Elizabeth Knox Online

(And how should you tell them? And what should you tell them?)

Congratulations! You’re pregnant!

For some people, it’s an easy road to get here. For some people, it’s a very complicated, hard road. However you’ve gotten here – congratulations!!

If you aren't self-employed, at some point you will have to tell your boss.

When you do this is dependent on how your pregnancy is going and what type of job situation you are in. How you do this is a reflection of your professionalism.

When Should You Tell Them?

Most medical professionals recommend waiting untill after the first trimester. That’s because most miscarriages happen in the first trimester (about 10-20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, and 80% of those occur in the first trimester, according to the Mayo Clinic). It’s a statistic I wasn’t really aware of until my friends and I started trying to have babies. A miscarriage is a complex experience, and you may-or-may-not want your colleagues to know what you are going through.

After you take that into consideration, the when is influenced by your work environment and your health. Think of it as a matrix: your health on one axis, lined up against your work environment on the other axis. I’m only including the two ends of the spectrum, but you can imagine the range of possibilities in the middle.

Boss Pregnant

Why the matrix?

In some work environments, they are well set up for pregnancy and maternity leave. They understand the number of prenatal appointments you will have, and they are used to finding replacements for the time that new moms are out. They’ll likely be happy for you, celebrate with you, and know how to get backup in place while you tend to your growing family. (Think for example, of an elementary school that has had lots of women of childbearing age work there for a long time).

If you work somewhere like that – you can tell work as soon as you’d like!

But in other environments, where there haven’t been a lot of women having babies, or environments that are super-competitive, you may want to wait a bit before you tell them. I’m not encouraging you to be dishonest, just intentional about how you approach the timing. 

Why hesitate?

A pregnancy discrimination flier from Hong Kong's Equal Opportunity Commission

A pregnancy discrimination flier from Hong Kong's Equal Opportunity Commission

Having babies is a fact of life, and employers should be prepared for it. Legally, your employer can’t discriminate against you. But it doesn’t mean they won’t. (At an early job, my offer was contingent on not having children while I worked there. I didn’t think much of it since I wasn’t in a position to have children. But I was too inexperienced to know what my boss did was illegal and discriminatory.)

A friend who worked for a small company was the first woman in their 15-year history to have a baby and she had to drive the conversation about family policies. What’s more? I know of two other women who, if they read this, will think that sentence is about them (just changing the number of years their company has been around). It’s not uncommon. 

Each of them had different experiences – in one instance, the company built their maternity leave policy together with my friend. It was a friendly, professional experience. The company showed their commitment to my friend, and in turn, she is fiercely loyal to them. In another instance, the woman had to fight for them to hold her job (being a small business, they were not subject to FMLA) and she had to educate them about things like disability coverage and prenatal appointments.

If your workplace isn’t super-familiar with pregnancy and maternity leave, you need to prepare yourself to help educate them. You also need to prepare yourself for the possibility that your pregnancy will engender frustration and discrimination. That’s a lot to add to your plate of working full time and being pregnant.

Think about it from an employer’s perspective: it’s inconvenient to have your employee – the employee you’ve trained, invested in, and actively count on – leave for several months (whatever the reason – although I do think that the reason of growing your family is ‘different’). There’s a logistical, emotional, and financial toll on you and your organization if your employee is pregnant. Someone else will need to cover their work, if this employee actively traveled for the job, they won’t be able to for the last few months of their pregnancy, and may not want to travel right away when they come back.

Even more than if they don’t want to travel, many women just don’t return. Period. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg quoted a statistic that 43% of “high performing women do not return after having children” (page 95). When you share your exciting news, your boss runs through a whole bunch of “what if” scenarios in their head.

You can understand an employer’s hesitance.

So if the environment you are working in is less accustomed to people having babies, and particularly if it’s a highly driven and competitive field, you may want to delay telling them about your pregnancy for a while. You can take that time to prepare yourself to talk with them, and delay some of the potential negative implications.

How Should You Tell Them?

As for how to tell them, actually – this part is a bit easier.

Even if you work in a fun, collegial environment, remember that you are a professional and a team-player.

Schedule a block on your boss’s calendar, or if you think that would look odd in an informal environment, look for an open time in their day and ask them if they are available to talk. Don’t announce it when they are on their way to a big meeting or ready to shut down for the day. Make sure there is time for you to have a conversation about your pregnancy and how you anticipate it impacting the organization. Even if your boss is one of your closest friends, their first concern as a boss is how your availability to work impacts the organization.

What Should You Tell Them?

You should share the news simply, directly, professionally. 

In addition to sharing your excitement, come to your boss with a proposal for how to cover your responsibilities while you are out at prenatal appointments or on maternity leave. Don’t just drop it on their lap that you are going to be gone, work with them to find solutions.

If you work in one of those more ambitious environments, you want to be even more prepared for that initial meeting with your boss. You’ll want to have a more thorough plan, you’ll want to explain what you know: how often you’ll have to be out of the office for pre-natal appointments, what kind of leave you want to request (if you work for an organization with more than 50 people you are guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid leave). How you would suggest your work be covered while you are out, how you will work with your colleagues to prepare for your absence.

A7GEAW_2378638bAn obvious question is: should I tell them if I plan to come back or not? That’s a whole other topic, which I plan to get to in this series, but for now, some simple advice: unless you are 100%, 1000%, 10,000% sure you want to stay home. Talk with them about returning after your leave expires (don’t state dates, just “after your leave expires”). There will be plenty of time to get into specifics. The decision to return can be complicated you may make up your mind, and then change it 3 times, before you actually come to a decision. You’ll want some space to work that out with your husband/partner and close friends.

Which environment are you facing? Are you in a family-friendly workplace, that will throw you a baby shower and send you home when your feet are swollen, or is it the type of place that expects nothing less than you’re A-game all the way through the pregnancy?

Again – congratulations! It’s an exciting time!

(If you’re not excited yet, don’t worry. If you’re having an easy pregnancy, you may not even feel pregnant. Plus, you don’t know what it’s like to have kids, or what all the hub-bub is about. Totally normal).

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