I’d like to highlight how difficult it is to get pregnant, stay pregnant, and work while pregnant. My hope is the more aware people are about the difficulties of pregnancy, the more compassion there will be for pregnant women and moms in general.
I’ve come across too many heartless folks who make pregnant women feel uncomfortable at work and make them never want to go back to work after giving birth. Here’s a comment that illustrates my point from the post, Career Advice For Women: Blaze Your Own Path Instead.
My husband is also a “revenue making” startup founder, and I kind of know people hate him because he is a harsh boss, he says things for shock value, but yes he gets things done.
He could’ve said what this guy said (“I hate women”), and he has told me in private that having to deal with his pregnant female employees leaving early or because they are tired, and dealing with maternity leave of his female employees is painful because a startup just does not have that kind of bandwidth. They expect everyone all hands on deck all the time. That’s the reality of it, given the breakneck speed of how things work plus juggling finance, legal, there just isn’t enough bandwidth to run a start up like a large fortune 500 company with HR departments and such.
What I describe above is a different scenario from what you experienced and my husband mentioned this to me in private, but his arguments could be true of any startup.
This type of thinking is endemic among many males and some females. In a highly competitive business environment, I can understand the strains of lost productivity. However, someone has to give birth. Otherwise, nobody would exist. To create more empathy AND minimize lost productivity, let’s address four things everybody should know about pregnancy.
Important Things To Know About Pregnancy
1) Roughly 20% – 25% of pregnant women suffer a miscarriage. Miscarriage aka “spontaneous abortion” is the loss of a pregnancy during the first 20 weeks.
A miscarriage is obviously a very difficult experience to deal with, especially if you’ve experienced more than one. The chances are pretty high that someone you know at work is trying to get pregnant and has not succeeded or has gone through a miscarriage. People just don’t talk openly about these kinds of difficulties.
Don’t question why your female colleague has to take the afternoon or the day off from work. Trying to get pregnant involves endless doctors visits. I had the opportunity to meet several women who told me in private that due to the discovery of chromosomal abnormalities such as Trisomy 13 (Patau syndrome), they decided to get a dilation & curettage due to the likelihood of severe intellectual disability and physical abnormalities. Too ashamed to tell their colleagues and bosses, they suffer in silence.
Never assume the reason a woman doesn’t have children is because she doesn’t want them either. There may be a plethora of reasons, ranging from not finding the right partner, not feeling financially secure, or nature not cooperating after multiple attempts. Unless you’re a close friend, it’s probably best not to ask someone, “When are you going to have a baby?” or “Why don’t you have kids yet?” These may seem like harmless questions, but in reality, if the woman has been trying for years, the questions may be quite hurtful.
2) The cost to get pregnant can be prohibitively expensive. Imagine trying for two years and not succeeding due to endometriosis in the ovaries, a bulging cyst, or a poor sperm count. Patience and optimism can wane after so many failed attempts.
The general next step many couples go through is intrauterine insemination (IUI). Each session can cost between $300 – $1,300, depending on where you live and your health insurance provider. Each IUI procedure will pull both you and your partner away from the office for at least two hours. Now imagine not succeeding after six IUIs. Not only are you now even more frustrated, your co-workers may start whispering about your lack of commitment at work. Further, you’re probably out thousands of dollars.
If IUI doesn’t work, some couples consider in vitro fertilization (IVF), a medical procedure whereby an egg is fertilized by sperm in a test tube or elsewhere outside the body. The first step – and often the most unpleasant step – in IVF is a regimen of injected fertility drugs for 7 – 12 days. These drugs stimulate the production of an unusually high number of egg follicles. Once mature, a final shot is given to cause you to ovulate the eggs, which are then harvested in an egg retrieval procedure
The national average cost for a “fresh” IVF cycle is about $12,000 plus medications, which typically run $3,000 to $5,000. So now we’re talking $15,000 – $18,000 out of pocket and only a ~40% chance of conceiving if you are under 35. For any family not making at least $100,000 a year, that is an enormous sum of money. Despite Facebook being the king of fake news, it’s great to hear it covers IVF costs for its employees.
Take a look at the IVF success rates by age from the CDC. By age 41, your chance of a live birth drops down to only 11%. You may literally need to spend $100,000+ over nine IVF cycles before succeeding. When you combine money stress, failure stress, and artificial hormone stress, it’s difficult to always be chipper at work.
