I Started a New Job 3 Months Pregnant
November 12, 2016 | Filed in: Your Career
One MM employee shares her story of job hunting while pregnant.
Years ago, I asked about maternity leave during a job interview, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t hire me because of it. It was my third interview for the position, and I was nervous to ask, but it was important to me. As soon as I mentioned it, I watched the interviewer’s face go stark white. There was a long pause, and then he said, “You know, I usually don’t talk about that until later on in the process.” I tried to fumble my way back from it, and said, “I just want to get a general sense of your policy—do you have one?” He didn’t really answer. Then, a day later, I got the call that they were going with somebody else.
When I told this story to my dad, who is a business owner himself, he said, “You know what, I might have done the same thing.” And that shocked me. My dad is very liberal and egalitarian. If someone like him, with his beliefs and the flexibility of his own company, wouldn’t hire somebody because she asked about maternity leave, what does that imply for the broader population? It definitely made me cautious.
I was about four weeks into my pregnancy when I began talking to Sarah LaFleur about joining MM. Looking for a new job had been on my mind for a couple of months, but I didn’t approach her with that purpose; we initially met to discuss a project I was working on. Near the end of our meeting, Sarah said, “I’d like to hire you.” And the attraction was definitely mutual. Of course, I knew that I was pregnant, and I wasn’t sure how I’d do that while transitioning into a new role. It was scary, for sure.
I didn’t ask about maternity policy until we were in the contract negotiation stage. As MM.LaFleur is a women-owned and women-friendly company, I felt confident that the policy would be reasonable—and I knew another employee who’d had a child while working here, and I knew that MM’s designer, Miyako, was pregnant too. I brought up the topic very casually, and made sure to put it in a list of other questions so it wasn’t just a standalone thing. I said, “What’s your vacation policy, health insurance, maternity leave policy, and do you have a 401k?” Sarah was very open about it, and I think the policy is very generous, especially in the startup world.
When I officially began, I was almost three months along, so it was still early—I hadn’t told very many people at all. I put off telling anyone at work because it felt awkward, and I’m not a super public person. I was also lucky in that I wasn’t showing a lot. Still, I was always concerned that people would figure it out, and some people later told me that they suspected. I had saltines in my desk, and although I was nauseous, I didn’t get sick very much, thankfully. Trying to hide it, especially as you’re making a first impression, was hard. I was worried that people would say, “Why is she eating all those saltines? Why does she look a little green today?”
When I was about five months pregnant, our co-worker Caroline announced to the entire company at an all-staff meeting that she was four months pregnant, and that prompted me to say something. I had the conversation with Sarah the next day, and she responded very supportively. I was sort of babbling, and I told her that I could never imagine taking a full three months without working, and Sarah cut me off and said, “Don’t even mention it. You’ll do what you want to do.” That was relieving. And then I told Ron, my supervisor, who has four children; and his response was, “You should have five.”
I finally announced it at a company party that also happened to fall on my birthday. They surprised me with a cake, and it seemed like as good a time as any. Everyone was really positive, and it was a huge relief.
There’s never a good time. That’s what everyone kept telling me. Do I want to be out on maternity leave six months after starting a new job? No, because I love it here, and also because it’s certainly not ideal. I’m worried about that: Will I be able to make enough of an impact to feel secure? Will the company take me back after my maternity leave because they want me, and not just for legal reasons? The idea of being temporarily replaced by a consultant is scary, too. But I just have to trust that my work speaks for itself, and when I come back I’ll have to figure out how to add value to the company, the way I always have.
If I were to give advice to someone else in my situation, I would recommend to wait until you have an offer or are very close to an offer before bringing up maternity leave at all. It’s sad, and it might not be fair or right, but the reality is that it’s a bit of a gamble. It also depends on the industry and the company, of course. Do your research: Get a sense of the team that you’ll be working with, and see how other women have done it. Truthfully, I don’t think I’d want to work for a company that’s not supportive of maternity leave, so it’s a good litmus test.