A glimpse at what it’s really like to be pregnant at work
“I can’t focus at all. It’s a serious struggle.”
These were the words recently told to me by a very pregnant friend of mine about trudging through the work day. We all know pregnancy can be difficult, but what is it like to work seven hour days, or longer, when you’ve got a bun in the oven? We decided to find out by going straight to the source: pregnant working women.
Women are continuing to work later and later into their pregnancies. According to MarketWatch, 82 percent of those with a first birth between 2006 and 2008 worked until one month or less before their child was born. Compare that with 35 percent for a first birth between 1961 and 1965.
“Our nation remains mired in a conversation about whether mothers should work, but the reality is that most already do,” says Heather Boushey, an economist at the Center for American Progress.
According to the latest Office for National Statistics figures, a record number of mothers are working full-time, despite having a child as young as six months old. There are 2.25 million full-time, working women whose youngest or only child is under the age of four. There were only 1.9 million in 2003.
One woman, who chooses to remain anonymous, tells Levo that “being pregnant at work is not all that great. It’s very tiring, uncomfortable, draining… Pregnancy itself makes me so exhausted. By 2:00 p.m. I feel like it’s 7:00 p.m. and I’m ready to drop.”
My own pregnant friend says she has to go to the bathroom what feels like 400 times a day.
“I basically always have to pee and the bathroom is like, half a mile from my desk. No joke, at least a quarter mile,” she says. “Then after working all day I attend child birth class, which is three hours long. I hope the actual birth is shorter than the class. I am just exhausted all the time.”
In addition to just the physical pains of pregnancy there’s also the perception of the people you work with. Pooja Sankar, CEO of Piazza, tells USA Today that her employees may not expect her to be tough anymore because she’s pregnant.
“I’m sometimes confused as a cat, not as a lion. So, some are surprised when I call out bulls—and have a no-nonsense attitude,” she says. “Is that uncommon? I don’t know.”
Do co-workers and managers tend to think your management or work behavior will change when you’re pregnant? Do they automatically assume you won’t be able to do as much or that you’ll soften up somehow?
My pregnant friend says her co-workers who have kids are very sensitive to her condition and how she may be more tired than usual, but her co-workers who don’t have children seem to lack a certain awareness.
“They don’t ever speak of my pregnancy. It’s like they think I just got really fat,” she says.
But for some women, their jobs are great for their pregnancy, and have even made their pregnancies better. When actress January Jones was pregnant, she told The Daily that even though working while she was eight months pregnant was challenging, “Having work was really helpful… I just didn’t lose myself into ‘baby-world.’”
Melissa R. Harman, Marketing Manager for the law firm Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP, told me that she worked throughout her first pregnancy and loved it.
“If I were at home, I would be reading baby blogs, baby magazines, baby books… and eating way too much food. Having children is important to me and my husband,” she says, “but I also went to college for a reason, and love my career. If I were to take a break, I would lose traction and all the progress I’ve made in legal marketing. Women can have it all. A career, a family, a home, a social life. I’m not going to become just a ‘mom.’ And I certainly don’t want to be referenced only as ‘Mac’s Mom.’”
A job can be a savior for pregnant women and for working moms. A recent study says that both married and single working moms found more fulfillment (and gained self confidence) in paid work than in parenting.
Professor Karen Christopher, the study’s author and an associate professor of Gender Studies and Sociology at the University of Louisville, says, “About one-third of the 40 employed mothers [in the study] expressed some ambivalence or guilt over their employment, but most employed mothers justified their paid work by saying it made them more fulfilled people, in addition to better mothers. So, these mothers are not only reframing what good mothering entails, they also frame employment in ways different than do earlier studies of mothers.”