This is not a unique story, but maybe it is one that isn’t told as often as it should be. This is a reflection of my time becoming pregnant (and then not) and pregnant again as a woman working in technology whilst navigating a promotion and accepting a new role.
I was encouraged by a colleague to write this and I’m grateful for their support. My intent is to share a story not openly spoken about and hopefully provide insights that might help someone else. Some people who read this, might be reading a really familiar story and I hope there’s comfort in knowing you’re not alone.
CN: This article discusses miscarriage.
Before the world was flipped on its head due to COVID, my partner and I decided we wanted to start trying for a baby. Career-wise, I was feeling secure in my role as a Senior Platform Engineer and felt I was in a workplace that would support my journey.
My first pregnancy was so exciting and surreal. It was hard not to put expectations on what the journey was going to be like, but in the back of my mind I also knew that a miscarriage was possible. This meant a juggling act between excitement and managed-expectations. My first pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage at 7 weeks and was devastating, both emotionally and physically. I didn’t realise I’d be knocked around so much from my body’s natural reaction and the emotional processing of what happened.
In response to my first miscarriage, I let my manager know what had happened and quietly took 1 week off work to recover. My manager’s response was of concern and support. There was no pressure to return back to work by a set date and it was left up to me to decide when I was ready to come back.
My strength in my honesty and vulnerability meant I gave my manager the opportunity to offer this support. I believe the courage to share this level of personal detail of one’s life is both hugely beneficial, but also not always the accepted norm. If you don’t feel comfortable being open and vulnerable at work it means missed opportunities for support, growth and role modelling resilience and courage.
It was at this time, I started to learn about just how common miscarriages were. In case you aren’t aware, 1 in 5 (or sometimes reported as 1 in 4) pregnancies result in a miscarriage in the first 20 weeks. What I was going through was considered completely “normal”. This made me think ‘why don’t I know any other people who have had a miscarriage?’ It was clear that it was happening, but people just never spoke about it.
There are a lot of reasons why miscarriage is not spoken about, it could be a feeling of shame or feeling it’s too personal to share. Then I thought about all the people I worked with who now had kids — these were people who potentially experienced what I was experiencing. Who did they tell? Were they supported at work? For something so “normal”, I wondered how many people didn’t feel comfortable sharing their experience and the impact that would’ve had on them and their careers.
A couple of months later, I was pregnant again and had a second miscarriage at 8 weeks. Turns out, having 2 miscarriages was also considered “normal”. This time around, I decided to tell my manager and my immediate team. Here’s what I wrote to them:
Full disclosure, I’ve now had my 2nd miscarriage for 2020. Which is really really lame. They happen in like 1 in 4 or 5 pregnancies, but no one talks about it. So sharing with y’all if it’s not too full on, thus the content warning. You all may even know someone who has had one.
Body is feeling pretty battered and just taking time to heal and do a bit of a mental reset.
I felt a sense of relief telling my team and hoped I was making a difference in normalising the idea of discussing miscarriage. I felt really supported by their response and a level of understanding that was needed for me to heal.
While my mind/body was processing my second miscarriage I was also scheduled to run a virtual fundraising event to 50+ people. I know I would’ve been 100% supported if I chose to opt out of the event. I also know the disappointment of not being part of something I was so passionate about was just a bit too much disappointment for me to handle all at once. So, I showed up.
My situation is not something I would hope for anyone, but the level of strength and resilience I felt to be able to pull off a successful event in the middle of a miscarriage is something not all of us can say they have accomplished. For this, I felt stronger — and little did I know, I was going to need to draw on that strength in the coming months.
The end of 2020 ended with my 3rd (and current) pregnancy. It wasn’t like the movies though. It wasn’t a positive pregnancy test followed by joy and happy tears. It was the potential for more disappointment so my partner and I held back our expectations and treaded carefully.
I was worried that if I had a 3rd miscarriage that my situation would not be considered ‘normal’ any more and more heartbreak was pending. I was worried I’d have to tell work about a 3rd miscarriage and there was a sense of failure associated with this. I felt ashamed that I might have to take more time off work if this pregnancy didn’t work out.
The weeks passed and the pregnancy progressed and my excitement remained subdued. At the same time, a possible new role was looming. Our team at work was going through a restructure and there were Engineering Manager roles that were being created to facilitate the creation of more specialised technical areas. I was very interested in applying for one of these roles, specifically for the Edge Networking team.
