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A Tale of Being the 1st Pregnant Woman in Workplace

Working mothers in corporate America

I never felt like a “woman in the workplace” until I became pregnant. My gender was not an issue in terms of my pay or general treatment. At a boozy after-work hangout, I discovered I made more than a male co-worker with the same title, because I had asked for and received raises where he had not. If you had asked me what being pregnant at work might be like before I conceived, I probably would have said something glib along the lines of: “I’m not the first working woman to ever have a kid. Haven’t they figured it out by now?”

Which is why it was such a shock to find out that, no, they haven’t figured it out. I had a very difficult pregnancy, with a combination of hyperemesis gravidarum(extreme morning sickness), depression and anxiety. Because I was at a new job, I did not have some of the workplace protections provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act, which only kicks in if you’ve worked someplace for 12 months. I ended up quitting — a luxury my family could afford because my husband has a good job with health insurance.

When this happened, I realized that I had hardly ever worked with pregnant women on staff in my eight-year career. They were all freelancers. The one woman who had been pregnant at my first job was laid off the day she gave birth. When I started talking and writing about my experience, other mothers I knew came out of the woodwork with their stories of being pushed out or sneakily demoted. They don’t speak out about these issues because they would like to be employed again at some point. Stephanie Coontz’s recent opinion piece about how most of the gains in the gender wage gap have been made by childless women was no surprise to me.

I can’t shut up about this in print or in my personal life, because I will not let what happened to me happen to my peers. To steal a line from the movie “Juno,”  I want to be a cautionary whale for other women navigating pregnancy and motherhood at work.

But the laws surrounding pregnancy and family leave are complicated and vary by state, which is why I am so grateful that the nonprofit organization A Better Balance, which lobbies for better pregnancy protection and parental-leave laws, has published a book called “Babygate: What You Really Need to Know About Pregnancy and Parenting in the American Workplace.”

I emailed with Dina Bakst, one of the authors of “Babygate” and a co-founder and co-president of A Better Balance, on how to deal with some confusing situations that women might run into when they’re dealing with pregnancy at work. Since young women are now getting the majority of bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and entering professions that were once male-dominated, I asked Bakst what to do if you’re the first woman in your company to be pregnant.

The first step, she says, is to find out if you’re covered by the F.M.L.A. If your company has more than 50 employees and you’ve been there for more than a year, your employer must give you 12 weeks of unpaid leave — that has to cover any pregnancy-related illness, prenatal doctor visits and recovery from childbirth or bonding with an adopted child. “Unfortunately, the law applies to only about half of American workers,”  Bakst said. And, “In this challenging economy, few workers can afford to use their full F.M.L.A. leave, especially those with the fewest resources.”

The second step is checking state laws; “Babygate” includes a handy guide. Some states, like California, give women extra coverage in addition to F.M.L.A. But if your employer has fewer than 15 employees, you really want to scour those laws because, according to Bakst, depending on the state you live in, “you might not even be protected from pregnancy discrimination”…

Read More: Jessica Grose, parenting.blogs.nytimes.com

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