The Difficulties Of Pregnancy: Why More Should Be Done For Working Pregnant Women

The Difficulties Of Pregnancy

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.

Discrimination Against Pregnant Women

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.

Related: Develop Emotional Intelligence For An Easier Life

Pregnancy rates by age
General pregnancy rates by age. Source: CDC

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.

…And Time Consuming

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

Costs Add Up Fast

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.

IVF success rates by age
Average success rate for live birth is ~40% for women under 35. Source: CDC

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.

Embarrassing Challenges Of Pregnancy

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. In addition, you have to protect your belly from bashing into anything. Plus, you're also constantly mindful of what you can and cannot eat and drink.

Family size is shrinking over time

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.

Signs and symptoms of postpartum depression

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.

More Support For Parents

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!

For those who are pregnant or are parents, how long did it take for you to conceive?

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When you get laid off, you're also eligible for up to roughly 27 weeks of unemployment benefits. Having a financial runway is huge during your transition period.

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76 thoughts on “The Difficulties Of Pregnancy: Why More Should Be Done For Working Pregnant Women”

  1. Purusha Rivera

    Good share! Of all the things, postpartum depression is very important to understand. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 11 to 20% of women who give birth each year have postpartum depression symptoms. Support moms suffering from postpartum depression. Some of the ways to help her out could be as simple as just listening to her and giving her space.

  2. This article is spot on! More needs to be done to help pregnant women in the workplace. They shouldn’t be looked on as an inconvenience. Their bodies don’t always do what the workplace needs them to do. Hell, MY body doesn’t always do what the workplace needs it to do, and I’m not even a pregnant woman!

    I do understand the point of view of managers who already have the stress of angry bosses, sales quotas, other employees to manage, deadlines, and the like. The last thing they need is a worker who constantly needs to be away from the office. I get it. But I’m pretty sure that whatever she is going through is worse, physically and mentally, is worse than whatever anyone in the workplace is going through, including the stressed manager. Unless said manager has a boss who is threatening to castrate him if he underperforms, at which point things suck equally for him and the pregnant worker.

    I’m not sure if I’d be comfortable labeling pregnancy as a disability, but I think we should treat it as such in some ways when you consider what effects it has on a woman’s body. It’s amazing how callous and dismissive we can be as far as their well being goes. I think that might be a part of “rape culture”, as we often are pretty selective as to when men/society has control over a woman’s body and when it’s her own damn problem. The same people who get mad at a woman for being pregnant in the workplace are probably the same ones who got annoyed at the woman in that “10 Hours Of Walking In NYC As A Woman” video.

    Of course, I don’t see how we can try to restrict a woman’s access to abortions and contraceptive but not accommodate her while she’s pregnant, but what do I know?

    When I was a teller, my head teller was pregnant with her now-8 year old daughter. She worked until the day the baby was born. So the whole thing about pregnant women never working and always having to be out is BS. Managers have to realize that they work as hard as everyone else.

    ARB–Angry Retail Banker

  3. I am reading this post lying on a hospital bed, 24 weeks pregnant, to prevent premature birth of my second child. Dr. says I need to be on hospital bedrest until the birth of this kid. I am lucky to live in Canada with maternity and parental (shared by mom and dad) leave up to 1 year for each child. I also feel bad for my co-workers because no one has planned for me leaving work this early and so abruptly. I went to ER right after work. I am very thankful of how much support they have given me in this difficult time.
    The side effect of such long leave is that the wage gap between female and male workers have been widening and there are less Canadian female executives compared to the U.S. So the government is trying to encourage dads taking longer leave and moms to return to work sooner. But employers are not used to see any man taking long parental leave yet.

    1. quantakiran

      Hi Sally

      I was a premie baby (30 weeks though) and I turned out ok (I think :D )! I wish you all the best in this difficult time! Stay strong!

  4. Maternity/paternity leave should be longer duration if you desire, but all unpaid. It shouldn’t be a companies job to subsidize you for your life decisions outside of work. Maybe people should save some money and plan before popping kids out.

    With paid maternity leave, if I was hiring people…whether for a small company with a handful of employees or a large corporation why the heck would I want to hire someone who may very well be going out on paid leave for several months for each kid? Its not being sexist…its basically like saying if I had two candidates and one agreed to work for 2 weeks paid vacation for his first 5 years, and the other wanted 2 weeks paid vacation plus 2-3 months paid time off 2-3 times during that same 5 year period…guess what…the second person is either not getting hired or getting offered a lower wage.

