When Martha Shaughnessy found out she was expecting her second child, the 38-year-old communications specialist kept it to herself for months. “I wasn't sure how [talking about it at work] was going to go,” she tells Glamour. The exchange went worse than she—and even you—can imagine.
"Well f—k you, bitch! What am I supposed to do now?” her boss, with whom Shaughnessy had only worked for a few months, joked. But his sexist humor fell flat. “I could tell he was trying to be funny, and build on a jocular tone we'd established. [But] I was dumbfounded and didn't respond right away,” she admits. He soon caught on to Shaughnessy’s less-than-pleased reaction, and “changed to an effusive congratulations—talking about how being a dad was his biggest accomplishment and most important role,” she says. “But the very clear message that I was an outsider in an old boys' club had been established. It never left.”
Unfortunately, a lot of women are afraid to reveal their pregnancies at work because they have heard these kinds of nightmare scenarios. Bosses (and not just men) sometimes cling to old, incorrect stereotypes that a pregnant woman just can’t hang at work, and that after she welcomes her new bundle of joy into the world, she won’t want to work at all.
“It’s no shocker that women continue to face stereotypes in the workplace,” says Heather Huhman, Generation Y career expert and founder of Come Recommended. “A major stigma is that when women have children they will be less productive or more distracted employees.” Maybe worse, she says, “Thanks to this stigma, women fear being overlooked for projects or promotions that come up before their maternity leave.”
So what’s a pregnant, working woman to do? Tempting as it may be, you can’t exactly hide your pregnancy forever. Neither can you live in fear. Instead, here’s your game plan.
While there’s no set time to spring this news on your boss, career coach Hallie Crawford recommends waiting until you’ve reached your third trimester. That way, “you will have had some time to think about your future plans, and look over your company’s maternity leave policy,” Crawford points out. Of course, this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. “If you have a more open relationship with your boss—and he tends to be very supportive—you may be able to tell him or her sooner,” Crawford says. “If your projects are cyclical, you may want to wait until after your latest project is complete before announcing the news.”
Greysi Gonzales, a 38-year-old web developer, waited until her third month of pregnancy to break the news to her boss. “Even though he was always nice to me, I got a scary feeling about what he would say,” she tells Glamour. “But it turned out well; he was happy for me.”
Of course, Gonzales’ supervisor might have been happy because his employee promised to continue to be a stellar worker. (And that’s a move all pregnant employees should make.) “Let your boss know you are still committed to your job and your work assignments,” Crawford says. “Tell him your plans for completing your projects, who could handle your assignments while you're out, and what you plan to do during maternity leave and after.”
That’s exactly what 28-year-old customer support manager Tiffany Barry did when she brought up her pregnancy to her boss, and he couldn’t have been more pleased. “I let my boss know that I'd been thinking about any scheduling accommodations I might need for doctor's appointments and my timeline for submitting my leave information, including how I would delegate my responsibilities while on maternity leave,” she says. “I wanted my boss to feel confident in me rather than feel as though he'd just been handed a bundle of logistics to work out.” It worked. “My boss was overjoyed,” she says. “He immediately congratulated me and asked how I'd been feeling so far. He then talked me through some of the resources our company offers that I might not be aware of, went over what my maternity leave would be like, encouraged me to continue planning how I would prepare to leave in the fall, and offered to help in any way. I was instantly relieved and felt as if I had a support system.”
After you tell your boss or direct supervisor, you can open up to your coworkers, Crawford says. “You should also assure them you are committed to the team, and will still be giving it 100 percent,” Crawford says. Beyond that, whatever you divulge about your pregnancy—or keep strictly to yourself—at work is totally up to you. “Pregnancy in itself is a very intimate subject,” says Huhman. “Some women are more open about personal details than others.”
Remember: Even if you’re OK with gushing over all the intimate details of your pregnancy, not every one of your coworkers wants to hear them. “Use your best judgement when deciding what to share with coworkers,” Huhman advises. “If people seem to shy away when you open up, take your discussion aside to share with your closest coworker friends.”
Lastly, even if you’re not the one to break the news—as in, your belly tells the story before you do—take heart with Katie Bell’s story. The 30-year-old publicist found herself on a trip with her boss, hiding her morning sickness and sneaking saltine crackers in the bathroom because she wasn’t ready to tell her boss her big news. “I was worried because it was a busy season, and I wasn’t sure what she would say professionally, even though I knew she personally would be thrilled for me,” Bell tells Glamour. “But once we were sharing a hotel room, I felt a sense of peace about it.” Tired of hiding, Bell let the news slip as they sat in the hotel room together. “She was over the moon happy,” she reveals, “and I was so relieved.”
More from GLAMOUR:
Here’s How Long It Takes for Your Vagina to Go Back to Normal After Having a Baby