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“Well, now I’m stuck at my job,” my friend texted, along with a photo of her positive pregnancy test. She’d planned to leave within the year, but now felt trapped.
How hard is it to get a new job while pregnant? Although it’s illegal to discriminate based on pregnancy, many women I spoke to for this piece feared that showing up to an interview with a visible belly, or even asking about maternity policies, would affect an employer’s hiring decision. Many also worried that a pregnancy could put them at a disadvantage while negotiating salary, owing to unconscious (or conscious) bias on a potential employer’s part.
Timing a pregnancy — or a job switch — is never convenient. However, considering that the median tenure of American employees is 4.2 years per job, there’s a decent chance those two events might coincide at some point, and there’s no right or wrong way to handle it. I spoke to seven women who got hired while expecting, with drastically different experiences.
Emily, 32, branding executive
Months pregnant when hired: 4
Why she was looking: She’d been unhappy for a while and decided not to renew her contract. “My decision wasn’t related to the pregnancy at all, but a lot of people assumed it was, which was kind of insulting,” she says.
Concerns: “Being pregnant gave me more anxiety about leaving because I would have gotten paid maternity leave if I had stayed. But I wouldn’t have been excited to go back to work. It was the right choice.”
Her new job: Before she even left her former role, a new company got in touch and wanted to hire her. She accepted. “I was very up-front about my pregnancy when they first reached out. They sent me a spa gift card and a bottle of Champagne — which, of course, I couldn’t drink. But it showed me that they treat their people well,” she says. “It was clear that they weren’t going to let anything stand in their way of recruiting me.”
Her maternity benefits: One of the company’s incentives to get her onboard was to provide her with parental leave — two months fully paid. “They came across as supportive people who are trying to do the right thing, which goes a long way.”
Grace, 34, social worker
Months pregnant when hired: 1.5
Why she was looking: “My previous job was high-stress, and I wanted to take some time off to figure out my next move. I had also been trying to get pregnant for a while, and as soon as I quit, it happened.”
Concerns: “As a therapist, it’s hard to get hired when you’re visibly pregnant — who wants to assign new clients to a person who’s about to go on leave? It’s not clinically appropriate, in some cases.”
Her new job: She found a listing that seemed perfect, but when she went for the interview, the position had already been filled. Instead, the agency offered her a different job on the spot, and she took it. “I felt like the clock was ticking, and this was my best option,” she says.
How she broke the news: Seven weeks in, right after she started. “We had a staff meeting about someone else’s maternity leave, and it seemed weird to not say anything after that.”
Her boss’s reaction: “She asked if I was planning to come back after the baby, which was unnerving. I told her yes.” Two weeks later, she miscarried. “I had to call my supervisor from the hospital, to cancel appointments, so she knew what was happening. When I came back to work very shortly thereafter, she didn’t really seem to care how I was doing.” Grace began to feel that the position wasn’t a good fit. A few weeks later, she got a phone call from the HR department on a weekend, suggesting that she resign.
Misgivings: “I didn’t regret telling them about the pregnancy — I would have had to tell them about the miscarriage anyway because I was in the hospital. But I do regret accepting the job so quickly, without considering whether it was right for me. I just felt a lot of pressure to get a job as soon as possible.”
Anna, 32, membership strategy lead at a financial-services company
Months pregnant when hired: 6
Her old job: She had run her own consulting business for several years and had no plans to stop. Then, her current company became a client during her first trimester. “I didn’t tell them I was expecting because it was only a three-month contract, for 20 hours a week. My pregnancy didn’t seem relevant,” she says. “Everything I was doing for them was remote, so even when we did video meetings, they couldn’t tell.”
Why she was looking: When Anna and her husband put down a deposit for day care, she realized how expensive the baby was going to be. “I was proud of my own business, and it was going well, but it didn’t give me the kind of financial flexibility that was becoming more important,” she says.
Her new job: Anna loved the work she was doing for her client, and could see a future for herself as a full-time employee of the company. As luck would have it, her boss had the same idea, and suggested it during a phone call that same week.
How she broke the news: Right away. “I knew it would be super awkward if I didn’t mention it immediately,” she says. “My boss was seeing me in person later that week, and the announcement would make itself.”
Her boss’s reaction: She made it clear that it would not affect the hiring decision at all. Anna is also confident that it did not affect her salary negotiations, which she was “very happy with.”
Her maternity benefits: She officially started seven weeks before her due date, and the company is giving her four months off in total —two months of paid leave, plus disability leave and another six weeks unpaid.
Katherine, 31, occupational therapist
Months pregnant when hired: 2
Concerns: Katherine found out she was pregnant between the first and second interviews for her dream job, and kept it under wraps. “It was so early that I hadn’t even told my family yet,” she says. “I did some research on what to do, and the prevailing opinion was to wait until after I had gotten an offer. I told them after I had accepted the job, at the end of my first trimester.”
Her boss’s reaction: “She was thrilled for me, and said, ‘Don’t worry about the details — we’ll sort them out.’”