    Its also sexist and unfair under the current system that mothers right now get more time off than fathers. Do fathers not want to bond with their children as well? What ever happened to equality?

  5. Hi Sam, WOnderful article. Thank you for doing the research, I believe this will be helpful to making others understand.

    Question toward the end, you wrote, “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.”

    Did you mean 8 months instead of weeks?

    Thanks again!

    1. That is completely ridiculous. 8 months? You could get hired while pregnant, go out a few months later on your 8 month leave, get knocked up a second time while out for 8 months, come back for 2-3 months, then go back out for another 8. 2 years on a job and you could work 6 months of it if you time it right and still get two years pay? Then you’d probably be screaming about sexism when companies wanted to hire less women and pay them less…

      In the above example what if said woman was hired by a small company that only had 3-4 employees to begin with and a couple of them had kids at the same time? They could literally put the company out of business.

      In other words…who is going to pay for that crap? Not everyone works for some big corporation where money seems to just grow on trees, and even if they do, as a company why should they be forced to hire such women who are going to get months of legally mandated time off compared to just hiring men or older women who probably won’t be having more/any kids?

      1. I was asking Sam a question, but thank you for your thoughtful response.

        A thought, that the longer term leave seems to be working well in other developed countries. Perhaps because they consider long term consequences that include other people and other generations.

        And note for Sam, I see the difference in your statement, no need to reply. Thank you.

  6. FIRECracker

    Thank you for writing this post, Sam! I’m so impressed how much you research you put into this and how much compassion you have for mothers.

    I’m not a mother but as a woman, I really appreciate it :)

  7. Adriana @MoneyJourney

    I’m not a mom myself, but I always admire such in depth articles talking about the true side of being pregnant, as opposed to the myriad or articles stating it’s all rainbows and unicorns :D

    I also believe more awareness should be raised when it comes to pregnancies and taking care of a newborn. I get that we live in a rushed society, but to be honest, I lately get the feeling pregnancy and motherhood is seen as a burden as opposed to a joyous occasion. And that’s not OK!

  8. Sam, in your point about FMLA, I think you meant to say you want to give women 8 months and not 8 weeks. At least… that is what I hope that you meant.

    “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.”

    1. Hope is a funny thing.
      Another way to go about it is logic which I tend to use.
      Logic would say that he didn’t accidentally type “weeks” instead of “months” but rather omitted a “1” as in 18 weeks.
      I see you’re on the opposite spectrum of this issue and rather delighted to see that “hope” is your guiding light. I’m still gonna stick with logic and reality, it’s gotten me this far.

      1. Logic would say he accidently typed weeks instead of months because of the next statement he made. Here’s the full exerpt:

        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.

        Given that he argues that it may take mothers 6-9 months to recover, why would 18 weeks be the logical conclusion vs. 8 months?

  9. From an outsider’s perspective, I’ve always found the American attitude to women quite hostile. Women aren’t able access contraception or abortion easily but then the work environment is harsh on pregnant women.

    At my workplace, they can take a few days off without anyone batting an eyelid or snarky remarks. We may not have breast pumping rooms here (though one lady found a quiet corner and used to pump in peace) but at least pregnant women are treated with dignity.

    And the men are quite nice. The older guys who are married usually swop war stories of when their wives were pregnant and the younger guys, who haven’t had kids, try and get out as much info as to what it’s like living with a pregnant woman.

    It’s when women’s issues (which seems obvious and not in the least bit contentious to me) come up, I’m really happy to be living in my 3rd world hellhole with easy access to female health care (including 4 months paid maternity, free contraception and free abortion not like anyone uses contraception or abortion though).

    1. Thank you for the prompt and concise correction. It’s entirely my mistake and I offer my sincerest apologies for my complete misunderstanding of the American woman’s access to health struggles, since there are apparently none.

      And yes, I think I will enjoy my 3rd world hellhole with my friends, the flies, than the company of brash, hostile and vitriolic people.

  10. Vancouver Brit

    Here the difficulties really start after giving birth, not so much during pregnancy. Childcare is so expensive that in many cases it is actually more financially worthwhile for one of the parents to quit their job and raise the child (taking all the tax credits) than it is for them to keep working. After that kind of time off work though, how easy is it to really transition back into work? And if you do is it easy to get back in at the same position you left? As much as employer’s say they don’t discriminate, if you have one person who has been working the past 5 years against another who has been raising a child, there will be bias. This is one of the (many) reasons I don’t think we will have children.

    I’ve seen first hand our company deny a woman who was interviewed for a job simply because she mentioned she was recently married and of the right age to have children. They didn’t want to deal with maternity leave etc. I don’t even think she mentioned kids either, it was just assumed.

