The economy is tough, but it might be tougher if you’re expecting a child. According to the Department of Labor, women made up 47% of the U.S. workforce and 58.6% of women were labor force participants (Department of Labor, 2010). Women are almost half of the workforce and this illustrates how we’ve evolved since fighting for women’s rights and equality over the decades. Despite our progress one problem still looms, the continued employment of an expectant mother.
In August of 2011 I lost my job as a department manager at a company that I loved. My company was purchased by an international company and there was no room for most of the employees. We all anxiously awaited our meetings with Human Resources before, one by one, we returned to our desks to pack up and have security escort us out of the building. It was an agonizing three month process, one that left me doubting my abilities and my value. I received a paltry severance package and the promise of unemployment compensation. I didn’t want unemployment compensation, I wanted a job, and so I continued to pursue job leads. While waiting for something else I enrolled in college and completed my Associate’s degree in 13 months. I thought my workforce experience, my ability to speak three languages, and my references would assist me in finding employment quickly once I obtained my degree. Apparently I was overly optimistic. I completed my Associate’s degree, continued on the fast-track to obtain my Bachelor’s degree and received a job offer in July of 2012 after almost a year of unemployment. My new company left you feeling as if you were part of the movie Boiler Room, they were almost too good to be true. An above average wage, company lunches each week and a seemingly easy job that related to my degree. I jumped in with both feet and then in early August some telling symptoms arrived: Nausea that lasted all day, extreme fatigue mid-afternoon, and sensitivity to smells in the office.
I knew before I confirmed that I was indeed pregnant and although I was ecstatic to give my 7 year old son a sibling I was also terrified to disclose this information. Having suffered a miscarriage at 12 weeks pregnant in May of 2012 I told only my husband. We were ecstatic but cautiously so, and we agreed that it would be best if I didn’t disclose to my supervisors that I was expecting. Of course it was difficult to keep the news to myself, especially with all those rushes to the restroom in the morning. I still did my job well and arrived each day to work without incident but someone in the office had noticed my frequent trips to the restroom and perhaps witnessed the sounds of my morning sickness; rumors began to circulate. My supervisor began to treat me differently and I couldn’t help but feel targeted. My output and production levels were above our set goals but I was still receiving emails threatening my position if I didn’t quicken my pace. I requested a meeting with my supervisor to discuss the issues and presented my productivity documentation to see if our numbers matched. Our numbers did match and my supervisor confirmed I was hitting my goals before stating he expected more and wanted more. I left the meeting feeling as if my best wasn’t enough. I tried working smarter, then I tried working harder. My boss confirmed I was leading the department in productivity and in the same sentence informed me it wasn’t good enough. I became withdrawn, head down all day every day in an effort to work faster. I was cordial to my co-workers but I didn’t have time to socialize, I was terrified that the job I had waited almost a year to secure would be gone if I didn’t do my job faster. In mid-October this came to fruition, I wasn’t fired but laid off due to a lack off work. Interestingly, I was the only person laid off and this occurred a mere 10 days after I completed my probationary period and received benefits such as medical insurance.
Three months into my pregnancy I again faced unemployment and an urgency to secure employment before I started showing. I had several interviews my first month after being ‘laid off’ but they were the type where an employer stared at your belly trying to decide if you were pregnant or partaking in too much beer and pizza. I was never invited back for a second interview. I utilized staffing services, online job boards, and my local unemployment office. People seemed stunned I wasn’t working, a recruiter told me that my resume was one of the best she’d seen and yet I still couldn’t secure a position. I am now 5 months pregnant and look as if I am carrying a soccer ball underneath my shirt. I’m at the point where sucking in and wearing loose clothing doesn’t work I’m pregnant and terrified. At 28, I expected my pregnancy to be one of joy and anticipation instead I face fear and anxiety. My unemployment ends the end of December and I don’t know how we will make it on only my husband’s income. I haven’t yet bought a crib, a car seat or the first item of baby clothes. My prenatal care can be summed up in my confirmation appointment because I can’t afford private insurance and make ‘too much money’ to qualify for public assistance programs.
I have sent out several letters and made several appearances at local law offices to inquire about an unpaid internship. I’m making an effort to network in my career field while pursuing opportunities that aren’t even in the same realm. Yesterday, after a second cancelled meeting with an attorney who had offered an unpaid internship I came to the realization that as far as employers are concerned I’m disabled. My qualifications, my experience, my educational credentials don’t matter right now, and they won’t for at least 4 more months. It doesn’t matter because I am pregnant and as far as women have come we haven’t come far enough to be professionally accepted while in this state. It’s a problem without a solution and I find that unacceptable. I deserve to be treated like a citizen regardless of a pregnancy but the reality is that in this economy there are 10 more people who aren’t pregnant that make a better fit. They could be less qualified than me but to an employer it doesn’t matter, to an employer it’s about the bottom line and so I continue to struggle. I continue to worry and avoid my creditors and cry over the possibility that the end of my lease here means moving three states away into my in-laws home. But I cannot give up, and so the search continues as futile as it may be and as hopeless as I may feel. My perceptions have changed, I no longer think you can have it all. You can not have a job and a family, instead you may have one or the other.