I am 7 months pregnant (29 weeks to be exact) and I've recently started a new job. Let me start by saying that 7 months ago, I was neither looking for a new job, nor did I plan on being pregnant. Both happened by “accident”.
The manager of a group of companies with which I worked closely, while discussing a new opening causally said, “Lecia, I need someone like you!”
While promising to send her some referrals, I jokingly responded, “Why not me?”
Shortly after, the conversation got serious. Back then in November, if you had even suggested pregnancy in jest, I would have promptly dismissed you. A baby was not on my agenda. But us Jamaicans have a saying, "Man a plan. God a wipe". Well this couldn't be truer, since I was already pregnant.
In early January, when the formal offer finally landed in my inbox, I was excited, but I was also paralysed with fear. Here I was being presented with the opportunity to merge and explore two of my greatest passions… and I was pregnant.
My husband couldn't understand my fear. I was worried that my prospective employer would be daunted by the fact that pregnancy would impede my flexibility, and even worst, that I would be taking off a huge chuck of time so soon after joining the team.
"Lecia, these guys know you! They know your work ethic. They have seen you in action for the past three plus years. I don't think they are going to suddenly not want you because you're pregnant. Plus, you are married, so I don't think there will be any surprises there. If anything, they'll be happy for you!"
He was thoroughly convinced that utter joy could be their only reaction, while I was thoroughly convinced he was mad.
Frustrated, I wondered why was I sharing my distress with him. He is a man. Clearly, doesn't understand these things! So, I went in search of some reassurance and empathy from persons who could relate - women! Women who are all mothers, and more importantly, women who manage or run a business. I called each one right after the other in panic.
Here are some of the tips they gave me which not only calmed me immensely, but helped for a smooth transition to my new job. I have also included some of the things I have learnt along the way in making this transition.
Make a full disclosure. Now! This is a hot button issue and a tricky one for most women. Quite frankly, being open and honest about your pregnancy in a job interview may cost you the job. But keeping it a secret could later cause mistrust and “bad blood” in the relationship between you and your new employer who may think he/she has been duped.
All four ladies insisted that I set up a meeting immediately with my prospective employer. You see, I was heading into a close-knitted environment that was based on trust, and while some may argue that their pregnancy is their personal affair, I was aware that disclosing my pregnancy at this early stage would play a key role in establishing a good work relationship.
In any event, I didn't even have the option of not disclosing. My oversharing husband had already planned a photo shoot and was far along with plans of announcing our pregnancy to the world. God knows that the last thing I wanted was for my prospective employer to learn of my pregnancy from social media!
As soon as I got off the phone with my last mentor, I called and asked for a meeting to discuss “a few matters relating to the offer."
Go with a plan and never present the pregnancy as a bad thing! Left to my own devices, I probably would have walked into the meeting extremely apologetic, calling down doom and calamity at my discovery. Thankfully, the ladies with whom I spoke all agreed with my husband that I needed a game plan.
"OK, so let's develop a plan.” This was my ever-strategic husband speaking.
“What can you get done? What will you still be able to do? How are you going to show that this pregnancy is not a problem? And for God's sake don't present it as bad news!”
After much collaboration, I walked into my meeting with a foolproof plan ready to show how I would still be an asset to the organisation despite being pregnant. Quelling my rising anxiety, I summoned my most confident voice to make the announcement.
Before I was finished, my new employer was clapping with glee, "This is great news!"
For me yes... but not so much for you, is what I was thinking.
“So, here is what I am thinking…” Taken aback by her genuine excitement, I was now trying to squeeze in my well orchestrated plan.
She listened for a while then blurted out, "Lecia! Stop. I'm confident we’ll figure this out. We are looking to establish a long-term relationship with you. Your pregnancy doesn't change that..."
She continued on, saying all the things a prospective employee, and a pregnant one at that, could only dream of hearing. She even shared her own experience of being pregnant. Right there in her office, I wanted to sing and dance and kiss her, but I kept my cool. Until I got into my car. Then, I just bawled!!! Tears of absolute joy.
Do your research. Know the law and be willing to make compromises. The number one question from my female peers when I told them of my plan to switch jobs was, "But what about maternity leave?" The truth is you will have to be practical and reasonable.
Jamaican law says that you are entitled to 8 weeks paid maternity leave and 4 weeks unpaid (12 weeks in total), but only after you have been employed for at least 52 weeks with the same employer. Of course, the law is not a shackle (I had to go there😊) and employers are free to grant you maternity leave with pay even though you may not have completed 52 weeks. Clearly, I have not completed 52 weeks.