  11. Obviously a departure from your usual subject matter, but a welcome (and insightful) one, Sam.

    It’s understandable but unfortunate more couples (women sure, but men too!) don’t talk about the realities of miscarriages. *Everyone* knows someone who has had one, and if we talked more about how common they are it might lessen some of the fear and anxiety, or at least help people know they weren’t alone in dealing with those difficult emotions.

    To your excellent list of things to know, I’d add a #5, which is understanding just how much physical recovery mom will need in the first 2 weeks _after_ the birth. It’s easy to get so focused on the event of birth itself that you forget that any physical activity that demanding and exhausting will need some *serious* recovery time. I know that some men want to get back to work quickly, but I think if they really knew what mom will be dealing with physically to recover along with navigating a tiny new human in the house, they’d plan for more time to help out.

    Even though at the time I was the CEO of a company, I took 6 weeks off when I had my first child, and never regretted it. More fathers in management roles should do the same, if only to set the example that it’s not just tolerated, but encouraged for fathers to take as much time as possible to be with their new children. That time is irreplaceable.

    Perhaps with the rise of remote work and the evolution of co-working and the “gig economy” we’ll see new models like job-sharing for parents who still want to stay engaged with work, but want to spend most of their time with their kids.

  12. RetireOnDividends

    Sam, you’re right as it can be very difficult for females to speak up and can be made to feel very uncomfortable. You’re done a great job in highlighting the issue on this page. Interestingly, did you see Sheryl Sandberg make a very similar plea this weekend??

  13. Brian Robben

    I’m a founder of a few startups and plan on hiring in the next few months. Thanks for the insight! Because I know that reading this article will help me manage my future female employees and have more empathy for them if they get pregnant.

    Be great FS!

  14. What is the point of having children if you won’t be the one to raise them?

    Women who want to have children should leave the work-force and actually be what they are: ‘mothers.’

    You can’t be a great mother and a great 9-5 employee. New borns and younger need their mother to raise them.

    Feminism has poisoned the minds of women into believing they have no value unless they are a 9-5 cubicle worker.

    What is more valuable than giving life to an actual human being?

    1. Oh please. I’m assuming you’re neither married nor have children with that attitude. Fact is, raising a child, however rewarding it may be — is not entirely fulfilling, at least for most people. I think most people, myself included, need something else to keep them happy and feeling fulfilled. (i.e. – a career, meaningful work outside the home). Being at home all day with the children can actually be quite insanity-inducing.

      Having a career and raising children well don’t cancel each other out. Yes, your work will suffer, especially with a new-born. But hey, life goes on.

      1. ‘<Men with traditional views are virgin losers'

        Yeah.. that myth has already been shattered. Actually studies show mothers who raise their own children (stay at home mom's) are statistically happier and more fulfilled than 9-5 career women.

        The science is settled. We all here want the best for men (and women). Women have become increasingly unhappy since the 1960's. We can thank feminism and pushing women into the office.

        Sam wants to help make the world a better place. So do I. We need to tell the real truth and not just repeat Politically Correct views.

        1. Studies show that daughters of working moms earn more in their careers and sons of working moms learn to help out more at home. If you’re truly interested, . As a part time/sometimes full time working mother I think your view is short sighted. Prior to the last 100 years or so children spent significant time around both parents growing up. To say that the mom should stay home and the dad work 10-12 hours to support everyone financially does not support a healthy family lifestyle. Children need their fathers in their lives during their formative years as well.

          1. ‘Daughters of working moms earn more in their careers’

            Who cares? This just means that girls whose mom worked also work as well.

            We want good moms. Moms are more fulfilled and happier raising their own children than working a 9-5 in order to make someone else rich. (Why is this even argued? 99% of 9-5 jobs are a pain and aren’t “fulfilling”; which is just a buzzword used to convince employees that their Excel spreadsheets are really changing the world for the better).

            If you’re truly interested, check out Wife with a Purpose:

            Also: there’s a popular meme out on the internet. If you haven’t seen it (and since I can’t post photos), this is what the meme says:

            -Your great-grandmother: 12 kids
            -Your grandmother: 6 kids
            -Your mother: 2 kids
            -You: an abortion and a dog

            That’s literally the West summed up today: women work a 9-5 job, kids are a hassle, mother’s who raise their own children are useless, etc.

            My point is this: Mother’s are valuable. Our society used to truly value motherhood and mothers. We need to start again.

            We need to stop demeaning and looking down on women who chose to raise their own children. Children grow up psychologically healthier when raised by their mother than at a day-care.

