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February 20, 2024

June 28, 2023

Navigating Working While Pregnant: Finding Our Footing and Embracing the Changes on Our Journey

E:
179
with
Stephanie Kramer
Author

What You'll Learn

  • Changing the Way We View Pregnancy at Work
  • The 5 Principles of Navigating Pregnancy at Work
  • Coping with our Current Season of Life
  • The Phases of Pregnancy at Work
  • Breaking the Stigma of Pregnancy at Work

Between physical symptoms, wondering when to share, and juggling emotional changes, working while pregnant can feel overwhelming. But we can learn how to find our footing and navigate the changes that come our way.

Today, I’m joined by Stephanie Kramer, author of Carry Strong: An Empowered Approach to Navigating Pregnancy and Work to discuss how working while pregnant impacts us and how to cope with the changes. 

Working While Pregnant Wasn’t Easy

I remember when I first got pregnant. It seemed like my life changed in an instant. And yet, I felt like I couldn’t tell the people I worked with every day. 

It was such a surreal feeling to sit at my desk and harbor this massive life change as a secret, fighting down morning sickness in the process. 

I didn’t know what I should share, or when I should share it. I didn’t know how to keep functioning as if I was calm, cool, and collected while battling pregnancy symptoms. And I didn’t know how to find the balance in my priorities or cope with the journey into motherhood that I was already starting. It was a difficult time. 

Many of us endure this period that can be really difficult, both before we announce our pregnancy at work and after. We’re not sure where our priorities are supposed to lie. We’re impacted mentally, emotionally, and physically.

And we’re facing difficult situations, ranging from pregnancy loss, miscarriage, or even just the preparation and the adjustment in our work environment. 

So when I heard about Stephanie’s book, Carry Strong, which teaches how to navigate the complexities of working while pregnant, I was intrigued. I wish I would have had that resource available to me back then. 

Stephanie wrote the book to bring this issue to light that many of us are dealing with behind closed doors. I couldn’t wait to hear her unpack her principles for navigating the changes that come during working while pregnant.  

Changing the Way We View Pregnancy at Work

Stephanie pointed out that navigating pregnancy at work can be a struggle personally. In the last few years, there’s been an encouragement for people to bring their whole selves to work. And yet, when we’re pregnant we often can’t, or don’t want, to do that. It can take a tremendous amount of energy to cover up a big change in our lives. 

As a society, we often view pregnancy as a barrier to our careers. Moms feel that they must hide or compensate for their pregnancies. They worry that their career growth and job performance will suffer. And they don’t always know how to fulfill both roles—working and growing a human. 

As a society, we often view pregnancy as a barrier to our careers

Stephanie believes in flipping the script and encouraging confident conversation about this transition, allowing us to find comfort, celebrate, and approach the change in a more positive way. 

The 5 Principles of Navigating Pregnancy at Work

In her book, she dives into five “carry strong” principles to navigate work and pregnacy—perspective, balance, community, communication, and identity. 

These principles are important, beyond pregnancy as a moment, in the way we approach work and life in general. 

Perspective

One of the areas we can start to move the needle in how we handle working while pregnant is to shift our perspective. 

Stephanie said that if we always approach the topic with a viewpoint of pregnancies as the career killer, we’re carrying an unecessary burden—even before we become pregnant. But changing our perspective and understanding that pregnancies and our careers are able to co-exist is an unburdening. 

Balance

We often think of balance as somehow seamlessly navigating life and work in equal parts. In reality, balance means that there are times when one area has to take precedence over the other. 

Viewing work and life as a seesaw isn’t realistic. Instead, we can understand that both have their seasons—our priorities and our focus are ever-shifting, and that’s okay. 

Our priorities and our focus are ever-shifting, and that’s okay

Stephanie pointed out that if we constantly chase “balance,” we expend a lot of unnecessary energy. But if we accept the ebb and flow, we can free ourselves from striving for something unattainable.  

