Pregnant and Awesome: Working mums share their stories in solidarity

Are pregnant women in top professions taking too many personal risks that endanger themselves and their unborn child ? Do we need saving from ourselves?

Dr Sam Decombel is a high-flying professional, a successful entrepreneur with two companies under her belt and a PhD in Genetics. A few months ago, she was invited to speak at a conference about science and entrepreneurship in Brussels. Dr Decombel gladly accepted the invite and, knowing that she would be seven months pregnant by that point, requested that she travel by Eurostar. As the date drew closer, she was put in touch with the European Commission, who would be paying for her travel. She explained to her new contact that she was seven months pregnant and received this response:

‘’Our colleagues from the European Commission are not very enthusiastic to take a risk for your health making you travel to Brussels at the late stage of your pregnancy’’

She asked them to reconsider their decision with a carefully thought-out response, which they didn’t bother to reply to.

She had been bumped because she had a bump.

However, she wasn’t about to take this lying down. She used Social Media to express her anger and frustration, and to demand an official response from the European Commission as to why they would revoke her invite despite her enthusiastic acceptance of their invitation, posting her response on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/p/-qphViRv5S/)

The whole incident underscores a plethora of ongoing cultural challenges that women face if they choose to have children. The notion that a woman changes from the point of conception is inherent in our society. It’s not entirely wrong, of course: we do change during pregnancy — we’re growing another human being inside our own body! — and not only do we change physically, the body we once knew changes beyond recognition, but we sometimes also have to adapt to fluctuating mental states, too. However, being pregnant does not make us lazy, it does not mean we should stop having any kind of social life, it does not render us incapable of doing our jobs and it certainly does not mean that we suddenly lose control of our ability to make our own decisions. The response by the European Commission revealed a greater issue, that they believed Dr Decombel was not capable of making a considered decision about her own welfare. Was it that pregnancy had affected her ability to think rationally? Or do pregnant women need others to tell them when they are pushing themselves too hard?

I am quite sure no malice was intended. The group of people who decided to revoke her invitation to speak clearly thought making this journey whilst pregnant was risky. However, by taking that choice out of her hands they incapacitated her, decided that she is not capable of deciding what might be risky for either herself or her baby. Would the European Commission have revoked their invitation to speak if they had found out she had a disability? I sincerely hope not. However, it is clear that they view Dr Decombel as having a disability of sorts, despite her informing them that her pregnancy was low risk.

Thankfully Dr Sam Decombel’s story has set twitter on fire over the last few days as others rush to counteract these pregnancy stereotypes via a brilliant new hashtag #7monthsawesome (invented by Dr Karen James), where women are proudly stating what they achieved whilst pregnant. The hashtag is the antithesis to my campaign, Pregnant Then Screwed, a place for women to tell their painful stories of pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

#7monthsawesome is a defiant response from women who are only too aware of how systemic pregnancy discrimination really is; a collection of positive stories demonstrating how women are capable of incredible successes and accomplishments whilst simultaneously creating new life. Proving that healthy pregnancy is far from a disability.

The message is clear: stop making assumptions about pregnant women and do not underestimate us. Our bodies may be performing an extraordinarily challenging task, but we are perfectly capable of continuing to be awesome in many other ways at the same time.