentions. If you need to suggest changes to your routine—such as less time on your feet—bring them up now.
Before you start making demands, though, think about this from your boss’s point of view. You expect her to respect your needs, so what can you promise in return? Let her know that you intend to maintain your share of the work, putting in the same hours and effort as always. (If you don’t feel you’ll be able to keep up the same pace, be honest about your limitations as well.) If you have been lagging due to morning sickness or energy deficiency, reassure her that sickness typically subsides just as energy rebounds during the second trimester.
Once your higher-up has the lowdown, it’s OK to divulge your news among select co-workers; however, be careful not to overshare. Your peers may feel resentful if you sound more focused on your pregnancy than on your work, and they might think you’re not pulling your weight if they hear you complain too much about aches and pains. Save the majority of your mama talk for your spouse, a close girlfriend or your own mom.
If you’re up to it, you may want to work right up until the day you deliver; if not, you might choose to take leave a week or two before you expect to have your baby. Express your plans to your supervisor early —at least several weeks before you intend to go. Let her know when you expect to return, or if you anticipate quitting the workforce and staying home full-time once baby arrives. She’ll appreciate your help tying up loose ends and perhaps even training a temporary or permanent replacement.
Hopefully, you already know your company’s policy for maternity leave. But if not, ask HR about it now, and devise a plan. Short-term disability teamed with sick and vacation days typically add up to a reasonable block of time to bond with baby and recover from the birth.
Regardless of whether your employer offers paid maternity leave, you may be eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Visit dol.gov/whd/fmla for more information.
Caring for you
Working can be a real bummer when you’re dog-tired, nonstop sick and swelling like a water balloon. For energy, stick to the basics—drink plenty of water, eat a variety of nutritious foods, get some exercise (even if it’s just walking during your lunch break), and adhere to a reasonable sleep schedule.
There will be some afternoons when you simply can’t keep your eyes open, so a private catnap may be in order if your work environment allows it. (I admit I snoozed on the floor of the P&N prop closet more than once. It’s a good thing we always have cozy baby blankets on hand!) If you find that you have more energy in the morning but less in the afternoon, you may be able to adjust your schedule so that you’re working, for example, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. rather than 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Because puking in public is pretty much the worst, it’s wise to take preventative steps in regard to morning sickness. First, always have something in your stomach. While it may seem counterintuitive, an empty stomach is more likely to lead to nausea and vomiting, so keep healthy snacks within reach at all times. Whole-wheat crackers, fruits and vegetables, string cheese, nuts and granola—all offer nutrition while warding off that queasy feeling. Many find ginger- or citrus-laced snacks especially effective; your OB can also prescribe an antinausea drug if necessary.
Some women will be sick no matter what they try. If you fall into this group, make sure you know the quickest route to the bathroom, and have a lined trash can nearby just in case. (Keep a work toothbrush, toothpaste and mouthwash handy in your desk drawer, too.) If you’re too darn queasy to leave the house, it may be worth taking a sick day, even if it means one less day on maternity leave.
P.S. For swelling and circulation woes, remember to alter your position now and then. If you sit at a desk all day, take a few minutes every two hours or so to stand up, walk and stretch. This will keep the blood flowing and wake you up a little. If you work on your feet, smuggle chances to sit down and elevate your feet every once in a while. In the third trimester, when the belly is boss and blood flow is belabored, it’s especially important to take the time to sit, stand, walk or stretch as your body calls for it.