    2. Hi Marcos,

      I was wondering if anyone was gonna have the courage to post such a comment as yours. All I hear in this post is how a mom can have her cake and eat it too. How about a post from a babies point of view. ” Why would my mom struggle through miscarriage”s, IUE, IVF, and then leave me at daycare?”

      I do realize there are certain circumstances in life that will prevent a small minority of people from being able to be their child’s primary caregiver. To those people I apologize if my comment seems harsh.

      In my opinion stay at home moms or dads is truly the most noble profession in the world. Imagine another profession that requires you to sacrifice your career, finances, and social life in order to care for another human being. Truly inspiring and selfless!

      Thanks, Bill

      1. Thank you Bill.

        The culture of the last 50+ years have demonized the Western mother who chooses to raise her own child.

        I also thank Sam for allowing an open discussion on his (very insightful) posts.

    3. Marcos: I see. So under your dichotomy, women (interestingly, never men) are either “breeders” or can have careers and never shall the two meet?

      At least you have it all figured out for everyone. And here I thought that that dilemma of career vs family was something that women struggled with? Who knew that it was all so simple?

      1. How disrespectful are you to call our mothers, the people who raise the next generation and create human life, “breeders”.

        Looks like you enjoy demeaning and talking down to mothers and women who want to raise their own children.

          1. You didn’t offer an argument. Also you, an SJW, projecting and calling me a snowflake. Typical.

            Read Vox Day’s Book: SJWs Always Lie (and project)

            1. Ok, so your viewpoint is that if children are involved in a relationship that a woman’s place is in the home. I guess now that it’s clear you have no need to defend that viewpoint.

              I don’t know what a “SJW” is but Google tells me it is something that Breitbart and the alt-right are against. In that case, I’m likely for them.

              No thanks on the Vox suggested reading material. With contributions to such literary masterpieces as “Cuckservative” and “Why Women’s Rights Are Wrong” I’m sure he has a strong readership base already.

    4. Marcos: So then what you are in favor of is a paid, lengthy maternity leave then, correct?

      1. I have some experience here so I feel the need to chime in. I was raised by 2 working parents, have a career and raised 7 children, mostly as a single mother (2 children by birth, the rest by single mom adoption). I have friends and family with two careers and stay at home moms and dads. I am now 57 and my youngest is 20, oldest 30. I work with a lot of Europeans with their extensive parental leave policies. I had my children when I had 6 weeks of maternity leave, 8 for a c/s and 1 day for an adoption (plus any vaction you had). I now work for a fortune 500 company that started offering women 20 paid weeks of leave and fathers 12 paid s started a couple years ago so I have now seen several families impacted by this new policy. What a difference. Women come back ready to dive back into work – not sleep deprived and stressed to the max. Dads can spread their leave out over the first year and those that work for me have reported back that e policy has been life transforming for them. The men taking leave in my shop are in a very small group – everyone pulls together to cover. I believe it is the leadership provided that sets the tone here. Everyone eventually benefits from a healthy team. If we have to we get a temp to sub in. It is doable.

        Next point. There just isn’t one right way to raise children. There is room in this great big diverse world for stay at home parents and working parents. Children can and do thrive under both scenarios. Parents can thrive under both scenarios. People and situations are different and we are an adaptable, resourceful and generally capable species capable of more than one social construct. We just don’t need to judge people for making choices that work for them and their families.

        That said, i have chosen to work, have a profession, and teach my children to be self sufficient. I do this because, well, sh*t happens and I hope all of my children will always be able to take care of themselves and their families. That is my perspective. Others feel more secure and trust the stay-at-home model. Good for them. Some of my friends have two working parents and live in grandparents helping out. That works for them. I had live in nannies. It worked for us. My children know who their mother is. I have in fact had it all. At least all I have wanted – including wonderful children that I did take resonsibility for raiisng – make no mistake about it

        1. You’re right in some respects — it was impossible for me as a mother of a newborn to return to work and give 100%. I was learning to take care of an infant and did not have the energy *at that time* to give to my job.

          A lengthy maternity leave would have completely solved this, so that is what I did. I quit my job after my baby was born and gave myself a lengthy maternity leave. I returned to work when she was 1. At that point I was ready to be an amazing, high performing employee and I know I am an amazing mother.

  15. I was shocked to learn how common miscarriages are also. You never really know until you have one yourself. Its a horrible and painful experience, and to this day I still think about our child that could have been, but what I found was that when people found out, it seemed like every other person I talked to experienced it at least once. I wish it on no one, and not just sympathize but actually empathize with those that have experienced this loss, because it is a loss.

