I wasn’t out loud and proud about my pregnancy to my work colleagues as soon as I peed on that white stick and finally got the “pregnant” smiley face. In fact, I put off telling my boss I was pregnant for as long as possible and in retrospect it was too long.
We finally figured out I was pregnant one Sunday autumn afternoon after spending the day at Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush attempting to buy a dress in a set colour scheme and length to wear to my Sister-in-law’s Walia (wedding reception). A difficult task in itself, but made worse by the fact that I could not for love nor money get the zip up on any garment; my boobs were just too big and sore even when I went up a dress size (in the end I wore a saree). I was really fed up and my husband took me for a medium rare Bryon Burger and we may have even washed away my angst at putting on weight with a glass of wine only to discover a few hours later that I was five weeks pregnant – fast forward to four months later and I still hadn’t told my boss we were expecting our first child.
I really didn’t do myself any favours by hiding my pregnancy at work. I didn’t buy any maternity clothes; I just went up a size and continued wearing normal clothes. I did, though, have to alter my fashion sense, as I always wore dresses and heels to the office, but when I started to show switching to black trousers and tops with a pair of flats gave me a few more weeks’ camouflage. (If/when I have another baby I will not miss out on wearing maternity clothes again because when I eventually gave in and started wearing maternity clothes I loved them; very forgiving on people with extra curves like me, comfortable and stylish if you know where to shop and cheaper than regular clothes). Whilst I attempted to mask that I was expecting from my colleagues at work I still had to cope with nearly puking on the tube and frequently felt faint during my commute on the district line. My husband texted me once during a gruelling journey saying: “Why don’t you tell them you’re pregnant and get a seat.” I replied: “Someone from work might be in the carriage.” I also didn’t feel I could ask for help and lugged sofas and rearranged the boardroom furniture for workshops on my own for pity’s sake. Not fun or clever.
So, why, why did I do this? I was scared of losing my job, that’s why. I was on a Fixed-Term Contract that was due to be renewed at the end of the year and I was worried work wouldn’t keep me on once everyone knew I was pregnant and that as a result we wouldn’t be able to pay the mortgage and would lose our home and have to leave London and move in with my mum’s in a two bed cottage in Staffordshire [she said hysterically]. I wanted to show the people at work that being pregnant didn’t make any difference, I was still the same, I would still be there working till 7pm every night. I could still do my job and would be able to do my job when I made the transition from pregnant woman to working mum.
I know 22 weeks is a long time to conceal a pregnancy. It was strange because I was absolutely thrilled to be pregnant. We told close family and friends by 12 weeks and it was definitely discussed on Facebook, but I make it a rule never to be friends with people at work on Facebook until I no longer work with them, so my secret was virtually safe.
It was after we went for the 20-week scan and found out the baby was fine and that we were having a girl that it all started to feel real for me. It was also a bit of a wake-up call when I realised that trying to maintain my working style was not doing my blood pressure any good. My Consultant told me: “Amy, you are going to have to tell work you need to slow down a bit. You can still work, but maybe work from home and cut out the travel and unnecessary meetings. If you don’t and next I see you your blood pressure is still high I’ll have to sign you off.” (I was born prematurely at 33 weeks weighing in at 2lbs 110z and the doctors didn’t want to risk me developing pre-eclampsia like my mum). When the doctor told me this suddenly it wasn’t that fear of being unable to pay the mortgage in the not too distant future that scared me, it was the thought that I wasn’t doing me or the baby any favours by working in this way. So, when I got into work on Monday and discovered my boss was out of the office I sent an email saying I was pregnant and went to talk to each of my team to tell them the “good” news. And that was it – I was out.
When you come out as pregnant at work I found there is a scale of reaction of people who are; a) comfortable around pregnant women; b) people who are over familiar and ask really inappropriate questions and try to touch your tummy (don’t do this – I will not react positively); and c) some people who don’t like to think of where babies comes from and prefer to refer to “Amy’s interesting condition” rather than say words like “pregnant”!
Also I think colleagues’ reaction on hearing you are pregnant is naturally, “How does this affect me?” If they don’t work very closely with you, and your being away at antenatal appointments and on maternity leave doesn’t really affect them, then more often than not they’ll be thrilled and make chitchat with you over the exciting times ahead. However, if they are going to be affected you may behave like I did and try to mask this fact, you may, like me, just not mention being pregnant unless you have to (I also behaved in a similar way when returning from maternity leave and just never talked about having a baby with particular people – sad but true). I often found myself sympathising with other people about them not having a good night’s sleep or that they were feeling a bit tired and achy and never alluded to the fact that I sometimes felt I’d never get a decent night’s sleep ever again.
Steadily I got fed up of people asking questions I had no idea what the answer was to like, “how long will you be off for?” “I’d say six months, probably.” Translation, “I think if I say longer than six months I might lose my job and I’m worried if I do take longer than six months we won’t have enough money and won’t be able to pay the mortgage, OK?” (I had 13 months off because that was the longest I could have off, and OK we weren’t flush with cash, but it was the best year of my life and for me the worry of paying the bills is ever present especially now I’m freelance. If it wasn’t maternity leave it would be something else).
I did follow Doctor’s Orders and after my scan told my boss that I needed to work more flexibly and asked if it was possible for me to work from home and cut down on the travel. He said yes. When I started working from home and slowed down a bit my blood pressure went down and stayed low for the rest of my pregnancy. I stopped getting stressed out and you know what, I got so much work done. I did some really clear thinking and worked much more efficiently from home. It probably wasn’t great for the team not having me in the office (you’d have to ask them about that), but not having to spend so much time in pointless meetings and being interrupted all the time in an open plan office meant I could really knuckle down and get things done. I was hoping that my dedication would mean work would offer me a permanent contract before I went on maternity leave, but nothing in the Civil Service happens that fast. I was made permanent finally whilst I was on maternity leave (of course, when I went back after a year I only worked there for another six months as I left to be a Freelance Writer – but that’s another story).
*Amy Beeson is a Freelance Writer and is the Director of Wordsby Ltd working with many women running a small business on limited budgets who need affordable solutions for their communications needs. Amy ’s currently busy working away on three new books with baby expert Sarah Beeson MBE (and Amy’s mum) for HarperCollins. amyibeeson.wordpress.com. Twitter amyibeeson. Read more about Amy.