Being Pregnant at Work Is Harder Than I Thought it Would Be
I tried mostly to nod and speak in short phrases so the former Obama administration official walking next to me—with whom I was desperately trying to keep pace—wouldn’t notice I was out of breath. I was expecting that pregnancy would make it more difficult to physically keep up, but I underestimated how complicated and how torn I would feel about letting it show.
The walk finally (thankfully) ended in a conference room at the end of a corridor, where I was set to interview the official for a weekly politics podcast I host for The Washington Post.
As a 29-year-old woman, accompanied by a producer also in her 20s, I’m regularly forced to overcome personal reservations about being taken seriously while reporting. Add a swelling belly to that equation, and so began an internal dialogue I found myself having constantly before beginning an interview:
Alright, I’m just going to go ahead and acknowledge that I’m pregnant so we can all move on.
Why would I do that? What if it makes the interviewee uncomfortable?
This bump isn’t subtle. Maybe the guest wants me to acknowledge it?
Allison, get it together. Stop worrying about this. Professional women get pregnant.
Okay, okay, I’ll make a joke, I’ll charm the room. I got this.
Wait, that joke isn’t funny. What are you even thinking?
Inevitably, I blurt out something extra awkward like, “This interview won’t take up too much of your time, my bladder capacity only lasts about 15 minutes these days.” Nothing like a joke about my bathroom schedule to ensure I’m being taken seriously.
Just as my husband and I decided to try and conceive our first child, I was presented with an incredible opportunity at work—the chance to host a new podcast. I embraced the professional challenge, but within a few months I was hit with a personal challenge I had wildly underestimated: morning sickness.
More than 50% of women experience some form of morning sickness, according to the American Pregnancy Association. A smaller, luckier percentage of us experience completely debilitating, non-stop, all-encompassing morning sickness. The kind that has you waking up in the middle of the night to dry heave over the toilet for an hour. Or, as in my case, the kind that leaves you puking minutes before heading into the audio studio or onto live TV, desperately hoping that your watery eyes and burning throat don’t make you seem incapable.
At times, I lament those first few months when I was incessantly sick, yet chose to keep my pregnancy a secret. By not sharing, I felt protected. I had a few extra weeks to avoid admitting to my colleagues that I had (naively? stupidly?) made the decision to have a baby just as I was accomplishing new and exciting career milestones.
Some pregnant women place pressure on themselves to perform at work without flinching, to seem as though they’re not struggling, to prove their workplace worth before departing—for those who are lucky enough to have the option—on parental leave. At a time when our changing bodies are occupying a lot of our mental energy, many of us take extra steps to not let on that we’re distracted, that we’re uncomfortable, or that sometimes we’d rather be sleeping.
But why not welcome these conversations into our work environments? Why are we less willing to admit vulnerabilities while pregnant than when facing other kinds of health challenges? After months of unrelenting nausea into my sixth month and weeks of professional insecurities, I made the choice to talk about my physical and mental experience truthfully. When colleagues ask how I’m feeling, I reply honestly, in hopes that frankness will peel back the veil on the realities of pregnancy for some women.
If honesty can increase compassion, perhaps those facing challenging pregnancies in the future will feel a little less lonely.
I should note here that I’m very lucky: I have a normal, healthy pregnancy. Many incredible women face much more difficult prenatal challenges than the ones I’ve laid out here, with much more bravery and toughness than I would be capable of.
Furthermore, The Washington Post is a highly supportive environment for pregnant women. Women here who are pregnant or have recently given birth lean on each other often, host baby showers, and offer advice about plans for leave and for returning to work. My managers were encouraging and positive when I shared my news, and no one (besides myself) has questioned my ability to do my job.
So while it’s easier for someone in my position to advocate for speaking out about the difficult mental and physical realities of some pregnancies, I still have plenty of reservations. Next week, I’ll be hosting a live taping of my podcast alongside some journalism legends. In the spirit of sticking to my commitment to honesty, I’ll admit I’m very concerned about how I’ll physically feel on the day of the event. And because I can’t hide behind the microphone when I’m live on stage, I’m even more concerned about what may change when my listeners learn I’m pregnant for the first time.
My solution for now? Open with a solid pee joke.
This article was originally published on The Lily. It has been republished here with permission.