As I write, memories come flooding back: It’s December 2012, and I’m sat looking at the positive line on the pregnancy test. As the elation rushes over, I also feel nervous: less than three months into my new job, I’m pregnant. Great news for my husband and I, expecting our first child together. But my happiness is soon washed over with anxiety: How is my employer going to react? How will this affect my career? To be honest, in the months leading up to this point, I hadn’t given it much thought. And I’d rather enjoyed the practise part (sorry for the overshare).
Seriously though, many women experience a mixture of joy and fear when they discover they’re pregnant – nervous about what lies ahead, and also how becoming a ‘mum’ will impact their career and their already-busy working lives. This is also impacted by whether you were planning this sweet new arrival. If not, you may be feeling shocked too.
Telling your boss
Being a first time mother, there were lots of questions running through my mind. When do I tell my boss? How do I tell my boss? Less than 12 weeks into a great new job, I wan’t exactly looking forward to the conversation.
I had a word with myself, put my ‘big girl pants’ on (literally and figuratively!), and I opted for a face-to-face meeting so that I could have a good chat with my boss and discuss future possibilities.
Legally, you must have told your employer you’re pregnant by the 15th week before your baby is due (around 25 weeks pregnant), although there may be some cases where you need to tell them earlier, depending on your profession. The laws that protect you at work only apply once your employer knows you’re pregnant, so the sooner they know – the better.
Maintaining a professional image
One of the biggest concerns I had was how to manage morning sickness at work, and maintaining a professional image as my pregnancy progressed, as I often had to give presentations and meet with clients. Fortunately, I didn’t suffer with any sickness or pregnancy-related health problems, and as far as image goes – there are plenty of retailers who provide a good range of maternity workwear, so you can still maintain a professional image as your pregnancy progresses.
Health and Safety
Many women are understandably concerned about their safety whilst pregnant. But unless your job requires strenuous physical activity or exposure to harmful toxins, you just need to ensure you’re comfortable. By law, your employer must conduct a risk assessment and remove risks or make alternative arrangements to protect yours, and your baby’s safety at work. This could mean your employer making provisions such as a lumbar cushion to support your (aching!) back, a foot rest and ensuring you have regular breaks away from the computer. Taking a brief stroll outside the office on your lunch break is a great way to fit in some light exercise and de-stress.
Maternity Leave and Your Rights
The awkward part of pregnancy at work is how you feel you’re ‘treated’. The fact is, we’re in an economy where women now make up 50% of the workforce, and most employers nowadays are understanding and accommodating, but if you do experience problems, you should know your rights. You’re protected by law from unfair treatment, including dismissal or selection for redundancy for reasons connected with your pregnancy (which would also be discrimination), as well as being treated unfairly because of any pregnancy related illness.
You can take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave, but depending on your job and your career goals, it’s up to you how long you decide to take. From April 2015, you can share your mat leave with your partner which is great considering that two million working mothers are now the highest earners in the family, an 80% rise in 15 years. This gives much more flexibility to both parents and makes it easier for women to resume their careers after a baby.
Finally, to answer my first question, will becoming pregnant impact your career?
The answer is yes, it will, but not necessarily in a negative way. Look at it positively: mat leave is a great opportunity for you to assess your career and life goals, so it’s unsurprising that the number of self-employed women grew by almost 10% in the last two years, with around 1.2 million ‘mumpreneurs’ now established in the UK.
Understanding what your values are and what you want from your career will help you plan your maternity leave as well as your return to work. Don’t get caught up in the early pregnancy anxieties about work and career. You’re about to accomplish your biggest achievement yet, so relax (while you still can!)