With having a baby, you have to come up with many professional decisions that help accommodate the arrival and care for a newborn. Will you continue to work full-time? Can you get a flexible schedule? While these questions and many more will eventually need to be answered, the planning, in reality, begins as early as you break the news of your pregnancy to supervisors and coworkers – and deal with their reactions. From complete indifference to being thrilled for you, the reactions can make you uncomfortable at least, and it is all part of the process.
Practical issues such as your insurance coverage, maternity leave and the like are typically set in your contract and company policies. All you will need to do is to know and make sure you’re not misunderstanding your entitlements.
But there are a number of issues that can come into play and complicate what is supposed to be an easy journey. These are mostly driven by others’ perceptions of a pregnant woman’s priorities and professional ambition –perceptions that often are a mixture of stereotypes and personal projections. For example, if you’re working for a manager who upon hearing the news of your pregnancy, immediately assumes that your priorities have shifted to home and kids solely, you may have to be conscious of how this mindset could be a hurdle in the way of your professional advancement.
To be sure that your pregnancy and maternity leave won’t impact your career development – or to keep the impact to the minimum, here are few tips:
Like it or not, there are misperceptions for how much a pregnant woman or a mom of a young child can be dedicated to her work. To counter these perceptions as much as possible, make sure you’re not constantly sending the wrong signals. While morning sickness, fatigue and a host of other physical issues may be taking a toll on your level of energy, coworkers and supervisors don’t need to hear about every single problem or a daily report about how awful you may be feeling. The more you keep your professional life professional, the fewer are the conclusions that you will have to deal with later.
Consider individual preferences
Like any other personal choice, having children can be a touchy subject – with those who don’t like them or others who can’t have them. So keep your excitement, anticipation and health updates as discreet as possible. While it may be hard to avoid the topic altogether, keeping work first at the workplace is the best way to avoid offending anyone. People likely will follow your cues that you keep your pregnancy a personal matter.
Being pregnant isn’t an illness – unless your doctor warns about specific risks. While many coworkers may be happy and willing to help you out, particularly in the later stages, don’t expect favours. Use and ask for help within reason when you absolutely need it. In all circumstances, stay as active and as responsible as you can be and do your tasks fully and satisfactorily. This will be your proof that you continue to be the same person who is full-heartedly focused on work – even if you’re going through a major milestone in your personal life.
Avoid future plans discussions
Coworkers may be curious about your plans after birth. In short, will you be a stay-at-home mom? My advice is to avoid the discussion as much as possible. The whole pregnancy and childbirth experience is typically an emotional roller coaster, and you may find yourself changing your mind frequently before you make what appears to the right decision for your situation. That is why unless these discussions are exclusively with friends – who happened to be also coworkers – and you need their input, don’t volunteer to share your ups and downs. The bottom line: a hint that you may be quitting may cost you a promotion – or even your job – at a time you most need it.
Plan your maternity coverage
Ultimately, what will really impact your workplace is the interruption of your service during the maternity leave. To make sure that this goes as smoothly as possible, be helpful with planning and training the person or persons who will cover your role. Start with documenting your job duties with as many details as possible and work out a training schedule for the person who will be covering your job tasks. Don’t forget to explicitly mention your interest in training this person.
Rania Oteify, a former Gulf News Business Features Editor, is currently a journalist based in Seattle.