Poncho mia: Plan career before baby
I am pregnant. Due on June 21.
The last time I had a baby was not a great moment in the history of gender discrimination in America. For one thing, as soon as I announced I was pregnant, my editor at a business magazine fired me and recommended that I "try writing for women's magazines."
I had been riffed from my corporate job right before I got pregnant, so I found myself job hunting when I was five months along. No one mentioned the pregnancy in the interviews, (after all, it would be illegal) but I gave new meaning to the phrase "elephant in the room." And why, really, would anyone hire a pregnant woman when there surely are other qualified people who would not take maternity leave?
What I learned from that pregnancy was that there is no good time in one's career to get pregnant because there are so many things you cannot control.
But there are some things you can control. For this pregnancy, I have organized my life better so I can work at my home while I eat ice cream, wearing giant maternity pants.
During my book auction I went from publisher to publisher hiding a three-month pregnancy under a very hip poncho, selling myself as an author who could get the book written quickly: "By June 1" I'd say. And the publishers always said, "Great." No one said, "Why? Are you pregnant?"
I finally told my agent right before I accepted the winning bid. "I want to make sure I'm not doing anything dishonest by hiding the pregnancy," I told her.
Before I tell you what my agent said, let me say that I would never advise anyone to tell a perspective employer about a pregnancy. You are under no legal obligation to disclose this information, and it can only hurt your negotiations.
That said, more than one woman has written to me that she feels guilty hiding the information. And I have to admit that I had that guilt, too.
But my agent said, "By all means, don't tell anyone yet!" She said, "Congratulations!" and "You have a right to get pregnant and work too!" I loved my agent as much for her reaction to my pregnancy as I did for her selling my book.
Then reality set in. A TV agent wants to represent me, but he can't work with me until I'm not pregnant. He doesn't want to tell me this himself, so my agent tells me.
"In July?" I ask.
"No," she says, "When you lose the weight." (I've gained 40 pounds, and I'm not done.)
But here's my point. Pregnancy is always a career problem, but I was able to get myself into a situation where I would not be fired for it. (Yes, it's illegal, but it happens all the time.)
For those of you who are trying to plan, flexibility is important. The more flexibility you have, the better. But it's the kind of thing you have to build into a career way before the day you conceive. Essentially, I have been planning my current pregnancy ever since I got pregnant the first time– three years ago– and realized that starting a plan in the first month is about two years too late.
Pregnancy planning for careerists should begin before you even have a partner, let alone conceive. But most of the women who contact me about pregnancy planning are already pregnant. And to you I say, the worst thing I ever did was think I could job hunt while I was showing, and the best thing I ever did was buy a poncho.