If you are in this position, then it’s time for serious discussion with your spouse. After all, you are possibly walking away from income at a time when you need it most. At this stage, it's important to weigh the pros and cons of your new job prospect. Most persons thought I was crazy and even encouraged me to stay in my job until after the baby. My mentors and husband encouraged me to go for it!
Admittedly, it’s one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make. I had to ask myself some tough questions: barring unforeseen circumstances, how much leave did I want to or could I afford to take? Can I afford to lose 2 or 3 months’ pay? What was the new job worth to me? Was it a sacrifice I was willing to make?
One of my mentors told me that she had baby in the morning and was on a conference call in the afternoon! Looking back now she admits that this was crazy. But she told me this story to make a bigger point, if you have to get it done, you will get it done.
Interestingly, I found that most women who owned their own business or who were part of a family owned business simply could not afford to take three or sometimes even two months’ maternity leave. In these circumstances, flexibility was more important than the actual leave. With this in mind, my mentors also encouraged me to explore the possibility of taking a shorter leave, but negotiating flexi-hours and/or the possibility of working from home.
It's really a balancing act and business is business. Demonstrating that you understand the bottom line of any business and showing a willingness to compromise, even before HR points out the law to you, is important and will demonstrate to the prospective employer that you aren’t just “looking a job,” you care about the success of the company.
Warning! You will lose your health benefits! There is no way around this. If you are part of your employer’s group health insurance plan, once you walk away from that job, you lose those benefits. This is a serious disadvantage of changing jobs while pregnant.
Us pregnant women suffer from a term being bandied about a lot in American politics today. It’s called a "pre-existing condition". So, even if your new job has a group health insurance plan, sorry, your pre-existing condition (aka pregnancy) disqualifies you from obtaining any maternity benefits. In fact, you do not qualify for maternity benefits on most groups plans (at least all the ones I've researched) until you’ve been on the plan for at least 9 months or more (see what they did there?)
Thankfully, even though I lost my coverage under my old insurance plan, I am still a part of another health insurance scheme. By the way, it is just me or do insurance companies treat us pregnant women as outcasts? Whether you have insurance or not, be prepared to come up out of pocket for all your blood tests and ultrasounds.
I vaguely recall an insurance agent telling me I could save my receipts and claim later, but really?
"So, let me get this straight, if I am not pregnant and I have to do a random blood test or an ultrasound, insurance pays for it upfront, but it doesn't do this if I'm pregnant?"
She responded in the affirmative and I was so annoyed I may have terminated the call shortly thereafter as her explanation did not make any sense. So be warned!
Don’t be afraid to take risks. Have faith! I'm not a religious or overly spiritual person, but you must trust that God (or the universe, if you prefer) will conspire to support you. Even without being pregnant, I’m sure many of you can relate to the trepidation of leaving a stable and great job with (and I’m not exaggerating) the most amazing co-workers to go somewhere new – even if new allowed me to pursue my passion.
Without the support of my mentors and especially my husband, it would have been very easy to cop out and stick with my existing job because of the comfort of knowing that my co-workers all had my back, I’d enjoy all my benefits and they all knew that when I called in sick or fell asleep at my desk, I was not being a slacker, I was just pregnant.
With waning energy, mood swings, back pains and all sorts of crazy afflictions, it’s hard, damn near impossible for a pregnant woman to be at her optimum. This is frustrating. I mean, who doesn’t want to put their best foot forward when starting a new role? I really had to come to grips with the fact that try as I might, I would not be the best version of myself starting this new job.
Do I move slower? Yes. Am I uncomfortable? Hell yes? Forgetful? Say hello to mommy brain. But I take comfort in the fact that it’s all temporary. As one of my mentors told me,
“When all else fails, just think about it, your body is the process of performing the greatest miracle on earth – creating a human being! Cut yourself some slack!”
Lastly, be confident and friendly! No one likes a grumpy co-worker, especially, a grumpy new co-worker. If you are confident, enthusiastic and happy about your pregnancy, then your new co-workers will feed off your energy. I've discovered that everyone (men especially) has a soft spot for pregnant women. You don't have to share your life story, but be as open and accommodating as you can.
I have also learnt that Jamaicans do not have much boundaries, so try not to make too much of a fuss when a new co-worker offers unsolicited advice, confidently declares the sex of the baby based on the shape or position of your tummy or even rub your tummy without permission. It’s all with good intentions. Most likely these are the same co-workers who will go the extra mile to make you comfortable. So, not being grumpy or stuck-up in a new environment will make life easier for everyone, especially you!
Have you ever changed jobs while pregnant? I’d love to hear more tips from you.