Workin’ 9 to 5 We’ve come a long way, baby – at least when it comes to being pregnant on the job. Gone are the days when you were expected to hand in your notice at work the moment it became obvious that you were “in the family way.”
And we’ve finally come through that crazy time when pregnant working women were expected to soldier on Murphy Brown–like for the entire nine months of pregnancy, regardless of how tired or queasy they might be feeling. (Trying to pretend that everything was business as usual while simultaneously wrestling yourself into some dreadfully uncomfortable maternity business suit and a pair of one-size-fits-some maternity pantyhose turned pregnancy into a nine-and-a-half-month marathon for many of us working moms-to-be.)
Fortunately, we’ve long since abandoned the exit-stage-left or just-pretend-you’re-not pregnant strategies for dealing with pregnancy on the job. Today’s pregnant woman is inclined to take a more proactive approach to everything from announcing her pregnancy to her boss to managing aches and pains on the job to helping the company plan for her maternity leave. Here’s what you need to know to manage each of these three key career challenges for yourself.
Announcing Your Pregnancy at Work Like many first-time moms-to-be, Erica Johnson — the Vancouver-based co-host of CBC’s Marketplace — was more than a little nervous about announcing her pregnancy to her employer. She was so nervous, in fact, that she waited until she was 16 weeks along before she finally sat down with the show’s producer to have “the big talk.” Her biggest worry? That she was going to have to head off on maternity leave about nine weeks before the show’s current season would be finished taping, which would require Johnson’s co-host, Wendy Mesley, to pick up full hosting duties for the rest of the season, and other members of the show’s crew to carry an added workload. “As it turned out, Wendy and the rest of the crew were totally supportive,” Johnson recalls. “But while I was waiting to announce my news, I was really concerned about how people on the show were going to react.”
Vancouver nurse Zoë Schuler understands those feelings. She found herself in the unenviable position of having to announce a pregnancy to a supervisor who already had two nurses off on maternity leave and two others who had just announced their own pregnancies. Schuler also knew that the shortage of nurses in her area would make it hard for her employer to replace her. Fortunately, Schuler’s boss immediately put her mind at ease. “He shook his head and pointed out that the nursing shortage should not be a factor in my life decisions — that staffing the department was his responsibility, not mine.”
Johnson’s and Schuler’s stories are good news if you’ve been expecting the worst from your employer. If you’re eager to increase your odds of being greeted with a favourable reaction from your boss, here are the key points to keep in mind.
Spring your news soon, but not too soon. According to Emma Pavlov, vice-president of HR and organizational development for the University Health Network in Toronto, most women announce their pregnancies to their employers around the three- to four-month mark (the point at which they pass the peak miscarriage risk period). Can you spring the news too soon? Definitely, according to Toronto executive coach Karen Wright. “I’ve had clients tell me that they’re three weeks pregnant, wondering if this is the right time to tell their boss. It’s no one’s damn business in the beginning.”
Realize that you may have to spill the beans sooner rather than later for health and safety reasons. If you’re too sick to come to work or obviously and frequently nauseated at work, you’re experiencing some pregnancy complications and you need a lot of time off for doctors’ appointments, or you need to request some job modifications for the well-being of you and your baby, you may not be able to keep your pregnancy under wraps until you’ve passed the three-month mark.
Make sure your boss hears your news from you first. If you feel the need to explain to a few trusted co-workers why you can no longer stand the smell of coffee or why you’ve suddenly morphed from your usual high-energy self into someone who has to take a quick catnap at her desk every afternoon, make sure you swear them to secrecy until you have the chance to deliver the news to your boss first-hand. And don’t delay that meeting for too long, by the way. The office grapevine has a tendency to take on a life of its own.
Don’t be afraid to ask for other workplace accommodations. If you work for a company where employees rarely have the opportunity to take the breaks that they are entitled to, you may worry about the workplace fallout that may result from having to wave the proverbial white flag. Don’t let that stop you from taking proper care of yourself and your baby, says Danielle Cardozo, a hostess at a Calgary country bar who is currently four months pregnant with her first child. “At the bar where I work, the hostess on duty generally doesn’t get to take breaks, even though they are scheduled to work 10-hour shifts. I talked to my boss about this and told him I couldn’t keep up that kind of pace while I was pregnant — that I’d have to stop to eat and drink while I was at work. I was really nervous about having this conversation, but my boss was really supportive. He told me to come and talk to him anytime if anything else came up. He said he wanted me to tell him what I needed.”
If this is you, plan to meet with your employer as soon as you know you’re pregnant to discuss job modifications:
• You are routinely exposed to infectious diseases, heavy metals, toxic chemicals, oil-based paints, radiation, anaesthetic gases or other harmful substances at work. • Your job is highly strenuous or physically demanding. • You have to stand for more than three hours per day at work or you have to do a lot of bending, stooping, stair- or ladder-climbing or heavy lifting. • You work in an extremely hot, cold or noisy environment. • You work long hours or rotating shifts.
