By SuperShe Staff
These days, more women than ever are staying in the workforce after having kids: 7 in 10 moms with children under age 18 were in the labor force in 2017, up from 47% in 1975, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. To help those new moms just starting out, we asked real-life SuperMoms to shed some light on the realities of knockin’ it out of the park at work while you’re knocked up—and when you return.
When to make the big announcement.
Woohoo! You just saw those two lines on your pregnancy test and you’re over the MFing moon about it. Little by little, you start to make plans, knowing that your life is about to change in some major and exciting ways. Then your happy dance is halted by the question: WTF are you going to do about the whole work sitch?
Don’t freak out just yet, mama. You’ve got time before you have to do anything. “When you’re newly pregnant, you don’t have to tell anyone at work,” says longtime journalist and founder of the viral #NoShameParenting movement, Lindsay Powers. “If you have a good relationship with your employer or you start showing, you might want to say something,” adds the NYC-based mom of two and author of the upcoming book, You Can’t F*ck Up Your Kids.
Amber Mamian, a CA-based entrepreneur, mom of five, and founder of Global Munchkins, a blog dedicated to family travel, stayed silent as long as she could. At the time of her pregnancy, she was working for herself in a small office with three employees. “I didn’t say much at work until I was showing, which was closer to five months,” she explains. You’ve got a bun in the oven and a lot on your plate; it’s no one’s beeswax what’s going on in your uterus until you decide it’s their beeswax.
A SuperShe mama who has chosen to stay anonymous — for the rest of this article, we’ll refer to her as Jessica — suggests waiting until the second trimester to tell your boss because of the high miscarriage rate in the first trimester. About 80% of all cases of pregnancy loss occur within the first trimester, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. So she advises being totally sure all is good in the ‘hood before you start making big adjustments at work. It’s a hard and upsetting truth, we know, but a truth nonetheless.
On a different note, we get that you might be freaking TF out because you’re nervous that things will change in the office once everyone knows you’re preggers. Our SuperMoms acknowledge that, yes, some work environments might not be ideal and judgment is real. “I was always worrying about looking pregnant while job searching because I felt like it would be a strike against me,” Jessica recalls. “But once I started showing, I decided to be bold. I’m making a human dammit, and that’s impressive.”
You can and should be bold because there is a federal law, called Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), that prohibits your workplace from discriminating against you because you’re with child. According to the American Association of University Women, if anyone does discriminate against you for being preggers at work, you can file a claim within 180 days of that B.S. happening, even if you’re no longer employed by the A-hole who crossed the line. While you don’t need a lawyer to proceed, it’s always good to consult with legal counsel, if you can.
Bottomline: Don’t fret about giving your team the heads up until you’re good and ready. And if anyone at work starts doing shady shit because of your bump (i.e., you get passed up for a well-deserved promotion), remember, you’ve got the law behind you.
Map out your exit for maternity leave.
Once you’ve let your employer know you’re brewing a magical little being inside you (perhaps you phrase it slightly differently during that conversation), it’ll be time to start thinking about your maternity leave.
Now, we know you’re excited to get your well-deserved—and hella necessary—time off to not only BIRTH a human, but also to spend some amazing quality time with him or her. But before all that good stuff can happen, you’ve gotta do some planning. Annoying, we know, but nothing monumental ever happens without a little forethought and some metaphorical elbow grease.
Of course, arranging your leave will be different for every SuperShe, so we suggest first checking to see if your employer provides paid leave. “It depends on how much paid leave you have available, and sadly, many women in America don’t have any,” says Lindsay. “For my second child, I was lucky to work for a company that offered paid leave, so I was able to go on leave a couple weeks before my due date without compromising the amount of leave I had access to after my baby was born.” If you don’t get any paid leave (which is so messed up), you might need to work until closer to your due date, depending on your financial situation.
As for the plan itself, take notes from this SuperMom: “I worked with my manager to create a strategy for who would cover various duties,” recalls Lindsay. “My company split my to-do’s among multiple people. So I just collaborated with those coworkers to make sure they could seamlessly step into their designated roles.”
If your company prefers to hire a contractor to fill in for you in the interim, try to get your temporary replacement to shadow you for the max amount of time possible. “It’s great if you can have some overlap with a temporary replacement, whether it’s for a day or a week,” says Lindsay. “I recommend leaving a one-pager with important phone numbers and emails regardless.” In addition to that handy-dandy helper sheet, be sure to put all your major responsibilities in writing and cc your manager on the email so everyone is on the same page about how invaluable you are to the brand.
Pretty straightforward stuff, right? It’ll make your life a lot easier when you’re at home with your newborn and don’t have to check in to make sure that Brad from accounting knows WTF he’s doing in the morning meeting.
