I told my boss I’m pregnant and it was weird and awesome

Aug 10 2015 Published by under academia, bosses, communication styles, empathy, motherhood

I was really nervous about telling my boss I’m pregnant. I have a great boss, and I was pretty sure it was going to be fine, but I still dreaded the moment. First, it’s just a difficult thing to bring up, as conversation (especially at work) never really leads into the topic. Second, as I’ve mentioned before, I was afraid that I would be representing women in an unflattering light, confirming sexist beliefs that we are more likely to ask for leave time, or put life outside of lab before work, and that that’s a bad thing. I was afraid of changing in my boss’s eyes from ‘promising scientist I’m training’ to ‘postdoc who’s going to stop producing data’ (though hopefully that would at least become ‘promising scientist I’m training who’s going to stop producing data for a short time due to normal life events’).

I read a little bit of advice on talking to your boss about this announcement. I originally planned on following some of it, such as knowing your rights/contract, and going in with a plan about how you could manage your projects and transitions. And even though I prepared those things, in the moment, I ended up taking a different route. I think it was because I was feeling so defensive, like I had to prove I was still a worthwhile trainee. I chose the tactic I’ll call ‘I really am still the person you hired and I’m going to pursue everything we’ve discussed for research and career planning and I’m going to make all this my priority‘. Which is ridiculous for a number of reasons. But that’s what I did – I basically word-vomited my plan for the next 6+ months regarding timing, grant writing and planning my career.

Aside from congratulating me, my boss did two awesome things in response to my weird need to prove I still cared about my future career. First, he followed my lead and talked about the things that I (apparently) wanted to talk about. He didn’t bring up leave time or money or replacing me on projects. He responded to my proposed timing for submitting a transitional grant application and we discussed my career goals. And it actually felt good. I at least convinced myself that I was driven to push forward on my career transition goals, and it made me feel better and in a less vulnerable position to have that be the center of the conversation.

Second, he said (I’m paraphrasing), “I will be happy to talk with you about whatever you want during this time, but I won’t bring anything up or push you to share. I know that a parent’s mindset and priorities can change a lot, in unexpected ways during this life-changing transition, and you can always discuss that with me.” [I’m actually tearing up as I type this, but I think it’s mostly the hormones.] I mean… you couldn’t ask for better or more appropriate emotional support than that from a boss, right?

I know that I’m lucky. Even though I still have to have that other difficult conversation about leave time and money, I know it’s going to be amiable and most likely turn out the way I hope. I wish that everyone could have as considerate a boss as mine, but perhaps the best we can do is spread the word on good stories of support like this and shape the minds and reactions of bosses now and in the future.

4 responses so far

  • I-75 scientist says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I have a different perspective having had 2 kids at start of grad school and 2 more during, then many when it comes to kids and lab life. But being a guy, it really made me aware how much harder it is for women. With 4 kids, the amount of extra effort/cost was probably equal to my female lab mate who had only one. Going forward as a new PI I've been trying to figure out the best way to support the women that will work for me if/when they get pregnant. This seems like a pretty good reponse. Congrats and good luck going forward.

    • sweetscience says:

      I-75 scientist, I'm so glad to hear that you're considering this issue unprompted! I'm sure that thoughtfulness combined with your own experiences will make you well-prepared to support your trainees/employees. Thanks, and good luck to you too!

    • sel says:

      I-75 scientist,
      Just curious, what does your wife do, is she a scientist as well? From what I've heard, once you've got more than 3 kids, one of the parents is a full-time parent, unless the couple is well-off enough to afford a nanny.

      • I-75 scientist says:

        My wife is a middle school teacher. She taught up until we left for my PD position. We had planned for her to take that 1st year off. Cashed out her retirement and had profit from sale of house to carry us. Ha! Little did we realize we moved into one of the worst areas for hiring teachers, particularly those with a MS & lots of experience. She ended up "staying home" by default. I say that b/c she had to volunteer lots of hrs at kids school for us to afford that, and also worked 2nd shift for a company that graded state school tests. Oh, and she freelanced a bit for Patch writing local news. Last year moved w/ PI to new Uni, which had much better job opportunities for her. She worked last 18mo as a graduate program assistant. Next week she's going back to teaching at a local school. Honestly, though, while it was really hard when they were young, it so much easier now. Oldest is a HS Sophmore. Don't pay for babysitters, all kids are in school, and only have to pay for after school care for two. It's not necessarily a path I would recommend, but honestly I feel staring a TT position with parenting somewhat under control is much less stressful

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