  16. I am so grateful that my new job has a program for 12 weeks paternity leave. I actually have some of a paycheck during this time. Now i will actually get to spend time with my new child before they have to go into daycare. Unfortunately, my wife’s maternity leave isn’t paid (didn’t realize she wasn’t getting short term disability from her employer). There is no shortage of research stating the importance of both parents staying home with their child for the first 6 months of life.

    My last job made it very difficult to even get 4 weeks unpaid of FMLA.

    When it came to our first it took us a very long time to conceive and was very stressful on the both of us. My wife would usually break down and ask, “why is it that those who don’t want children can get them so easily?!”

    I don’t know why people are so cruel to pregnant women. Hopefully, this is one of those social issues we can address sooner rather than later.

  17. We did IVF but thankfully it was covered by insurance so we only paid a few hundred out of pocket. It can cost up to 15K but if you’re under 35 the success rate is almost 50%.

  18. I can relate to this post. My wife suffered through 3 miscarriages and each one was truly a horrible experience. The worst part was when people would constantly ask when we were going to have kids, or if we even wanted them. This experience has made me a lot more sensitive towards asking those types of questions to my female co-workers.

    We do have a healthy 4 month old daughter now, who we absolutely adore, and we feel fortunate to have her.

  19. The Green Swan

    Great post. You make a lot of points that people are normally ashamed to talk about. It’s too bad many women have to suffer in private when having difficulties and they don’t want to share the personal struggle with co-workers. Having just had a baby, I spoke with my wife to jointly respond to this post. She is currently on leave and was actually thinking about touching on her time off and pay in her next Swan Life post. We’re fortunate to get some pay during her leave, however it’s not full pay like you suggested above. Now that would be great!

  20. Thank you for posting this. I’ve always worked, and have three kids, so I’ve worked while pregnant for over two years of my career. I can distinctly remember someone telling me how their sister was up and about just a week after her baby was born, so they didn’t understand why women needed “so much time off” (six weeks) after having a baby. I also remember that my last pregnancy was by far the most difficult. I was unable to walk more than 5-10 minutes without being in excruciating pain. I had never experienced that in my prior pregnancies. Every pregnancy is different, every attempt to get pregnant is different (sometimes easy, sometimes hard, at times nearly impossible or devastating) – people need to remember that this can be a very sensitive topic.

  21. Can’t agree more. We should do more for pregnant women. When my wife was pregnant she was shocked how many people didn’t bother giving up their seats on public transportation for her when she was big and ready to pop.

    Miscarriage happens way more than what you think. Many of my friends had one. Some even had difficulties to get pregnant after having a few kids.

    I remember that one of the weather forecast women on a local TV channel was getting some nasty emails and phone calls for how she looked while she was pregnant. I couldn’t believe people had the guts to phone in and write in to say that she looked big and pregnant. What the F are you expecting? How would you feel if someone said that to your mom or wife when they were/are pregnant?

  22. I am in the military and as a Male get 10 days, but can take as much leave as I have acquired prior to the birth. However female Soldiers get 12 weeks of paid leave. I think the major hurdle in the business world is this.

    Executive Woman has baby wants to take 3 months of leave. During this time someone has to do her work or has to be hired to do this work. After 3 months what do you do with this person, what if they are a better alternative. The other major issue I see with paying people for paid leave where does that money come from? Not all organizations can afford that money.

    1. This is why paid leave should be provided via the government. It is a societal benefit and we should pay for it the way we do for other societal benefits — by taxes.

  23. There definitely needs to be awareness about the difficulties of pregnancy/birth as a way to encourage a little more family friendly policies.

    However, I view paid leave the same way I do 401K match. It is a really nice benefit to have but we should not force companies to provide it. Forcing a company to provide benefits primarily hurts small business.

    We do not need the government to force companies to do this. The free market will take of it. Google has one of the best policies in America because they want the best people.

  24. I’d say instantly, although it was planned. I stopped my birth control pills on May 1st 2013 and 2 weeks later I had a small ‘dot’ inside of me. The ‘dot’ is now 3 years old :D

  25. So. I’m a teacher – you know, the perfect Mom profession. I get zero paid leave. I’ll get 12 weeks off under FMLA and come back to 68% of my regular paychecks for the rest of the school year.

