ear Working Parent,
I just started a new job this week and need to tell my manager that I am four months pregnant. What’s the best way to go about the discussion?
Hi Soon-to-Be Mom,
I’m both a working mom and a manager, so I see your plight from both sides.
As a mom, I know that despite laws to protect against workplace discrimination, the system isn’t perfect and that your job-related concerns are, unfortunately, valid. As a manager, I’d want to know as early in the process as possible.
Whether your manager is supportive or not, they’re still human and could react negatively to the news. They put a lot of effort into hiring and might be concerned about how they’ll deal with your inevitable prolonged absence.
You can acknowledge that and give them some time to process, but as a new mom, you still have to remember to put yourself and your health first. Here are a few things I’d advise before going into the conversation.
1. Know Your Rights
It’s important to be informed about the state law and familiar with your company’s parental leave policy before beginning the conversation.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act allows for three months unpaid leave, but only if the company is over 50 employees and you’ve been employed there for over 12 months.
You can check your state laws right here.
The rules at each company are different, but you need to go into the conversation with realistic expectations about what a company should or can offer. Remember, regardless of whether they offer paid leave or not, it is illegal for a company to terminate you due to your pregnancy—before or during a leave.
2. Have a Plan
You should be prepared to let your manager know how you plan to prepare for any leave you’re taking.
This might be hard because you’re still new, but I’d recommend being prepared to discuss how you plan to organize your work and responsibilities before your absence. Muse co-founder Alex Cavoulacos wrote this article about how she prepared for her maternity leave, complete with a handy worksheet that can help you.
Using a framework to prepare can help reduce anxiety for both you and your manager. Know that you’ll also have a lot of appointments as the baby’s due date gets closer, so make sure that you have a plan in place for how you’ll communicate those with team members in advance.
3. Don’t Be a Martyr
Because it sounds like you’re nervous about telling your manager, this can be tempting.
Don’t offer to do anything that you’ll regret later such as working through your maternity leave or coming back to the office before your leave is up. Depending on state law, you might need to come back earlier regardless. But if you have three months, I’d try taking as much of it as possible.
New motherhood’s different for everyone and, while I know there are certainly women who start working after two weeks (sometimes by choice, sometimes by necessity), your body might need time to recover and it can be hard to adjust to sleep deprivation during those first few months.
Be prepared to set clear boundaries during that conversation with your boss. It’s better to under-promise now and over-deliver later.
One of my favorite managers once told me a Bryan Dyson quote: “Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them—work, family, health, friends and spirit—and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls—family, health, friends and spirit—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”
I know firsthand that this can be a stressful time. You’re not only preparing for the upcoming arrival of your baby, but you’re also worried about what will happen with your career. Try to remember that, while your new job is important and likely a financial necessity, your health, the health of your child, and the overall wellbeing of both of you are irreplaceable. Protect them as much as possible.
This article is part of our Ask an Expert series—a column dedicated to helping you tackle your biggest career concerns. Our experts are excited to answer all of your burning questions, and you can submit one by emailing us at editor(at)themuse(dot)com and using Ask a Working Parent in the subject line.
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