Tuesday, January 12, 2010

6 tips for handling a pregnancy and a career

When I was pregnant with my first child, I was determined to be professional and discreet about the issue at work. I didn't even plan on telling my boss until I was past my first trimester. I was determined nothing was going to change -- just because I was pregnant didn't mean I would do my job differently.

Then came the day a co-worker entered my office smoking a cigarette (back in the days when such things were allowed). I took one whiff, and nearly knocked the guy off his feet as I ran for the bathroom, overwhelmed by nausea.

My green complexion until noon every day, and the ongoing exhaustion, made it impossible for me to try and keep the issue quiet. Everyone around my office was so supportive of the news, but I still was determined to keep a professional demeanor -- no easy feat when you begin waddling like a duck and the office starts a betting pool on your delivery date.

Every woman with a job faces tough choices when she becomes pregnant, even more so in this tough economy. I explored the subject in my Gannett column:

When a woman finds out she’s pregnant, it can be a joyous occasion – until she realizes that her juggle to combine motherhood with a career may be just beginning.

There are a multitude of issues to address when a working woman is pregnant, from when to tell the boss about the little bundle on the way to how to handle the nausea and exhaustion while working.

Then, there’s the questions of what she can expect to happen to her career while on maternity leave.
“Everyone feels differently when they become pregnant. It can be a complicated pathway.

Having a child is such a rich part of life, but you have to be realistic about what’s going to happen,” says Dr. Marjorie Greenfield, an obstetrician-gynecologist and author of a new book, “The Working Woman’s Pregnancy Book,” (Yale University Press, $18).

Greenfield says that this tough job market can add to the stress for a pregnant career woman, who may worry that although the law doesn’t allow her to be fired for being pregnant, that can’t stop an employer from eliminating her job. With a 10 percent unemployment rate, pregnant women must plan ahead to make sure that they still have a job when they return from pregnancy leave, she says.

One of first things a woman must learn is that just because she is excited about her pregnancy, it doesn’t mean everyone else feels the same, Greenfield says.

Co-workers who have suffered miscarriages or infertility issues might be bothered by the news, or the boss may be “only thinking of it in terms of how it impacts the workplace,” she says.

“Don’t take any of this personally. Don’t get your feelings hurt by it,” she says. “You can’t assume everyone will feel the way you do.”

Greenfield says that by coming up with a game plan for the pregnancy and the maternity leave, career women can more successfully navigate the new world of being a working mom. She suggests you:

• Don’t whine. If you’re tired or nauseated while at work, plan ways to handle it as discreetly as possible. Take a catnap during your lunch hour, and stick to bland foods until your stomach settles. Take vacation time if you’re feeling really bad until things settle down. Try to find the time of day when you feel best and use that for your most difficult tasks.

• Stay on top of your game. While you may feel a bit distracted during your pregnancy because of all the changes, try to stay sharp and focused at work. Earn the respect – and future help – of others by pitching in when needed. Take a brisk walk outside when you’re feeling sluggish.

• Start planning. Once you tell the boss (make sure the manager isn’t the last to know), follow up the initial news with an outline of how your work can be covered while you’re gone. Don’t plan on keeping up with your career completely while on maternity leave – just checking in via phone or e-mail once a day may be all you can handle. “I have a colleague who tells new mothers that if they take care of two bodily functions a day, they’re doing great.” Greenfield says. “Being home with a newborn is no vacation.”

• Be flexible. Once the baby arrives and you return to work, you’ll need to periodically reassess how your plans are working out for your job and your family. Saying “no” to people who demand too much from you is OK.

• Think creatively. Is it possible to work from home sometimes or adjust your schedule? Could you job share, possibly with another working parent?

• Embrace the guilt. Working moms often struggle with trying to do it all, but they can’t. Accept that sometimes you’ll feel conflicted by your decisions, and move on. Think about all the things you’re able to do, such as hold a job and raise a child. That will always be an inspiration to your family, Greenfield says.

Do you have any suggestions on how a woman can best handle her pregnancy at work?

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