How (and when) do you tell your boss you’re pregnant? What should you factor into consideration? I’ve had three different readers write to me with a question along these lines, so now seems like a great time to discuss this. Reader K is one of those readers:
Wondering what the readers think about the timing of telling your firm you are pregnant. I have made it through the 1st trimester without anyone noticing my being drag-ass tired and have somehow kept up respectable billable hours in the meantime. I planned on telling people next week, but confidentially shared the news over lunch with a female partner (I am beginning my fourth year as an associate on partner track) and her concern was my timing in terms of telling the guys/powers that be about the pregnancy. She doesn’t think I should tell them right away so that I have more time where they are continuing to give me good assignments. Besides my desire to remain on good cases, other “concerns” discussed are: 1) the fact that bonuses happen at end of the year (and that I not draw the short stick in an otherwise profitable year); and 2) review/raise time in early spring (while I am on maternity leave). Next year is the year I expected a big jump based on profitability, etc, and I hope this timing doesn’t derail all of that hard work. Is it better for me to rip the band-aid off and express these concerns with the managing partner (who I think I can have an honest discussion with) or wait until I have to tell so that there is more time for me to continue to get assigned the good work (ie, before the guys subconsciously take me off the fast track). I was planning on providing my fact-based plan of action (6 weeks short term disability, begin part time work during that time as I am able, child care taken care of, etc) at the same time. Any suggestions on the timing of all of this and how the conversation should go down?
Congratulations! (Pictured.) Here are some thoughts, both for K and other first-time moms:
- Wait as long as possible. K is happily past her first trimester, which can be exhausting and always carries with it the risk of miscarriage. But she’s still got six months to go before she’ll need maternity leave, so why would she tell the powers that be? Here are my thoughts: she won’t need special accommodations. (She should be in the “sweet spot” for pregnancy — most women experience much less nausea, fatigue, and other pregnancy aches and pains in their second trimester.) She may not start to show for another two months. (Every woman is different, but many first-time mothers don’t start showing until week 20 or so (that was when I had to make the jump to proper maternity pants; a girlfriend who is very petite and tiny just told me she didn’t announce it until she was five months along as well).) If she were quitting her job entirely a month would be generous notice. So I don’t see any reason to start telling people until she starts to show — especially when a female supervisor is suggesting she wait. I suppose there’s an argument that she could wait even longer — after all, there’s that old joke that you should never guess a woman is pregnant unless you actually see a baby coming out of her. But I think, in general, that when you move to maternity pants is the right time to say something official to your boss.
- Know your rights ahead of time. This is a separate post all on its own, but figure out what your office policy is on maternity leave. The Family Medical Leave Act allows people to keep their job for up to twelve weeks, but it only applies to businesses with more than 50 employees. If it’s at all possible, I do recommend taking at least twelve weeks off if you can because newborns’ crying peaks from weeks six to eight — in addition to being a sleepless zombie during that time period you may be uncomfortable leaving your screaming child with a new caregiver. That said, women do what you have to do, and if you have to return to work in six weeks, you’ll figure it out. (I’m not sure if that sounds odd or not — but that kind of summarizes my happy but stoic view of parenthood in general: you do what you must for your family and you figure it out.)
- Be clear that you plan to return, but if you can leave yourself some flexibility in the details. I’ve heard others suggest that you should just have a pithy, succinct message: “I’ll be ending maternity leave on X date.” — but you shouldn’t try to work out flextime/part-time/working-from-home arrangements until a month before you come back. This is smart — you’ll have a better sense of your baby, your own postpartum health, what kind of parents you and your partner are going to be, and what accommodations (if any) you might need or want based on the projects you have in your lap when it’s time to come back. On the other hand, you have to know yourself and your office — if this conversation can turn into a dealbreaker for you or your boss, it can be stressful to have it hanging over your head.
- Be upbeat and proactive about your plan for leave. Show that you’ve thought about what will happen to your workload when you’re on leave. Who will be able to take X project? Will you be able to commit to virtually checking in at the office a certain number of times per week, or at a set time every day (say from 7-8 AM when your partner takes the baby), just to check voicemail and email and do whatever triage is necessary?
- Don’t forget your clients. I would suggest being extra available to them before you leave, and letting them in on your plan of attack as well — it helps manage expectations they may have of you, while letting them know that they’re still important to you.
- Finally: maintain a professional image to every extent you can. Don’t share TMI details about your pregnancy. Don’t knit at the office if you normally wouldn’t or do other stereotypical “new mom” things. Much like women planning a wedding, you need to remember that planning for the baby can’t be an all-consuming project during your day — not everyone wants to hear about the Great Stroller Dilemma of 2012, or how you’re totally overloaded planning your baby shower. (If there’s an office baby shower, I would argue against any games, but that’s me.) Don’t encourage people to grab your belly if you normally wouldn’t let them touch you so personally. Sadly, maternity clothes are generally neither pretty nor professional, but do try to dress as professionally as possible during this time period.
Readers, when did you announce your pregnancy at work? For those of you who’ve had to negotiate your own maternity leave, what resources did you use and how did the conversation go?