She said that instead of having FOMO (fear of missing out) at work or at home, we can embrace COMO (certainty of missing out). If we’re at work, we might be missing out on that particular moment at home, and vice versa. But we might be doing something awesome and amazing in that moment. We need to give ourselves permission to feel empowered in the fluidity. 

That’s not always easy to do. We experience working mom guilt or might feel frustrated when we have to choose between what we want to do and what we have to do. But shifting our mindset and giving ourselves allowance to let our priorities and focus change from moment to moment or day to day can help us let go of some of the guilt. 

It can also help to be mindful about how we approach conversations with other people or with other children about work, life, or taking time for ourselves. 

For example, when she goes for a run, she tries not to fall back on language like “Oh I have to do this” or “I’ll miss you.” Instead, she says, “I’m going to run so I can get strong because I like to be strong.” This can help reinforce for our children that it’s okay to take time for themselves or to take care of themselves. 

Sometimes, we have to reframe our thinking in terms of what we would tell other people—our friends, or our children. Would we want them to feel guilty for self-care or for taking a work trip that helps them grow their careers? Or would we encourage them?

Community

Stephanie said that we can think about the people we confide in and listen to as a board room of advisors—we need to be choosy about who sits on that board. Sometimes people are defaulted in or self-selected—family, acquaintances, and co-workers. But that doesn’t mean we need to listen to how they weigh in on our lives. 

We can select our own board by determining who to listen to and seek advice from. Consider the people around you and ask yourself: 

Does this person align with my values?

Do they align with my perspective on parenting?

Do they align with the goals I have for myself and for my family? 

It can be helpful to shut out the other voices and limit conversation about pregnancy and work to our trusted board members. 

Stephanie pointed out that it’s also okay to re-evaluate and change our board, constantly curating our trusted inner circle based on where we are in life. Our values, our outlooks, and our needs change over time—and our board can change to reflect that. 

Communication

The way that we communicate, both to our board and to those who are not on our board, matters. 

Stephanie pointed out that a big part of communication is advocacy. Think about what you want to say, what’s important to you, what you need, and how you can communicate it. This is always important, but it’s especially crucial during pivotal life moments, like working while pregnant, returning to work, or parenthood.

She also said that it’s important to remember that communication isn’t just about talking—it’s also about listening. Think about how we are listening to those who are asking for help. Are we tuning into what they need? 

We can ask others what they need from us (Do you need a mentor? Do you need an ally? Do you need me to do something or just to listen?) This can be a valuable part of communication, and of giving permission to others to ask for their needs. 

Identity

Stephanie said this component is often the trickiest—identify is difficult to describe or understand. We all go through changes in identity when we become moms, but it’s not the same for everyone. 

We all go through changes in identity when we become moms, but it’s not the same for everyone. 

For some of us, it feels like the flip of a light switch. For others, it’s a gradual transition of matrescence (becoming a mom)

Our identity changes also include our shifts in purpose. It can be hard to reevaluate our purpose and carve new pathways for ourselves. 

After becoming pregnant or having a baby, we often have to reconsider what we want, where our passions lie, what our values are, and what serves us. It takes a lot of open-mindedness, reflection, and consideration. 

Stephanie recalled the moment she was getting dressed to go back to work after having a baby. She stared into her closet, trying to decide what to wear and figure out who she even was. She was leaving her baby, rushing to get ready, and feeling big emotions with that—and yet she was also thinking about her career and what she wanted to achieve.

It can feel uncomfortable to go through these big identity changes. We might have always felt very career-focused and rigid in our priorities and goals, and adjusting to another part of our identity can be unsettling. 

Coping with our Current Season of Life

When we’re navigating these big changes, it can be very helpful to remember that this is a season. Our lives will never return to how they were before we had kids. We’ll always have new priorities, new responsibilities, and new challenges. But over time, they adjust and things settle. 

If you feel grief over your old identity or you feel as if you’ve lost a part of yourself, know that the season will change and you will regain capacity and start to reclaim pieces of who you were. 