    This post continues a really important conversation. Thanks for writing it. As someone who was totally under the “how hard can it be” mentality, it is the absolutely hardest thing I’ve ever done financially, mentally, physically, and emotionally. And Baby isn’t even here yet! :)

  26. I’m a mom and had kids while working.

    I think putting the financial burden of pregnancy and childbirth on an employer displaces responsibility. Parents make a choice to have children and should be prepared for this as much as possible, but it is also taxpayers that should support maternity and paternity leave through something like what we have in Canada which provides for a year off with partial pay, which is topped up by some employers at their discretion.

    I’m a fan of flexible work arrangements for all employees where it works, but the choice to have children is a choice you can plan, not a disability a person does not choose, and not all workplaces can accommodate flexible hours. While I agree more empathy may be needed on the part of some who manage the decisions around flexibility, some professions and businesses, like start-ups, do not have that flexibility and are on a shoestring budget.

    In my own profession, law, the attrition rate for women is extremely high because of the lack of flexibility. I myself quit a firm to start my own practice to create the time I needed for my children. I didn’t need the pressure of feeling like I was not being a good employee because I had other priorities.

    I also did not expect my employer to accommodate my choice to have children in a way that made other employees work harder or, as would have been more likely, made me a less profitable employee. The economic burdens of child-rearing should be born by parents and government, not employers beyond a reasonable amount needed to attract good employees, in my opinion.

    If you want the free market workplace to change you need to provide an economic reason for employers to change their policies, likely through tax incentives plus mandatory job protection for those on leave.

  27. The eerie silence around miscarriages is real; I know, I’ve lived through it myself. Pregnancy is harder than it looks, and American corporate life does not give the process the respect it deserves. It doesn’t end with birth either. Take breastfeeding for instance. Try pumping for 18 months using a nursing room that is overbooked so that you have only two fixed slots a day where you can pump – the schedule and needs of your body be damned. Then add to that managers and peers who can’t understand why you can’t attend that oh-so-important meeting at a particular time – that your milk producing breasts can’t just reschedule on demand.

  28. I have family living in Europe. They are on their sixth pregnancy. All five before have failed. Two almost killed the mother. This is, thankfully, in a country with good healthcare and a focus on supporting families. They’ve had no costs for this devastation. They’ve had help conceiving. It is still brutal on them. They hurt so much. Especially as another family member just announced an “oops” pregnancy.

    You have no idea what people are going through.

  29. My company offers ZERO. Only unpaid leave under family leave act. (Probably why we have high turnover among young people). I took a week between sick and vacation days.

    Its tough. My son is only a month and even last night I got about 3 hours of sleep. My wife is staying home indefinitely….

    If you are trying to have kids and nothing working after 3 months, get tested asap. Don’t bother waiting, lucky for us it happened the first weekend that we tried : )

    1. Me too JA. When I asked about paternity leave, I was told I was “allowed” to take vacation on the day of my kids birth without waiting to get the usual vacation request paperwork completed. Yay.

      I do have sympathy for pregnant co workers, but unless men and women are treated more equally in terms of leave, this is a valid reason that is going to be in the back of managers minds when they think about hiring/firing/promoting younger women. I have 3 children and missed 5 days work in total for their births….all regular vacation. My wife missed 36 weeks, half paid over the course of 5 years. Which of us is a better deal for the employer?

      Almost hard for them to not discriminate. Give me a few weeks of paid paternity leave and a reason to avoid promoting women disappears.

  30. Working in a 95% male office, use their ignorance to your advantage! Being a guy, I negotiated a work from home agreement for a year “to have an extended work day but have more timing flexibility to help out with our first child.”

    I’m sure they imagined me changing a diaper here or there. Instead, I was the primary caregiver for our son while working full time since my wife had to go back after 12 weeks. It was very stressful, but I avoided $20k+ in childcare costs without any lost wages. I doubt they would have agreed to this arrangement if they knew the particulars.

    In general, I am more willing to stay at this company I would otherwise leave, because of the personal life benefit. My experience has also made me a million times more understanding of working parents.

  31. Jack Catchem

    While we don’t have a systemic concern over “Karoshi” in America, you make a highly accurate point that mothers can v ur well work themselves into a miscarriage. An unusual number of female Air Force officers in my wife’s unit had miscarriages. Having served myself I fully attribute this to the hard core demands of the job.

    If we are to truly accept women into the workforce *ahem* UBER *cough, cough* we should do it with the understanding that they are being accepted as women (who get pregnant and need consideration) instead of treating them like men who are shaped funny.