Actually enjoy being OOO.
Your automatic “peace out, bishes” email response has been set, effectively telling everyone who’s contacting you at work that you’re about to experience the miracle of childbirth. But what’s maternity leave actually going to be like in terms of your ties to the office?
“I went dark on maternity leave,” says Lindsay, explaining she didn’t touch base with work at all. “At one point, my manager wanted to connect with me, so I did a phone call toward the end. But other than that, I pretty much didn’t check in.” She adds that she was lucky she was transitioning into a new role upon her return, so she didn’t really have much to worry about regarding the old one while she was at home with her offspring. Sounds like a total dream to us.
But it’s not always sunshine, rainbows and Friends binge-watching. Jessica voluntarily parted ways with her previous job a few months prior to giving birth and had been on the job-hunt. However, when her son arrived, she decided to press pause and focus on the baby. Even without the stress of a job search, things were tough. “In my experience, there’s no such thing as enjoying your maternity leave,” she says. “You can never get enough sleep. To make it easier, I tried to divvy up the baby duties with my husband, but it was still hard.”
In addition to seemingly never-ending baby duties (pun intended), missing work while on maternity leave is another potential reality for moms-to-be. “I found maternity leave incredibly difficult,” says Amber. “Being home with a baby is sweet but incredibly lonely. I missed the excitement of making sales and adult interaction most.”
Listen, every SuperMom’s experience is going to be different. But it’s nice to know that the possibility of getting the hell away from work to bond with your bambino is a real thing. It’s also reassuring to hear that if you’re struggling to enjoy your time out of office—whatever your situation may be—you’re not the only one.
Getting back on the grind.
The U.S. legally requires that you take 12 weeks of unpaid leave if you’re a mom of a newborn or a newly adopted child and you work for a company with more than 50 employees. So even though you’ve recently pushed a human being out of your vagina, you’ve got bills that need payin’. That last sentence alone makes us wonder why women don’t get enough damn credit, but alas, we digress. And for the record: this isn’t to say that stay-at-home moms aren’t badass superheroes with hard-as-hell responsibilities, too—we’re just focusing on mamas who decided to go back to work for this piece!
Our SuperMoms all had different experiences returning to the office. And we’re not going to sugarcoat it: it wasn’t easy and breezy for any of them.
“When I went back to work after having my first child, I was suddenly ‘mommy tracked,’” says Lindsay. “My boss at the time announced to my entire team that I was now ‘leaving early’ because I’d asked if I could ‘only’ spend 40 hours a week in office, finishing up any outstanding work after my son went to bed. He also once forwarded me an email to an interesting conference, saying, ‘I’d love to send you to this, but you’re probably not traveling right now!’” Um, what the fuck?
Lindsay took her experience with this offensive and unacceptable mommy-shaming and changed the way she operated at work.“When I switched positions within that company, I stopped asking for ‘permission’ to leave for appointments, and instead just blocked out the time I couldn’t work on my calendar,” she says. “I still got all my duties done. I recommend this ‘ask forgiveness later’ approach to all parents who are able to.”
For some women returning to work, the aforementioned mommy-shame comes from somewhere else: feeling bad for not staying at home. “For me, going back to work was great,” says Amber. “However, it took a little while to get over feeling ashamed that I’m just not a stay-at-home mom. I gave staying at home my all for a year, but it wasn’t for me. I really enjoy what I do and I’m passionate about the companies I’ve built.”
Although Amber experienced it more internally, the societal shaming of moms (think judgemental comments and side-eyes from other moms, coworkers, and even strangers) for returning to work and not spending every waking moment with their kiddos is a real problem today. According to reports from the Pew Research Center, 77% of adults say women face a lot of pressure to be an involved parent; a significantly smaller share, 56%, say the same about men.”
So, yep: it’s sexist B.S. that makes us feel bad about getting back to work. It’s especially shitty to feel this way when we want to spend time with our kids, but staying home just isn’t a feasible financial option. Sheesh, cut us some slack and stop making women feel bad about having ambition and obligations.
Some of the tough stuff isn’t just emotional, either. Jessica was ready to get back to the office, but was shocked when she realized how exhausting it is to be a new working mom. “I go home and I want to sleep, but I can’t because I get a surge of energy when I see my baby,” she explains. “Then he goes to sleep and I realize I still have all this stuff to do for myself and around the house. Working is so exciting, so I can’t imagine not doing it—but juggling everything is so tiring. It’s a tired you’ve never experienced before.”
While it might be scary to read how difficult it all can be, consider that most things worth doing are insanely hard. Balancing baby and a job each day is impressive and admirable in our eyes. Get excited for the journey and give yourself a pat on the back because you’re a rockstar, mama.