I’m a 39-year-old middle manager, and I’ve always been openly ambivalent about the idea of having kids. I think that most of my colleagues have reasonably assumed by now that it’s just not on my to-do list! My husband and I haven’t really been trying, but we’ve been cautiously open to the idea and not trying not to, so … I was recently surprised to have a positive pregnancy test, and I’m starting to feel a little green around the gills. Yay?
Assuming that all goes well (I am aware that my age makes this somewhat high-risk), when and how do I tell people? Do I call a meeting to tell all of my direct reports at once (that seems self-centered and weird), or make a point of telling people individually, or just tell the office busybody and let it leak out from there? And do I tell my own boss before or after I tell my reports?
To make things a little more awkward, my boss and I have joked and bonded in the past about the joys of being child-free (she is in her early 40s and doesn’t have kids either), so there is a small part of me that thinks it might feel like a betrayal that I’m breaking up our little club (that’s surely in my own head — she’s a kind and reasonable person).
Any other thoughts on the timing or etiquette of making these disclosures, when the appropriate time comes, will be appreciated!
Some basics: wait until your second trimester (unless you can’t — more on that in a minute), tell your boss first and then your team, and don’t feel like you need to have your maternity-leave plans set in stone when you do.
Let’s go through these one by one.
1. Wait until your second trimester, unless you can’t.
Most women wait to announce their pregnancies at work until they’re through the first trimester, simply because of the risk of miscarriage during that time. You might also have other reasons you want to wait — for example, if you’re expecting a raise or a promotion, you might prefer to wait for that to go through before you make your announcement. It’s illegal for your employer to factor your pregnancy into considerations of raises and promotions, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, even unconsciously, and it’s legitimate to decide you don’t want to wonder if it impacted your boss’s thinking.
However, in some cases, telling your boss sooner can make sense. If you’re having particularly awful morning sickness, for instance, it might make your life easier to discreetly let her know what’s going on (while asking her to keep it to herself for the time being).
2. Tell your boss first.
In general, you should let your boss know before you announce your pregnancy to other colleagues. Because your maternity leave will affect your work and your team, your boss has a legitimate interest in hearing it from you first rather than through the grapevine. Plus, if you tell other people first and the news starts to spread, your boss may understandably feel awkward asking you about it, but just as uncomfortable about not being able to begin planning for your absence.
If you work in the same office, tell your boss face-to-face. (Otherwise a phone call is fine.) When you do, keep it brief! Say you have some happy news, make the announcement, and share your due date. It helps if you’re ready to discuss your preliminary thoughts on when you might start and end maternity leave and coverage while you’re gone, but you don’t need to address every detail at this stage — there’s still plenty of time to plan and it’s okay not to be certain of your plans yet.
You say your boss is a kind and reasonable person, so even if she is a little disappointed that the two of you won’t be able to bond over being child-free anymore, she’ll probably know to keep that to herself. If she does say anything weird, awkward, or thoughtless, you can simply respond, “It’s definitely a big change, but we’re very excited!” That’s a good way to nudge her into remembering that this is positive news and that the social contract requires her to respond accordingly. (If she says something weird about it more than once, that’s a different problem and one you might need to address head-on. But since she’s kind and reasonable, hopefully that won’t be the case.)
3. Tell your team next.
You’re right that you shouldn’t call a special meeting just to announce your pregnancy, but do you have a weekly team meeting or any other regularly scheduled time when you gather with all your direct reports? If so, that’s the perfect occasion to announce it. It can be as simple as saying, “I have some personal news to share. I’m pregnant, and due at the end of July. In the coming weeks, I’ll have more info to share about my maternity leave and the plan for coverage, but for now I just wanted to share the news.”
If you don’t have regular meetings with your whole team and there’s no obvious place to do this, you can say it in a team email (if that wouldn’t be weird in your company’s culture) or you can tell people individually. But if you tell them individually, just make sure to talk to all of them within a day or two, so you won’t have a situation where some people know and others don’t, rumors start circulating, and the people you haven’t told start wondering why you haven’t shared the news with them.
4. It’s okay if your plans aren’t set in stone yet.
If you’re not exactly sure yet what your plans are regarding maternity leave, it’s okay to say that you’re still figuring things out. Obviously you can’t keep saying that forever — you’ll want to have a plan in place at least two months before your due date. (And make sure to check for any official deadlines related to setting up your parental leave.) But it’s absolutely fine to make your initial announcement without a detailed transition memo in hand.
Also, if you’re considering not returning to work once your maternity leave is over, it’s best to proceed as if you are returning unless and until you become 100 percent sure that you won’t. Things change, and it’s much harder to announce that you’re staying home indefinitely and then change your mind than it is to change your mind in the other direction (planning to stay but then announcing near the end of your leave that you won’t be returning).
For what to know and do next, read this guide to maternity leave in the U.S.
Order Alison Green’s book, Ask a Manager: Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work, here. Got a question for her? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.