  32. Long difficult road to having kids ourselves. I do understand and empathize.
    Reality is that it does effect your job and it should. If you’re going to not be able to work at a substantial level for months at a time that HAS to be taken into consideration. 4 months paid leave? How likely are you to promote a female to COO and have them be gone for 4 months paid and hold their job? If you work at the gap I get it but people need to realize that parenting and equality at high level jobs don’t mix. When my kid was born I did take 3 days off. I’d have loved to have taken more but I have a limited number of partners that can pick up my slack and guess what? They have kids they would like to see grow up as well.
    I’m all for more empathy, try to make it work for them. But you can’t have the expectation of large gaps of employment in critical positions. It’s just not reality.

    1. You really only took three days off? What do you think the ideal amount of time is to take off and how did your wife or partner feel about you going back to work so soon?

      I remember when I was younger thinking that I always had to work work work. And then I took a week off and I realized business went on as usual. That I took two weeks off at a time in the world still turn. So then I took three weeks off until it finally just left all together nothing has changed.

      1. For the second yes, 3 days. My first kid happened to come at a time between jobs when I had a month of just due to that circumstance and I felt that a month was a pretty good amount of time.

        My wife was upset but we had parents and other family members staying with us to help.

        It depends on the job. Sure the world keeps turning but there are 4 people doing what I do at our institutions. Ones on vacation that leaves 3. I have a kid so now I’m out. 2 specialty surgeons covering 3 hospitals. Hope you don’t need emergency surgery while my partners are in long cases. 2 options at that point. Sit there till they finish and hope you don’t die. Take a several thousand dollar ambulance ride an hour and a half away and hope you don’t die.
        That’s clearly an extreme example but it illustrates a point. The world keeps turning. I could have taken 3 weeks off and even if someone died the world would have kept turning. But there are costs and they are thrust on other people. If you work at hotdog on a stick there are very little effects but if you have a real job, or want to be promoted into a real job then it has to be taken into consideration.
        Just look at the story about the Chicago prison guards. 200 or so called in sick on Mother’s Day, many other cited the FMLA to take it off. That’s their “right” but the prisoners were put on lockdown. At some point reality and math runs contrary to ideals.

  33. Apathy Ends

    Excellent post Sam, until you go through some of this stuff or have someone close to you go through it you don’t realize how much pain there can be around pregnancy and trying to conceive.

    Thanks for writing this and I will be sure to share it around and pass the knowledge!

  34. Ms. Conviviality

    Hi Sam, If your best friend is who I think it is then I want to wish you “Congratulations”! Hope your family has a wonderful Mother’s Day.

  35. I have three kids – with the first we had stopped trying to prevent pregnancy but I didn’t realize I was pregnant until about 7 or 8 weeks along because I had thought it would take a while. Then had two miscarriages and then the 2nd. The third was also a surprise. I worked right up until my due date with all three of them and was very comfortable with the first two (with the third I was really uncomfortable the last few weeks). I worked for a university and so no paid time off but we could use our sick/vacation time, plus short term disability covered 4 weeks at 60% pay so I took 16 weeks off with all three of them (had very supportive bosses while I was there – one woman who had three kids and one man who had a lot of grandkids and saw his children try to make it all work).

  36. Ten Factorial Rocks

    My wife had to work till the labor pain started and I admitted her to the hospital straight from her office, and our baby was born within 36 hours of being admitted. We wanted to maximize the 6 week leave for post-partum. Talk about c Section stress and project deadlines for her. I took 2 weeks of paternity leave right as her leave ended so she could rejoin her office – otherwise, her boss said the job won’t be there. I was with a 6 week old baby bathing, giving the milk that his mom had to express and keep in fridge every morning before she had to go to office. Talk about tough times. We also had to move apartments during that time! Looking back, we wonder how nice it would’ve been if the maternity leave was at least 3-4 months. This is where Europe and Asia are more family friendly than US work policies.

  37. Sam, my wife and I had our first baby almost a year ago. We were lucky… literally getting pregnant on the first try. My wife has two friends that have had difficulty getting pregnant. One literally will never be able to have children (she’s devastated). The other had two miscarriages and had to finally go through tons of rounds of hormone shots (I believe it was…) in order to keep the third baby alive. I can’t imagine.

    The thing is, often times the challenges of pregnancy don’t stop when the baby is born. postpartum depression depression is real. I have a good friend’s wife that really struggled with it. There’s also tons that can go wrong.

    Our baby boy came 7.5 weeks early. It was terrifying, emotionally challenging, and an extreme toll on us both. Luckily he’s super healthy and has no issues whatsoever. But I don’t know how my wife managed to get through those first 31 days when he was living in the NICU.

