Saturday, May 9, 2015

Open Letter to anyone working with pregnant women

I’m a mother of 2 kids. So, I’ve been pregnant twice. Both the pregnancies were somewhat similar – ~9 months of ‘playing a part in (co-)creating a new life’, and yet very different in how I felt at the end of it all. Any gynecologist or woman who has 2 (or more) kids will vouch for the fact that no two pregnancies are ever really the same; and rightly so.  You are a different person – older by few years than when you experienced it the first time round. You know a lot more of babies and motherhood by virtue of first-hand experiences. Your body has changed physically. You think and feel differently. Add to it the fact that no two individuals in the world are ever similar; and by that logic - your two babies will be different, so they will have a different effect on you and hence you feel differently with each.

From personal experience, I can say that a woman’s physical health, emotional state of being, mental stress, financial standing and social support system go a long way in helping her sail through her pregnancy.

And yet, as I look back at my life – I also recognize that the role of my workplace environment played a significant role in how I felt during my pregnancies. Simply because if you are in a corporate job – Then work (including travel time) can take anywhere between 9 – 11 hours a day, i.e, ~50% of your day and ~70% of the time you are awake! So how your manager, colleagues / co-workers connect, converse and interact with you make all the difference.

In this regards too, both my pregnancies were very different. During one, my team was supportive and made an effort to help me tide through – with a joke or genuine concern or just listening and acknowledging my point of view. And in the other, my team was indifferent, cold and distant. As I look back and analyze the difference, I recognize that both were very different in terms of team composition – specifically on the phase of life the individuals were in (single, married, parent) – So instances where people were single, they just couldn't understand / look at things from my point-of-view! Before you assume I am pointing fingers at anyone, let me say – NO. That is not the intention of why I am writing this post! I am writing it because after my own journey to motherhood, I have interacted with several hundreds of working women, and a vast majority have been through some form of “unavoidable” stress / pressure at the workplace during their pregnancy tenure. And almost everyone of them said that a lot of the stress is completely "avoidable" - if people are a little sensitive and kind to her needs.

So I thought of compiling an Open letter to anyone working with pregnant women based of collective observations, insights and experiences of women who’ve been there and done that.

Do read through and keep in mind when you are interacting with any pregnant woman at work:

1)   Pregnancy is a new experience for her too , and she is learning everyday about herself, her baby, life, people, her spouse, her family, her body, her emotions. So acknowledge and accept it!

2)   During pregnancy, she is dealing with more than you can ever know or imagine (If you’ve been pregnant before, you’d know!)

3)   That somewhere deep down, she is vulnerable and goes though moment when she unsure about everything! All she needs to know at that moment is “This too shall pass”. So say it like you mean it!

4)   This is an important phase / chapter of her life. Her thoughts, emotions and choices will impact her life in ways she can never really know fully / imagine.

5)   That she is not terminally ill ; so she does not need to be treated that way

6)   That she is not mentally ill ; and again she need not be treated that way

7)   And just to lay it out on the table clearly, here are things you can do to help

a.   Respect and Accept her choice: So she is on the way to ‘motherhood’ and whether it is by choice / not, she is on that journey.
b.   Don’t comment on her appearance ; A lot is beyond her (personal) control
c.   Don’t judge her eating habits ; A lot is beyond her (personal) control
d.   Don’t make it physically more taxing for her ; she is already going through a lot physically
e.   Don’t stress her out ; mentally and emotionally – Be sensitive and kind. If you can’t do / say anything to help – keep shut! Better to do no harm even if you can’t do good!
f.    Don’t comment on her ‘yet-to-be-born’ baby. And yes, don’t call her baby “That thing”. It is not a thing. It is a baby with life. You were a baby once!
g.   Understand that there may be hormonal changes which could affect productivity, focus, concentration and effectiveness; so if you can bear it / live it temporarily, do it. If not, let her know that it is not working out and why? Whether or not she appreciates your honesty at that moment, she will be grateful for your honesty in the long run!
h.   Don’t compel her to make any commitments on her long term career plans. Honestly, she might just change her plans once she sets eyes on her baby!
i.    Don’t penalize her for her work related choices / decisions for medical reasons. For e.g.: Inability to travel
j.    And yes, When she has her delivery – It would be nice if you can wish her. You may be busy with the most important task in the world, but all you need to do is to squeeze in sometime to say “Congrats”. As a new mother, it means a lot to any woman that her workplace shares her joy as she embarks on a new phase of her life 

Most important, Don’t screw with her career – in terms of negative work performance comments / remarks just because her negotiation power is weak.  Trust me – The law of karma almost always works, and it will come back to you. Sometime. Somehow. The competitive corporate rat-race is real and makes sense if the game is between you and her, but when you play dirty games with her because of her unborn child, ask yourself if it is right?


 I can’t help with a few words my maternal grandmother told me “No matter what you do, don’t ever wrong a pregnant woman. Your deeds will come back to haunt you”.


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