Trying to get pregnant is a personal matter that really shouldn’t affect your experience at work. Unfortunately, for many women, this isn’t always how things work out. As a woman, navigating the workplace can be a challenge. Add a pregnancy—or plans to become pregnant—into the mix and things can get, well, complicated.
As a response to the 2018’s “Take Your Child to Work Day” posts that flooded social media, which coincidentally took place during National Infertility Awareness Week, writer Karen Lips shared her opinion that “there doesn’t seem to be much room in these career success discussions for talk of babies.” She’s right. Many women wait until they’re thirty or older to start trying for children. The idea is that this gives them time to build a career.
Lips shared that “it was wonderful to see the Senate rule change earlier this month allowing senators to bring children onto the Senate floor for votes. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) was the first senator to bring a newborn onto the Senate floor for a vote and she did so at age 50. Unfortunately, not all women will be able to have a child at the age of 50 after reaching the top of their fields.”
What really needs to happen, in our opinion, is for women to be given support in the workplace that allows them to grow their career and have a family. These things shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. In order to make that dream a reality, it’s important that women who are trying to conceive know how to navigate being at work, both from a legal standpoint and from an emotional one.
Below, learn our top tips for navigating the workplace while trying to get pregnant.
1 Know your legal rights
You may be wondering what is legally required for you to divulge to your employer, as well as what they are legally allowed to ask, in regards to you trying and then becoming pregnant. Employers are subject to legal ramifications for crossing boundaries around your reproductive choices, which can help protect pregnant women at work. However, the laws are convoluted and don’t apply to all employers. Here’s an easy-to-understand outline of what you are expected to tell your employer and what they are allowed to ask:
- They can ask: “Are you trying to conceive?” — However, you are not legally required to answer.
- They can ask: “Are you pregnant?” — But, again, you don’t have to respond.
- They can ask: “Are you going to take maternity leave?” — This one is a bit trickier; your employer does have a legal right to “reasonable notification” if you intend to take leave, according to org. However, your employer cannot tell you that you must take leave after your baby is born. They are not allowed to require you to take leave during your pregnancy, so long as you are able to do your job with reasonable accommodation
Additionally, you should know that while your employer cannot fire or demote you for being pregnant, they can move you to a different position if you are unable to safely work in your current position. Likewise, your employer must offer reasonable accommodations. An example of this, while you’re trying to conceive, might be allowing time off for appointments to see a fertility specialist; they can’t deny you that.
The most important consideration when it comes to legal rights around pregnancy is what your employer does (or intends to do) with the answers to your questions. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 protects employees and job applicants from discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. This means that if your employer tries to use your plans to get pregnant against you, you have grounds for a discrimination lawsuit. Thankfully, knowing your rights can help prevent this from ever becoming a problem.
2 Be mindful of what you share—and with whom
We are believers in the power of sharing your story. So much pain can be alleviated just by knowing that someone else has been through the same or similar. And while it’s okay (and encouraged) to share that you are trying to conceive, and especially if you are struggling with infertility, with people you know and trust, it’s a different matter altogether at the workplace.
That’s not to say you can’t or shouldn’t share about your journey to conception with colleagues or your boss, it is a good idea to decide how much you’ll share—and who you’ll share with—beforehand. For example, you may find yourself feeling extra emotional at the workplace due to the stress of trying to conceive, or hormonal injections from fertility treatments. Do you want your colleagues to know why? If you believe that they will be supportive, that’s perfectly fine. Having that support at the workplace can take some of the pressure off.
On the other hand, if you work in a competitive environment where that kind of knowledge could be used to undermine you, it may be best to seek support from friends, family, or a professional therapist. Only you know what your workplace environment is like. Deciding what to share before you share anything can help set you up for success.
3 Make decisions based on your needs, not others perceptions
In 2017, 34.6% of American females hold a college degree. The number of women CEOs in the fortune 500 is higher than ever before. Women are, more so than in any past generation, leaning into their careers with full force. As Lips pointed out in her opinion article on The Hill, this “lean in” mentality can blur the lines when women with careers also want to become mothers. Even in 2018, women still struggle with making a decision to stay home with their babies or head back to work after maternity leave is up. There’s a lot of pressure from every angle; when this happens decisions often get made based on how other people perceive the situation, not how an individual woman feels.
Before you even become pregnant, you may have to field questions like: Do you plan on returning? Are you going to stay at home? Who is going to be with the baby while you’re at work? Aren’t you sad you’ll miss out on their milestones? And on and on and on. When you’re trying to conceive, this can be challenging to deal with. What’s most important is that you make decisions based on your needs and what makes the most sense for your family, not how others perceive your choices. This goes back to number two and being mindful of who you share intimate details with.
While this does apply mainly to what you’ll do after you have your baby, there are instances that can be applied to the time during which you’re trying to conceive, too. For example, you may hear from a co-worker whose sister had IVF and loved it or another colleague who swears that taking a blend of exotic herbs helped her conceive. Everyone will have their own opinion about what you should do but there’s no one right way to conceive. You do you.
4 Be upfront about your plans for time off
While it may feel easier to take a “sick day” when you need to go to your gynecologist for a check-up or to your fertility specialist for an infertility test, it’s better to just schedule the time off as soon as you know when your appointment is.
Being upfront about when you’ll need time off doesn’t mean you have to disclose what you need time off for. It does, however, set you up to have a positive relationship with your colleagues and boss. You may end up needing extended time off; they’ll be more willing to pitch in and accommodate that if you’ve been upfront the whole time.
This also rings true for maternity leave. While you may not be pregnant yet, it’s a good idea to put some thought into how much leave you’ll take. Once you are pregnant, starting that conversation early on can help your team make sure they have the resources and support they’ll need while you’re away, it gives you the opportunity to help create a plan for your return. It’s a win-win.
Trying to conceive, becoming pregnant, and having a child shouldn’t—and doesn’t have to—mean the end of your career growth. Many, many women have families and successful careers. Better than letting the current socio-political climate dictate your experience, it’s important to take matters into your own hands. You know what you need better than anyone else. With an intentional and confident approach, you can have it all—if you want it.