“You’re pregnant!” I gasped when I heard the words coming from behind me as I stood in my office break room staring blankly into the refrigerator. I whirled around to see one of my coworkers standing behind me, arms crossed, smug smile on her face. “You are, aren’t you?” she said again, much louder than necessary. “Sssshhhh” I quickly said, grabbing her by the arm and pulling her into an empty office. As I closed the door behind us, I stared at her in disbelief. “How did you know?” I demanded. “You ARE pregnant! Congratulations!” she squealed as she warmly hugged me. I stood speechless as she started in on how exciting this was for me and how much she loved babies. “How did you know?” I asked again. Was I already showing or had she noticed me napping at my desk? “You’re not drinking coffee and you’re snacking on carrots. We both know you and that’s not your normal diet” Well that part was true. My regular breakfast of black coffee had been replaced with oatmeal and fruit, and I exchanged my midday snack from the vending machine with a bag of whatever fresh veggies I brought from home. We stood in that empty office for a while discussing my due date and how I was feeling. Then her demeanor shifted from ecstatic to serious. She lowered her voice and whispered, “Have you told your boss?”
Telling your boss you’re pregnant can stir up a range of emotions from glee and happiness to anxiety and fear. Certain employers welcome the news, are excited to support the mom-to-be, and enjoy being part of the pregnancy journey. Others are less receptive to the news and you can see the wheels spinning in their heads as they calculate how this “personal issue” is going to affect an employee’s performance and work product. And then there are all those bosses in the middle, where you have no idea how they’re going to react.
In an ideal world when a professional woman becomes pregnant, she should be able to walk into her boss’s office, full of that pregnancy glow, and proudly announce that she’s expecting a baby. Some working women do get that exciting moment of telling their boss they’re pregnant and it’s a positive and joyful experience. Unfortunately, that was not my reality. When I became pregnant with my first child, I was working for the last kind of boss anyone ever wants to tell they’re expecting. Over forty, not married, and no children, my boss was a classic workaholic with little time to discuss people’s personal lives. While obviously I never thought he would be angry at me for being pregnant, three years of working every day, side by side, with him told me he would not be “happy” or “excited” for me either. News like this was going to change our work dynamic. So I put off telling him.
Weeks went by and I still couldn’t find the right time or way to tell my boss I was pregnant. I thought about sending him a text message, but that didn’t seem appropriate. An email allowed me to better explain the situation (as if there was a lot to explain), but that still seemed impersonal. No, I needed to have this conversation face to face. Being the business professionals we were, I spoke to his scheduler and arranged five minutes on his calendar.
This was it. I needed to tell him before he found out from someone else, or I went into labor during a staff meeting. I rehearsed what I was going to say for hours and prepared myself for any and every possible reaction.
“So what did you need to talk to me about?” he asked. “I’m pregnant…” I said. “OK” he stared back. Silence. Dead silence. Finally I said “And this is a good thing, and I’m excited, so be happy for me.” “OK” he said. More silence. “Do you have those files I asked for earlier?” he asked. “I do”, I said. “OK, I have to run to a meeting so have them on my desk when I get back.”
And that was it.
Looking back, this conversation went about as well as could be expected. It wasn’t overly positive, but it wasn’t particularly negative ether. If anything I was just relieved the conversation was over, and I didn’t feel like I was holding in this huge secret anymore. I believe that for a lot of career women, the anxiety and fear that comes with the anticipation about telling your boss you’re pregnant is significantly harder to handle than the actual reaction you receive when you tell your boss you’re expecting.
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