Maternity and Parental Leave Benefits As a birth mother, you’re entitled to a maximum 15 weeks of paid leave; in addition, parental benefits are payable to either parent, including adoptive parents up to a maximum of 35 weeks. In order to qualify you must have at least 600 insurable hours in the last 52 weeks or since your last claim.
Your employer needs to file a Record of Employment within five days of the last day you are paid. If your employer hasn’t done this on time, you can do it yourself. If there is a delay of more than four weeks in filing your claim, it may cause a loss of benefits.
To find out more, contact your local HRDC office, call 1-800-206-7218 or visit sdc.gc.ca.
While some women breeze through pregnancy feeling like a million bucks, these moms-to-be tend to be the exception rather than the rule. Most of us mere mortals get hit with at least a few pregnancy-related complaints, which means that we need to come up with strategies for dealing with fatigue, morning sickness and other aches and pains that can affect our overall job performance.
Communication is key when it comes to rallying support on the job, says Vancouver teacher Kerry Harding, who is due to deliver her first child in a couple of weeks. You have to be able to tell the people you work with what kind of support you need. Harding struggled with nausea during her first trimester — a difficult problem to contend with when you’re in front of a classroom full of students. Her strategy was to signal another teacher in her school that she needed to take a quick break so that she could sit down and have a drink and snack. “I’m really fortunate that I work with a really tight-knit group of teachers who support one another in situations like these,” she stresses.
While you may be tempted to try to pretend that you are doing just fine, it’s best to level with your employer if you can’t keep up with your usual workload because of how you’re feeling. “There were times during my first pregnancy when I had to be open with my boss and explain that I simply had too much work lined up, and I needed some help,” admits Toronto lawyer Jacqui Code.
Once you’ve identified the problem and asked for help, you then need to learn to cut yourself a bit of slack, stresses Code. “It’s easy to beat yourself up when you find yourself in this situation — to feel like you’re not doing anything well. But then you have to remind yourself that it takes more energy to beat yourself up than just to give yourself a break. Remember, this is temporary.”
Here are some additional tips on managing pregnancy discomforts on the job:
Dress for comfort. Wear low-heeled, comfortable shoes and loose-fitting clothing (ideally natural fibres, which tend to be more comfortable if you get overheated, as most pregnant women do).
Take breaks when you need them. If you’re extra tired, close your office door or find some other quiet place where you can squeeze in a 20-minute catnap. “Your body just does what it’s going to do,” says Code. “You have to surrender at times.”
Take steps to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome. If you spend a lot of time at a computer or doing other repetitive motions, make sure that your workstation is designed to reduce the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. Pregnant women are at increased risk of developing this condition due to the hormonal changes of pregnancy.
Make sure your working environment is otherwise pregnancy-friendly. Put your feet up on a stool or an open desk drawer to relieve pressure on your lower back, for example.
Keep stress to a minimum and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you feel like you’re getting overloaded. “My last pregnancy was really tough,” recalls Kim Breithaupt, a Calgary investment counsellor and mother of three (ages nine months, three and six). “Sometimes I would go over to Mom’s after work and put my feet up while she took care of us all.”
Take care of your physical health both during and after work. Brockville, Ont., engineer Genevieve Fortier, who will be giving birth to her first child in a few weeks, has found that she needs to pay careful attention to what she eats for meals and snacks. She ensures that she packs something substantial like a bagel with cheese when she goes out. And Althea Blackburn-Evans — a Toronto magazine editor who is currently three months pregnant with her second child — has found that an after-work run home three times a week eases the headaches that otherwise leave her feeling quite miserable: “That 45-minute run is the only thing that seems to chase my brutal pregnancy headaches away,” she insists.
Of course, you’ve still got one big discussion ahead of you as you head into the home stretch of pregnancy — planning for your maternity leave. In addition to planning the details of your maternity leave — researching your rights to government benefits and finding out if your company offers any extras, and deciding when you’d like to start your maternity leave — you’ll also want to do what you can to help smooth the transition for the person who is replacing you on the job. According to Toronto Consultant Nora Spinks, who specializes in work/life issues, that means keeping your office records well organized so that anyone filling in for you while you’re on leave can access key documents quickly and easily. You’ll also want to provide your replacement with a list of key contacts within the organization who can provide support and assistance.
At some point before you leave, you’ll want to have a frank discussion with your employer about how much contact you are likely to want with the company while you’re off on maternity leave. Spinks says that if the employee feels quite strongly that she does want to stay in the loop while she’s off on maternity leave, then she should be given that option — as well as the option to change her mind if motherhood proves to be more demanding, or more enchanting — than the mom-to-be had anticipated. “Contact should be controlled by the employee.”
Expecting the Unexpected You know what they say about the best-laid plans. When it comes to planning for your final weeks on the job, it’s always best to expect the unexpected. Joanne Heit Andrade’s plans to continue working as an occasional teacher for a few more weeks had to be abandoned without notice when her son, Matthew, showed up a month prematurely. “I had to make five or six calls from the hospital to various schools and school board HR departments,” the Port Hope, Ontario, mother of one recalls.
So don’t assume that time is on your side and that you’re still guaranteed a few more days or weeks to get your work life in order before you have to switch into motherhood mode. Labour Day may not be as far off as you think.
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