Working mothers tell Moneyish the worst things colleagues, clients and bosses said to them while they were pregnant on the job.
Expecting moms weren’t expecting this.
Women who work through their pregnancies have plenty to worry about, such as whether they’ll be treated with kid gloves in the office and left off of projects, or if their jobs will still be there when they come back from maternity leave (if they even get maternity leave).
But when Louisville marketer Danielle Davis was giving a presentation to a group of mostly male doctors three years ago – just as her second pregnancy was starting to show – she was shocked when one of the MDs pointed to her bump and asked, “Is that a tumor in there, or are you pregnant?”
“I was caught totally off guard,” Davis, 33 and a mother of three, told Moneyish. “I looked at him, furrowed my brow and said, ‘Are you serious? No, I’m pregnant.’ And someone laughed, of course, as men in the room usually do. But no one said to him, ‘Why would you say that?’ And he was a doctor!”
She’s also had coworkers press her about whether or not she was planning to breastfeed, or if she was having a C-section — discussions best left for the OBGYN’s office. “I never expected people to be so intrusive, and certainly not while we’re supposed to be working,” said Davis.
Jaclyn, who declined to give her last name, recently told her advertising boss (also a working mom) that she was five months pregnant.
“When we started talking about my due date, and I mentioned how my doctor may want to induce me due to high blood pressure, she went off about how it’s so unnatural and I shouldn’t consider it at all,” said Jaclyn, 34, from Manhattan. “So at a time where I’m literally trying to be professional and establish a game plan, she made me feel really uncomfortable.”
Worse, Jaclyn’s boss revealed her pregnancy during a team meeting the next day. “My face turned red. I just said, ‘I haven’t shared yet, but I’m pregnant! Surprise!” said Jaclyn. “She put me on the spot.”
These episodes echo what happened to CNN anchor Poppy Harlow while she was interviewing Roy Moore spokeswoman Janet Porter last week. Porter kept referring to Harlow’s unborn baby while sharing Moore’s stance on abortion, saying things like he will, “stand for the rights of babies like yours, in the womb, where his opponent will support killing them up until the moment of birth.” Harlow had to shut her down by saying, “Let’s leave my child out of this,” on the air. Twice.
More women than ever are working while pregnant, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center report, which found two thirds of women who gave birth to their first baby between 2006 and 2008 worked while pregnant, compared to just 44% of women in the 1960s. And expecting moms are clocking in later into their pregnancies, with 8 in 10 (82%) working within a month of their due date.
So you’d think colleagues and clients (not to mention employers) would be accustomed to seeing pregnant women around the workplace by now, but expecting mom are still stigmatized and discriminated against. Nearly 31,000 charges of pregnancy discrimination were filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and state-level fair employment practice agencies between October 2010 and September 2015.
And even in the best workplaces, moms tell Moneyish that there’s something about a baby bump that compels people to suffer foot-in-mouth disease.
“In general people are excited for you and they view that excitement as license to ask you personal questions,” said Erin Collins, 35, from Walpole, Mass., who recently had her first child.
“The question I found most awkward was when folks would ask me – in front of my boss – whether I would be coming back to work once the baby was born,” said Collins, who was quietly grappling over that decision. In fact, she blames work stress for her daughter arriving five weeks early. “Being put on the spot with that question while hormonal, tired, and already unsure of the future was never fun. My go-to answer became that I looked forward to being a role model for my daughter while modeling a strong work ethic and teaching her the value of hard work.”
Davis experienced the same thing. “Clients would say to me, ‘I guess we won’t be seeing you anymore,’” she told Moneyish. “And when I said, ‘No, I plan on returning to work,’ they say, ‘Oh, aren’t you worried about putting your kids in daycare?’ You can’t win. The thing I often did, which I think a lot of women do, is awkwardly laugh and change the conversation.”
That’s a tactic that career expert Wendi Weiner suggests. “Whenever uncomfortable conversations arise in the workplace, the best course of responding is to deflect and change the direction of the conversation,” she told Moneyish. But if those conversations continue, she advises speaking with your manager or with the supervisor of the employee who’s taking questions a little too far. “And I always recommend consulting with an employment law attorney to discuss your rights,” she added.
Heather Monahan, a women’s empowerment and business expert, also suggested pivoting the conversation with phrases such as, “I start maternity leave on x date, so until then, let’s focus on the task at hand,” or “I appreciate your support around my pregnancy, but by staying focused on finishing this work, you can help remove stress from each of our lives. Let’s get it done.”
Or Davis suggests that coworkers could simply not bring up the pregnancy at all. “I think sometimes people are just trying to make conversation, but just because I’m pregnant doesn’t mean that’s the only thing I want to talk about,” she said. “Being pregnant is just one aspect of my life. I have a lot of other interests.”
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