Her maternity benefits: She knew she wouldn’t qualify for FMLA, so she was banking on six to eight weeks of unpaid disability leave. What she didn’t know was that her job was at stake. Three weeks before her due date, she got an email informing her that she was being “terminated,” per a company policy against letting employees take unpaid time off. “It basically stated that I could take my remaining paid time off — five days — and if I didn’t return to work at the end of those five days with a ‘fitness for duty’ letter from a physician, then I would lose my job,” she says. “I don’t know any doctor who will write a letter like that for a woman five days after she’s had a baby, particularly if she’s had a C-section, which I did.” HR told her that she was welcome to reapply for her position, should she “choose to return to the workforce.”
Misgivings: None. “Looking back, I still don’t know what else I could have done,” she says. “When I told my co-workers what happened, everyone was like, ‘That’s illegal!’ But it turns out that’s not true.”
Even worse: “They also rescinded my invitation to the company holiday party, which was happening a few weeks after I gave birth — I had already RSVP’d, and I was looking forward to seeing all my former colleagues. Then I was told that the party was for employees only. I know it sounds like a small thing, but it seemed particularly heartless.”
Dana, 34, merchandising manager
Months pregnant when hired: 3
Why she was looking: She wasn’t — until a start-up recruited her within her first month of pregnancy. “I didn’t even broach the topic of maternity policies until after I’d gotten a contract, and I couched it in a more general question about a 401(k) and other benefits,” she says. Because the company was young and small, there wasn’t a formal policy yet, and she accepted the job “without knowing what would happen.”
Concerns: “I wanted to keep it a secret for as long as possible because I wanted to prove myself first. I didn’t want to look like I was taking advantage of the company’s benefits before I was able to make a contribution,” she says. This wasn’t easy: “I was very nauseous, and hiding burps a lot. I remember walking into the building and praying that I wouldn’t be sick in the elevator.”
How she broke the news: At five months, after a colleague announced that she was four months’ pregnant. “My colleague’s honesty — and the positive reception she got — made me a little bit more comfortable,” says Dana. “I was still very nervous, but I thought it would look bad if I waited any longer.”
Her boss’s reaction: Better than Dana could have possibly imagined. “When I told her, I was like, ‘I don’t need to take much time …’ and she cut me off and said, ‘Don’t be silly. We will give you three months paid.’ I couldn’t believe it. I was so relieved that I didn’t even have to ask.”
Jennifer, 30, digital marketing director
Months pregnant when hired: 3
Why she was looking: “I left my previous job without having a new job lined up. It was something I’d been planning for months, but it was still scary. I just wanted to reset and take some time to decide what I wanted to do next.” She and her husband had also been thinking about starting a family, but she hoped to get a new job first.
When she found out: “I had an interview two hours after I took the pregnancy test. I thought I was going to lose my mind. I took a shower, went to the meeting, and told myself I would process it later.”
Concerns: Her timeline felt tight, and she wanted to lock something down as soon as possible. When talks with one company got serious, she didn’t tell them until after she received an offer from HR. “I didn’t want it to impact my ability to negotiate anything,” she says.
Her maternity benefits: Upon three months at the company, she became eligible for their paid-leave policy. “That worked for me, because I was only three months’ pregnant when I took the job. It feels like I hit the jackpot.”
Her boss’s reaction: A little bit weird. Right after she started, her boss said she was disappointed that Jennifer hadn’t shared the news earlier in the process. “I think it came from a good place — she wanted me to know that it wouldn’t have affected her hiring decision — but it left a strange taste in my mouth,” says Jennifer. “I still wouldn’t have done anything differently.”
Sarah, 35, production director at a start-up
Months pregnant when hired: 7
Why she was looking: “My previous job seemed like a very female-friendly company that was supportive to women — until it wasn’t,” she says. When she got pregnant, her maternity leave became a point of contention. “We didn’t have an HR department, and I didn’t have any security or guarantee that I would get paid leave at all. It was a stressful and scary time.”
How she broke the news: She was already visibly pregnant when she started looking, but her initial interviews were all conducted over the phone. Once talks with several companies progressed, she told them: “I knew that at some point I would be going to an in-person interview, and it was clear that my pregnancy hadn’t happened yesterday.”
How potential employers reacted: Positively, but she’s sure it affected her candidacy for a few roles. “Obviously, no one said as much, but I could read between the lines,” she says. “One company was recruiting me aggressively, and all the interviews were promising. Then, when I went into the office and met with the CEO, he looked at my belly and said, ‘So, why are you looking for a new job now?’ I knew right then that I wasn’t going to get an offer.”
Her maternity benefits: “Even at seven months’ pregnant, when my belly was literally touching the table in front of me, I didn’t ask about maternity policies. But my current company was very clear that they offered three months’ paid maternity leave because it’s something that they’re proud of.” Even so, she didn’t think the policy would apply to her until they made an official offer. “I honestly didn’t expect it. It was unbelievable,” she says. “For me personally, it meant a lot, but it also showed me and the rest of the company how much they value their people.”
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