In 2017, the term “working mom” took on a whole new meaning for me when my water broke with my first daughter at my company’s baby shower. As I beelined out the door to the hospital, I remember staring at everyone’s faces looking a bit terrified. One of our investors gave me a serious look and said, “good luck” with a thumbs up. I think everyone was in shock, including me.
Women are often conditioned to compartmentalize their personal life from their professional life. But that line went out the window when I literally went into labor in a room with my 12 startup teammates.
Flash forward to 2021, and we are all working out of our bedrooms — so the lines are even more blurred! For many friends who are expecting or recently had a baby, it can be hard to communicate with your bosses or coworkers about this life transition. Even though it may be easier to hide that you’re expecting (since many of us are working remotely), you don’t want to wait until your water breaks to share the news.
Many women fear sharing their life-changing news, due to outdated perceptions about our ability to work and mother at the same time. I am not going to pretend that becoming a parent doesn't have a seismic effect on your work life — it does. But for most women, the shift is positive. It forces you to be more efficient, prioritize and focus. Working mothers are an enormous asset to any organization, and you should position your news as a blessing not only to you personally, but to the team professionally.
Sharing this news is a deeply personal choice. But as an employer of so many women, and co-founder of a company created to be a resource for mothers, I want to help normalize this incredible milestone so that, rather than inducing anxiety, it is celebrated and supported both personally and professionally.
Here are the three lessons I learned from my experience:
1. Share news when you feel ready.
With my first baby, I was so excited and having a healthy and happy pregnancy was my top priority. At 20 weeks, I wanted to share the news but debated how. In the start-up world, my investors are my bosses. They had just written us a large check to grow my company, and I was worried that my performance as a leader would be judged. Would I be thought of differently now because I was pregnant?
But I (and they) were all surprised in the best way, offering support and congratulations. Investors or your boss(es) chose you because you are smart and capable and good at what you do. Being pregnant does not change any of that. It’s OK to say you have a doctor’s appointment or if you are not feeling well.
2. Plan well in advance of your due date.
Be sure to talk to your team well in advance of your due date. Find out the parental leave policy and make sure you review questions regarding your benefits thoroughly. Make sure you communicate your maternity leave plan (some companies offer options) with everyone you work with in advance.
3. Create opportunities for your colleagues.
No matter how you may plan, babies arrive on their own schedules ― I certainly learned this lesson! Make sure that you keep your colleagues informed on projects you’re working on and include them well before the big day approaches.
Create opportunities for colleagues while you are on maternity leave, and give them the chance to take on new roles. If you are a manager, work with your direct reports to set them up for success on a big project so that they can stretch their goals. Offer to check in and be a sounding board while you are out, so that they still have your support and guidance without being meddlesome.
Normalizing discussions around pregnancy and maternity leave in the workplace is critical and will become less of a challenge as more and more women lead companies.
Marissa Evans Alden is co-founder and CEO of Sawyer. You can find her on Twitter @mevans1