When to tell?
As a hypnobirthing practitioner, birth coach and antenatal educator for over 10 years I’ve heard a lot of birth stories, but more and more I’m hearing about the pregnancy stories too and one thing that comes up a lot is when to tell your boss that you are pregnant or trying to conceive (TTC). It got me thinking about whether there is a stage of pregnancy that is the ‘best time’ to tell your employer. So, I recently asked my audience to share their experiences of telling their employer that they were pregnant or trying for a baby.
What I got back were some fascinating responses, because although there were some definite similarities, especially with the reasons for not saying anything when pregnant or TTC, the underlying reasons and issues in the workplace around pregnancy and starting a family show that we have a long way to go with supporting child-bearing employees in the workplace.
The 12-week milestone
The majority of employees who responded said that they didn’t tell their boss until they were around 12 weeks pregnant. This didn’t surprise me, as I did the same. The main reason was similar to my reason for not saying anything to my boss at the time which was due to being worried about the health of the baby and waiting until the 12-week scan (often called a ‘dating’ or ‘growth’ scan) to check its health and size.
Some described how they had unfortunately had miscarriages previously and wanted to wait until they had a scan to not have to tell work colleagues or their boss that the baby had miscarried, if that did happen. One mum described how – when she told her employer before 12 weeks – that it was both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand they could support her through the loss, but it was difficult knowing that others in the workplace knew about it as she unfortunately felt “ashamed for having a miscarriage”.
Some respondents did tell their employer very early on in the pregnancy. Chronic morning sickness can be difficult to hide in the workplace and some pregnancies mean your body needs lots of self-care whilst you grow a baby and maybe some time off work if you are feeling unwell.
Many job roles require temporary cover whilst you are on maternity leave and some businesses need to start the recruitment process as early as possible. However legally you don’t have to tell your employer until 15 weeks before your estimated due date, especially if you would like to return to your workplace at some point after the birth and want to be eligible for statutory maternity pay.
You can also have paid time off for antenatal care, appointments and some antenatal classes; another reason to tell them as soon as you feel you can.
Do you tell them you are TTC?
The majority of women who commented did not tell their employer that they were trying for a baby. Understandably, some simply wanted to keep it private or didn’t want to be asked repeatedly if they were pregnant yet.
When TTC a number of those who responded talked about the issues around their employer slowing their career progression and reductions in renumeration that happened once their employer knew of their plans. It shouldn’t happen, but evidence suggests it does and it is.
Someone who responded worked in a male dominated industry and found that TTC and pregnancy was not widely discussed or supported, stating that they had concerns over how they would be treated.
Another respondent stated that she didn’t tell her boss she was TTC or pregnant until after she was past the 12 week mark as she was “..in the middle of running some huge marketing events and campaigns and I wanted that to be the focus, not me. … what was interesting though was as soon I did tell them, I was put on performance review so they didn’t have to pay me my bonus that year, this is despite not being able to provide any evidence or examples of poor performance to me and contradicted much of the feedback and sales growth targets I’d over delivered on..”
TTC, pregnancy and your career
We know that making a decision about starting a family should have no bearing on your career whatsoever. We even have laws protecting us from discrimination in this case, but in reality, this small survey showed very clearly that this still happens.
It begs the question of what can we do to help ourselves during these situations. What can we do to make sure our careers are not adversely affected by taking time to have a baby and look after that baby?
I asked the very knowledgeable Leadership Coach and Career Strategist Beth Hocking what she thought about the responses received:
“In my experience as a leader of teams, I personally preferred to be told and have awareness of pregnancy, even in its early stages, if someone felt comfortable to share that information – that way accommodations can be made for any necessary time off, without raising questions or being challenged by other team members who are not aware.
However, of course I completely acknowledge that this may differ depending on who your boss is, the industry you’re in and of course, your relationships. I’m saddened to see how many women didn’t feel supported throughout their pregnancy or through their return to work.
Communication is always going to be key. Being as open and honest as you feel is appropriate through the right channels, if that is HR or your line manager, about what is going on for you and your intentions for your career, if you know them already.
I’ve had clients who chose to work with me during their maternity leave, to ensure they have a strategic plan to return to work. One client I worked with wanted to map out a path to promotion and prepare to implement that upon her return, with the backing of a very supportive boss.
My recommendation is to know both the laws and your rights and if you feel that you are being unfairly treated due to maternal reasons, then don’t be afraid to start raising your concerns.
One thing I know for sure is that a toxic work environment isn’t healthy, and if you feel compromised at all for being a mother or TTC, then it’s time to speak up. You are in the driving seat and there are plenty of lovely, trustworthy, supportive companies (and bosses!) out there who would be fortunate to have you.
No job is worth risking your mental and physical health for, especially when you have another small human who needs you to thrive, think of the role model that you are being to your new family and put your needs and your family’s needs above all else at this time”.
Timing is everything, or is it?
The results show how different we all are and how we differ emotionally and physically. Some will want to tell their employer as soon as they find out or as soon as they experience a loss, whereas some will feel it is a private matter and will want to wait as long as they can before sharing TTC or pregnancy news with work colleagues or their employer.
It is clear that there is no right or wrong way. For some it may even make sense to plan for this period in life, to prepare and plan their career for every eventuality. For many the unpredictability of conception and pregnancy can mean a large amount of letting go could be required.
It is also apparent that it is important to give yourself headspace at this time. For many working women this can be a massive shift in their life journey. I always recommend gaining some tools to help you feel mentally prepared – for all that life throws at you – but importantly to help your emotional and mental wellbeing during pregnancy.
We need to remember that being anxious or worried during pregnancy, can have a direct effect on the wellbeing your unborn baby. When you are anxious your body will automatically direct oxygen to your arms and legs to try to physically get you out of that anxious situation, commonly known as the ‘fight or flight’ reaction, and so reducing the oxygen your body then supplies to the placenta and the baby.
In pregnancy we also experience that ‘fear of the unknown’ that can get us worried. In today’s day and age, we aren’t educated on how to have a healthy pregnancy or how the birth process works or how to look after a new born. We need to seek out that support and education.
My support – whether it is through my bespoke educational Babymoons, Pregnancy Wellbeing Retreat Days or Better Birth Hypnobirthing course – can help anyone on their pregnancy and birth journey, whether you are a planner and have it all worked out, or are an eternal worrier, not knowing what you need to learn, when or how, because my support is always tailored to what each couple, woman, pregnant person or birth partner needs.
I know how super busy you are at work, but if you are looking after yourself and your pregnant body (and mind!) then it is likely that you will instinctively know when it is the right time to tell your boss that you are pregnant, as it will be the right time for you and your baby. As Beth says above, you are starting a new life or a new family and it is important to put your needs first at this time.