How to Make Pregnancy Work at Work

Carrying Strong: An Empowered Approach to Navigating Pregnancy and Work

How to Make Pregnancy Work at Work

Ten years ago, I was staring at my computer screen in the office, guarding a precious and vulnerable secret, when I felt a stabbing pain in my stomach. I rushed into the bathroom with my cell phone, and from behind the aluminum stall door I googled, “Am I having a miscarriage?” I desperately scrolled to the bottom of message board threads all the way back to 2002 for any futile signs of hope that my flash from the ultrasound weeks earlier would make it.

Within 24 hours I was back at work, which was honestly where I wanted to be. It was comforting to feel competent. On the way home, I went to a follow-up doctor’s appointment to confirm if there was anything “left to take care of”. In the gray office, I looked at the nurse, a safe haven of calm, and told her, “I failed.” Tears finally escaped and rolled down my cheeks.

It felt like my body was saying “no” to something that was much more important to me.

After years of committing to studying harder, working longer, saying “yes” to anything I could for my career so that one day I could “have it all”, it felt like my body was saying “no” to something which is much more important to me. . I felt so alone.

The brush with loss was my first attempt at working motherhood. Before I had my first child—before the belly and the maternity leave (which I was so lucky to have)—I was already managing the dynamics of balancing work, raising a family, and my own considerable ambition. But the truth is, I was not, in fact, alone.

From that moment on, I often told my story behind closed doors, trying to build community around this extraordinary — and also somewhat completely ordinary — milestone. In 2020, inspired by both the pandemic’s direct effect on women in the workforce and their profound strength through it, I began writing my new book Carrying Strong: An Empowered Approach to Navigating Pregnancy and Work to expand that community. I interviewed hundreds of inspiring women who shared their hard-earned expertise and deeply personal stories so that their hindsight could be someone else’s foresight.

Carrying Strong: An Empowered Approach to Navigating Pregnancy and Work

Carrying Strong: An Empowered Approach to Navigating Pregnancy and Work

Whether pregnancy starts suddenly or after proactive egg retrieval or after decades of mental gymnastics weighing the pros and cons of timing, there’s no doubt that the entire journey is a roller coaster. And at work, even the most textbook of pregnancy can feel overwhelming. You pass one checkpoint and then there’s an appointment, a test, sharing news with your unsuspecting colleagues, the symptoms, a big moment at work or a new boss, then new symptoms, more appointments, more questions , and, yes, celebrations .

For Lauren Smith Brody, CEO of The Fifth Trimester, a resource for new moms returning to work after having a baby, and co-founder of the nonprofit Chamber of Mothers, making meaningful connections with others is essential to deal with these obstacles. “When you go through something so difficult for the first time, it’s so easy to think: I’m just not trying hard enough, or there’s something wrong with me. You blame yourself and feel guilty. But that doesn’t get us anywhere,” she says. “Instead, look around and find connections with other colleagues or friends—pregnant or trying or not—who may need some of the same solutions and work together to talk. You help yourself, yes, but also anyone around you whose voice can’t be that loud.”

With my second child, despite having previously been pregnant at work and bolstered with a community of support, I still felt the weight of navigating new, unexpected challenges. I worked until the day before I was due to be induced due to a high risk condition I had been managing for the past five months. But I also now recognized my strength in these moments as well. Before I went home and to the hospital, I gave a presentation to a group of interns, which probably scared them that I would go into labor at any moment. Instead of feeling nervous or exhausted, I felt amazing. This ordinary moment was sublime. It was as if the same positive, capable feeling that work gave me after suffering my first loss was reinforced, so close to the end of this next chapter and with my giant belly.

I asked many women in my book who they would most like to thank for their support during this time. Kathryn Sukey, head of design at Draper James, simply replied, “myself.”

It’s just that. There is transformation through the fear, joy and connection in these moments, where we cultivate a stronger, more authentic version of ourselves. Becoming a mother has given me definite clarity of perspective with a new found confidence – empowering me so others can be too.

Here are three things I’ve learned on my journey to working motherhood to support you now or in the future:

1. You are not alone. Whether you realize it or not, many, many women (and men) are experiencing the same feelings of fear, desperation, worry, but also hope, drive and joy that you are. A co-worker recounted the first time she walked into a crowded fertility clinic waiting room—and suddenly felt like the whole city was in the same boat—as she slipped in as the sun rose to be picked and poked before work then ran. While everyone’s experience is incredibly unique, there are others walking the same path alongside you.

2. Your community is your asset. It is incredibly important—even, and especially, in the darkest moments, but also in the moments of celebration—to create a system of support. Assemble a personal board of directors, including hype women and the tough love types who will tell you the tough things you might not want to hear – maybe you shouldn’t make a big move right now or you have another advocate in your corner with you for what’s next. Value your network of mentors, advocates and allies – and pay it forward. Remember that different perspectives are invaluable, but each decision is your own.

3. Together we can flip the script to create a more positive and empowering pregnancy experience. The outdated stigma surrounding pregnancy and work will take time to fade, but we all have an opportunity—and responsibility—to repair the path for those who will come after us. Neha Ruch, founder of Mother Untitled, recently shared with me the importance of elevating “the more positive possibilities” for working mothers, empowering and dignifying all the many stages. Be that boss who made you feel safe and empowered when you shared your pregnancy news. And if you didn’t have that boss, become that boss when you get the opportunity for others. Be the coworker-ally who really listens, who says, “I’m here for whatever you need” and really means it. And most importantly, with your community of support by your side, take up space and raise your hand – for you now and as you become a role model for someone truly special.

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Stephanie Kramer is the author of Carry Strong: An Empowered Approach to Navigating Pregnancy and Work (Penguin Life, May 2023). Stephanie is CHRO of L’Oréal USA and teaches management communication in the graduate business program at the Fashion Institute of Technology where she serves on the program’s Industry Advisory Board. Stephanie has two young children.

How to Make Pregnancy Work at Work

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