At the time I started to prepare in earnest for my application, my morning sickness kicked in. Mine wasn’t the vomit-type, it was more the 24-hour nausea type. That meant no matter what time of day it was, I felt terrible. This affected my sleep and mood quite significantly. I was perpetually tired and miserable. This led to brain fog and I had to draw on my resilience to just get through the days.
I found myself conflicted. I was sick all the time and hiding it from my colleagues and manager. I know that if I told them, they would be understanding and maybe I could work a little less or take time off on the days I felt particularly bad. I also had to consider the fact I would be applying for a new position and I didn’t want to put my application at risk by telling them I was pregnant or mysteriously taking more and more sick days. Even though my workplace showed signs that they would have been supportive, it still felt like it could have been a risk for me to tell them before the application process was complete.
I’ve heard the stories. People who get pregnant and all of a sudden that verbal offer of a promotion is taken off the table. People coming back from parental leave and finding themselves out of a job when they were made redundant during a restructure they weren’t there for. Opportunities missed or omitted. Part time hours limiting people’s career progression. Workplaces haven’t historically been supportive of pregnant people or new parents.
My interview was booked in. The application process couldn’t be over quick enough. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I found myself less productive and doing the bare minimum. People who know me, know that I’m not a ‘bare minimum’ type of person. I’m always looking to challenge myself and grow in my work. This new limited capacity for productivity was demotivating and depressing.
I learnt that morning sickness is made much worse when nervousness is thrown in the mix. So, the day of my interview for the Engineering Manager position was particularly hard. There were tears, self-doubt and even resignation — I can only do as well as I can with how I’m feeling.
I thankfully feed off the energy of other people and I am grateful my interview panel was relaxed. I felt I could be more conversational in my responses to their interview questions, which meant I could be my authentic self — minus the nauseated feelings. I felt it went well.
After what felt like a long wait, I was told I was successful! It was another moment for me where my resilience and strength got me over the line for something that was really hard. This was bigger than a successful interview; it was successfully getting through some really tough weeks of sickness, brain fog and challenging emotions.
My success also came from my network. I’m thankful for my professional/friendship network. Networking has been a game changer for my career many times and this was no exception. My trusting relationships with current and former colleagues helped me a lot. I received encouragement, validation and practical support from these people and I am very grateful.
Supporting and lifting each other up is so important, especially for under represented groups in technology. Women do this so well and without my communities of women in technology, I wouldn’t have achieved what I have in my career. For all those women and amazing allies, I love you and thank you.
Once I signed my contract for my new role, I started to openly talk about my pregnancy. Just in time for my 24-hour nausea to start easing up. By this stage, I’d passed the high-risk stages of pregnancy and started to even allow myself to be excited about it!
Pregnant at work
I’m a pretty open person, so once the ‘bump’ was out of the bag, I’d talk to anyone who would listen about my pregnancy. I could finally openly whinge about being sick and tired, which meant being more open about my needs and managing expectations. I could reach out to people to hear their pregnancy/career stories and learn from them. I also made a very conscious decision to not minimise my pregnancy — this was going to have a direct impact on my career (good and bad) and ignoring that wasn’t an option.
My visibility means more support. It means I won’t be easily ‘forgotten’ while I’m on parental leave — something I fear. It might even give other people strength to be more open about their pregnancies and be more supported in the process. I had even made a visual roadmap for my parental leave so I had a handy link to share with people.
This might make me seem like someone who has it all figured out. This definitely isn’t the case. I’m not immune to the guilt/pressure of being a future working mum. My plan is to take the allocated time for parental leave (at a minimum). Beyond that, it’s completely unknown to me.
Early return to work used to be thought of as harmful to the child’s development, but that has been proven to be false. This article explains how earlier studies that predicted harm to the child were biased by attitudes from the last century about women being the primary caregiver. Here’s another article about the potential long-term benefits of maternal employment. And another. However, I’ve still been surprised to hear comments that reflect this old-fashioned thinking. And despite the fact that I know it’s not true, they’ve upset me, made me feel guilty and doubt myself.
It’s only the beginning…
This is only the beginning of my pregnancy story. I have a whole trimester to get through. A birth. I’ll be a new parent. What I’ve learnt so far is, there are stories like mine everywhere. Some are amazing success stories, but unfortunately a lot of them are stories where people have to work a lot harder when they choose to have a child (whatever that journey looks like). I am grateful to have a supportive workplace and I hope to tell more stories of their support in the future as I learn and grow.
If you can, being open and vulnerable at work can really lead to building a great support network. It takes the pressure off you to take on hard battles by yourself. Resilience and courage are amazing attributes, but we don’t want to constantly be drawing on them. Sometimes we can be vulnerable and be supported and that is just as rewarding.