It can be freeing to know that with this identity change comes the chance to let go of pieces you are done with and create new pieces as well. The shifts can be jarring, but they can also be freeing. 

As we find our footing in letting our priorities ebb and flow and embracing what we are focusing on in the moment, we can start to let go of perfectionism, expectation, guilt, and rigidity. 

Stephanie pointed out that we can learn to give the right level of effort to the right things rather than trying to overperform on everything. This can free up space and energy to focus on what’s most important. 

We can learn to give the right level of effort to the right things rather than trying to overperform on everything

There might be times when we have meetings and deadlines that occupy our brain space. But there will be other times when family is our first focus. There might be medical issues that arise or important events for our children. And while we can’t do everything 100% all the time, we can carve out focus for what’s right in front of us. 

The Phases of Pregnancy at Work

Stephanie believes that the world of working while pregnant can be divided into five phases, each with their own distinct challenges: 

BTTC—Before Trying to Conceive: 

Often, we might not think about parenthood before we are on the brink of it. Maybe it doesn’t play a hand in our career choices or the path we choose. But for many of us, it does. Some people might make decisions on education and career with future parenthood in mind. 

Young women often feel pressure to have early discussions about family, career, when they want to get married or engaged, and how they shape their job trajectory based on it. This pressure can be steeped in gender norms, but Stephanie pointed out that for people who do want families down the road, considering the impact of parenthood early on can be empowering. 

TTC—Trying to Conceive

Moms might be surprised by how big of an impact this phase can have at work. Even if you’re just thinking about ovulation timing and preoccupied, this can take up a lot of brain space. 

The Hush: When You Find Out You’re Pregnant

This is when you know you’re pregnant but not yet ready to share. This can feel like a powerful, precious secret. You might choose to share right away, or you might hold onto the information for a long time. 

You also might be navigating a lot of emotions—excitement, fear, even grief depending on your journey. 

And if you choose to hold onto the secret, you have to consider how to hide your symptoms and physical changes and how to compartmentalize. 

The Push: Public Pregnancy

Once you are ready to share the news, you enter into a new phase. This can come with a lot of changes at work in relation to expectations or interactions with other people.

Post Push: Anticipating the Return

Stephanie pointed out that there are some amazing resources about returning to work, but that the anticipation while you’re still pregnant at work can often leave moms feeling lost. But there are ways you can access resources during this time as well. 

You can ask for a review of what the process will look like before you go on leave, so that you feel prepared far before you face the situation. 

In Stephanie’s book, she walks through how to apply the five “carry strong” principles through each of these five stages of working while pregnant. 

Breaking the Stigma of Pregnancy at Work

Whether pregnancy is something you’ve always wanted and dreamed of, or it is something that happened spontaneously, navigating the changes that come with pregnancy at work can be overwhelming. 

Navigating the changes that come with pregnancy at work can be overwhelming. 

It becomes even more complicated if you experience loss or are journeying through infertility. 

There is a longstanding expectation and stigma in these situations that leave us feeling isolated and alone. But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

We can find our own way to navigate these changes, to share (or not share) to our level of comfort, and to embrace the shifts that we encounter along the way. 

Stephanie believes that it’s important to move the needle, break away from the stigma, and give permission to moms to acknowledge this period of time and the challenges that come with it. 

If you’re navigating working while pregnant and need support, our mom therapists are here to help! Book a FREE 15 minute consultation today!

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Tags:

Work life balance, Return to work

Stage:

Pregnancy, Postpartum

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OUR GUEST

Stephanie Kramer
Author

Stephanie Kramer is the Chief Human Resources Officer at L'Oréal USA. She teaches management communication on the graduate business program at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and serves on the program’s Industry Advisory Board. Releasing her new book CARRY STRONG: An Empowered Approach to Navigating Pregnancy and Work, Stephanie helps mothers embrace their personal and professional power during this time of dramatic change. Stephanie has two young children.

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.
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