3) Being pregnant can be extremely uncomfortable. Hollywood has built up a perception that pregnancy is an easy, beautiful, magical process that makes women “glow” for nine months. For a lot of women, the reality is a lot different. There’s nothing magical about vomiting every day for months or feeling like you’re getting stabbed every time you sneeze.
When a woman is pregnant, her uterus pushes against the bladder (even before she may be showing), which leads to the urge to pee frequently. Commuting to work can be unbearable especially if you have to stand, change vehicles, etc. for more than 30 minutes. If you have to sit in a one-hour meeting, you may have to walk out mid-meeting to go to the bathroom. Those of us who’ve never been pregnant take our ability to go for hours without having to pee for granted.
Pregnancy can cause frequent constipation and excess gas. One of the key benefits of working at home is being able to relieve yourself with ease. Not so much when you’ve got multiple co-workers sitting inches away. Further, pregnant women often tire easily, especially during the first trimester. One friend always prided herself on never napping. But after she got pregnant, she had to nap for an hour every day for four months.
Further, the recommended weight gain is ~25 – 35 lbs for the average weight women, or roughly 20% heavier. Imagine always carrying a backpack containing two watermelons everywhere you go. Tiring!
Finally, trying to always protect your baby from harm’s way can take its toll. You’re always watching where you’re stepping, careful not to fall. You’re also protecting your belly from bashing into anything. You’re also constantly mindful of what you can and cannot eat and drink.
4) Postpartum depression. Healing from physical trauma is one thing, going through mental recovery due to massive hormonal swings is another. Roughly 50% of postpartum women experience “baby blues” for the first 2-3 weeks. This condition is characterized by sudden mood swings that range from euphoria to intense sadness. Medical attention is not necessary.
However, roughly 10% – 20% of postpartum mothers experience a more severe form of depression that may last for up to a year. The condition is characterized by more intense feelings of sadness, despair, anxiety and irritability.
Can you imagine being sad for months after giving birth to the most wonderful thing in your life? It’s an extremely frustrating experience that cannot be easily fixed. Support, counseling and medications can help. Slow down. Stop putting pressure on yourself to get all the chores done. Ask for more help around the house from your partner so you can focus more on developing a bond with your baby. Postpartum depression is a serious condition that needs more awareness.
Be More Empathetic To Pregnant Women
Career opportunity is the reason why many couples are choosing to delay marriage and start families. Unfortunately, our biology isn’t following suit. It would be nice if the statistics showed that the new “safest age” to give birth is 40 or under, but it remains around 35 or under. Not everybody can find the one and feel financially and emotionally ready enough to have a child in their 20s. Roughly 25% of couples have pregnancy-related complications.
After speaking with so many women about their pregnancy experiences for this article, including my own mother, sister, and best friend who just gave birth, I’m actually surprised any pregnant woman is willing to work during the third trimester (28 – 40th week). The unfortunate reality is that for many, financial constraints make working through pregnancy a necessity.
For employers who want to maximize productivity from all their workers, the following should be encouraged:
* Equal parental leave for men and women so employers have a lower likelihood of discriminating against women who may take maternity leave. Some women think this is unfair since men don’t have to go through pregnancy. But good fathers are there to assist, bottle feed, change diapers, and go through many sleepless nights as well. Do not underestimate the effort it takes to be a supportive partner.
* Allow for more pregnant women to work from home. There are too many things going on with a pregnant woman’s body to make her feel absolutely comfortable working in close quarters with so many other people. If you allow more moms to work from home, you stand a higher chance of keeping them as employees.
* Instead of only 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, how about at least 8 weeks of paid maternity leave for mothers. It may take mothers 6 – 9 months to recover fully due to tears, complications, cesareans, and postpartum depression. Currently only California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island require private employers to pay for maternity leave.
* Create more awareness about the difficulties of pregnancy. A good start is by sharing this article and others like it.
Best of luck to all women trying to get pregnant, who are pregnant, or who have given birth!
Why do you think more people can’t empathize with pregnant women? To help other women, should pregnant women or mothers raise more awareness? Have you or your partner gone through a difficult pregnancy?