    All this has opened my eyes to the challenges women go through. The question is how do we make folks more sympathetic unless they’ve experienced some of it first hand? I don’t know the answer to that. I know before all this I wouldn’t have been so understanding.

  38. My previous company offered 10 weeks of STD for new mothers at 75% which was awesome. They then added in 3 paid weeks for new fathers, as well as parents who adopt.

    The only problem was the culture. As a male dominated office (80/20 male/female), the men talked about how the women were lazy and took off too much time to care for their children, left work too early or sporadically to take care of their children, etc. It’s disgusting, really. Since when does taking care of your children mean you are lazy? All of these women are working 40-50 hour weeks while raising their young children. In my experience, the attitude of others towards new parents was much more hostile than the policies that governed what time off they were entitled to.

    1. Having children is a choice you have made that you need to fully understand the consequences of. The reason they complain is because most likely the result of you taking off early every day results in shifting of your responsibilities on to those people with no additional compensation for them. This is especially prevalent for people that are salaried. Why should you get to go home at 2:30 to pick up your kids every day and Joe has to stay until 6? Then when it comes time for promotions and you don’t get one it’s “sexism”. Oh and news flash, raising kids isn’t nearly as hard as women make it out to be.

      You and other pregnant women should really try putting yourself in your coworkers shoes and see how your choices can cause immense strain on them instead of simply dismissing their legitimate complaints as “disgusting.”

      1. Rick, I noticed you projected a lot of your own opinions into David’s comments. Where did he say that people were going home at 2:30?

        You state that, “Raising kids isn’t as hard as women make it out to be.” Where does that bit of first-hand knowledge come from? How many kids have you raised?

        I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside.

        I hope you and your mother had a wonderful Mother’s Day.

  39. Sadly, it’s not just the lack of support leading up to and sustaining a pregnancy or limited leave policies. I have observed work environments to be inhospitable to mothers retuning from leave. Whether its piling on the workload or withholding it to freeze them out, or putting up obstacles to pumping (time, location), etc. the battles of seeing through pregnancy are just the very beginning.

    It’s like March Madness and the sweet sixteen. A new tougher match awaits once you think you have made it past one challenge. Many just get knocked out of the game before they are ready to leave it. But, if you can get past it all, it feels like you have won the NCAA!

  40. Outstanding post, Sam! I had a miscarriage at 10 weeks after a “normal” pregnancy and delivery with my daughter. At the doctor’s office they shared that it could be up to 50% of pregnancies spontaneously “abort” very early but many women never even know it (they just have a heavy or cramping period). I was lucky to have a second child after that with no complications.
    In teaching, we have many pregnant women in our hallways (4 in my school right now). There is no working from home when you are in charge of 22 six-year olds ;) We try to help them in any way we can – but it is still challenging. We also try to make every accommodation we can when they return to work and need to pump, etc.
    We could all use a little more empathy for pregnant women and Mom’s (not just “working” Mom’s) too :)

  41. Thank you for this great post! Being a woman and a mom, I know exactly what it’s like to give birth and try to work during and after the pregnancy.

    While many are understanding, some just don’t feel the same. And to me, it’s ok. People have different priorities. The job of an employer is to make sure they stay in business. It’s fine to me that they think about all the loss of efficiency and profits resulting from a pregnant employee. What matters to me more is what they do with that thought.

  42. My wife and I struggled to get pregnant with our first child. It took a lot longer than anticipated. For some people getting pregnant is a cinch and for others it takes forever, if not at all. After the our son was born people would say when’s the next one coming. They were trying to be nice and light hearted but it took FOREVER for the first so I honestly had no idea if at all if we’d be able to have a second. We were fortunate that we didn’t have to wait as long but it was still a struggle.

    Thanks for sharing such a topical post!!!

  43. My company recently changed their maternal leave to paid from simply short term disability at seventy five percent. They also added paternity leave. It’s definitely an improvement, but nothing compared to some countries where women get a month before birth and a year after. Pregnancy can be very stressful and a newborn doubly so due to lack of sleep. I favor companies implementing these policies, I just wish they’d done so when we had kids.

    1. At my job, women used to get 2 weeks off after birth. Now it’s 1 month after lots of meetings and negotiation. It’s great to see the maternal leave in other countries. But if I were to choose, I’d still pick the US as the place where I want to advance my career.

      1. Jack Catchem

        One of the best I’ve seen is for female police officers. 4 months of paid time off and then 4 months of time you are allowed to use from your time bank. No questions, no stress, just “bond.”

        Based on what my wife went through giving birth, that time is needed! (The Air Force only gave her more than a week off because it was a C-Section)

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