Pregnant at Work

What to expect when you're expecting on the job.

Working and Expecting

When I was 10 weeks pregnant with my first son, I kept one appointment that had nothing to do with ultrasounds or blood pressure checks: a job interview. I was skeptical (not to mention queasy!), but the process moved quickly. By the end of that week, I had a job offer in hand -- and an important decision to make. Should I change jobs now? Would my potential new boss still want me if I was pregnant? I agonized, then came clean about my condition.

My potential boss was sympathetic -- and still wanted to hire me. I took a big gulp and took the job. Later, when it came time to discuss maternity leave, I got lucky again. Not eligible for full protection under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a 1993 federal law that mandates 12 weeks unpaid leave and retention of job status and benefits (you have to work at a company for at least a year to qualify), I was at the mercy of my company's informal, between-manager-and-employee policy. They offered, and I accepted, four weeks paid leave, then eight weeks unpaid. Toward the end of that time, though I was sure that I wanted to return (and had to, financially), I also knew I didn't want to go back full-time just yet. So I negotiated again -- and wound up with a three-day work week.

What my story demonstrates is this: First, I was lucky. And second, the fact that "luck" should enter into discussions of maternity leave at all suggests that the whole topic is a huge minefield. FMLA has made a huge difference, but even so, questions surrounding pregnancy, work, and maternity leave can confound women. What are your rights? What should you do? Here, a guide to navigating pregnancy and new motherhood on the job.

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