I found out I was pregnant on March 8, 2018. Why do I remember the specific date, you ask? It’s permanently etched into my brain because of the sheer panic that overwhelmed me as I looked at that little pink line. Sure I was happy, but I was also completely terrified.
Actual internal monologue: “I’m going to be responsible for a human in nine months?? But I still barely understand the concept of IRAs! I call my mom to ask whether I can take expired medication! I’ve never seen Star Wars! How can this be allowed?!”
Needless to say, it was a sleepless night.
Now, five weeks away from my due date, I feel at least slightly more prepared (although I’m sure I’ll read these words in a few months and laugh). But what I’ve learned is that pregnancy is a lot more of an emotional process than I expected -- and those emotions just don’t neatly confine themselves to non-work hours.
By and large, HubSpot has been an amazing place to be pregnant, and I’ve been fortunate to find ready support in ways I didn’t even know I would want or need. As I get closer to the next step in my parenthood journey, I took some time to reflect on all the things that helped me get to this point (read: significantly calmer than that first night).
Here are six ways companies can support their pregnant employees, gleaned from my experience.
1) Make the benefits process easy.
About a month after I found out about my pregnancy, I got brave enough to search our internal wiki to see what (if anything) there was about arranging maternity leave, figuring out benefits for my future child -- you know, all that “fun” stuff. I fully expected a mire of opaque paperwork and jargon-filled legal language that would send me into a panic spiral (see above).
Imagine my surprise when the aptly titled “I’m Having a Baby” wiki page popped up, with a brief list of simple instructions on how to kick off the benefits conversation. The first step was to book time with someone in HR so they could take you through what you would need to do.
In that half hour meeting, Amy Kranz on our benefits team walked me through everything step-by-step, and patiently answered all my questions. I walked away thinking “Wow, this is a lot easier than I thought.”
Since then, Amy has been on hand whenever I’ve needed anything in terms of maternity leave or health benefits. It’s weird to say that arranging benefits has been one of the most pleasant experiences in my pregnancy, but it’s true. I can’t emphasize how much stress was taken off my shoulders thanks to such clear documentation and Amy’s help.
Takeaway: Companies who want to support pregnant employees should start by looking at their benefits documentation, and strive to make it as simple and accessible as possible.
2) Create support networks.
I’m fortunate to work on a team with a good number of parents of young children, so I knew I would have people at work to help me navigate pregnancy and new motherhood. What I didn’t know is just how insanely supportive these people would be.
As soon as I started telling my news to some of my colleagues with kids, I was positively overwhelmed by the amount of help that flowed my way. Advice on what baby stuff to buy vs. what to skip. Suggestions on where to buy maternity clothes. Offers to talk about some of the more difficult stuff surrounding pregnancy and parenthood.
The best part? As it turns out, this support network wasn’t just limited to the people I knew personally. Several people encouraged me to join the #moms and #parents Slack channels, and there I found a thriving community of moms and dads across HubSpot sharing articles, tips, and advice, swapping gear, and commiserating about everything from being a working parent to the bizarre things kids say. The Slack channels also pointed me in the direction of our Parents at HubSpot employee resource group, and the regular events sponsored by it, including Take Your Kid to Work Day, HubSpot Halloween, a kite-making activity for families, and panels on issues parents face.
Pregnancy and impending parenthood can be a scary time, but I can honestly say I never once felt alone at work -- and that has made a huge difference.
Takeaway: Create communities where parents and parents-to-be can share openly about their experiences and seek support (they need it!).
3) Set up mother’s rooms and normalize breastfeeding.
Since getting pregnant, my eyes have really been opened to how unfriendly the vast majority of public places and workplaces are to nursing mothers. It’s absolutely astounding to me that choosing to breastfeed often means having to nurse or pump in a bathroom. In the fraught days of early motherhood, I can only imagine how isolating and stigmatizing that feels.
I went back and forth with the breastfeeding question. On the one hand, I was formula-fed and so was my brother, and I like to think we both turned out okay -- not to mention it was so much more convenient for my working mom. On the other, the health benefits of breastfeeding are well-documented, and I knew HubSpot had mother’s rooms where I could pump at work when maternity leave ended. At this point, I intend to breastfeed, but am open to switching that plan if need be.
It’s odd to say about something so personal, but two things at work were major factors in that decision. The first was really simple: Emily MacIntyre, our team development manager and a working mom, took me on a tour of the mother’s room closest to where we sat. She showed me where everything was and gave me some pro tips that never would have occurred to me if left to my own devices. Just like with Amy and the benefits meeting, that simple 10-minute tour helped make me feel much more confident in my ability to pump at work.
Second, I was granted early access to the mother’s room shared Google calendar, and it was beyond heartening to me to see how many moms were booking pumping as a public event. Laurie Aquliante, a fellow manager on the marketing team, even wrote a wiki post about not making pumping sessions private in order to normalize the realities of breastfeeding at work. Having a community of nursing mothers at work behind me made me feel like, hey, I can this too.
Takeaway: If you don’t have a mother’s room or rooms, make one, and offer tours to mothers-to-be. Take care to ensure pumping at work is normal and accepted.
4) Educate employees on the “are you pregnant?” question.
My husband cannot for the life of him understand why I don’t like to be asked “are you pregnant?” I’ll admit this is a tricky one -- because the truth is, I don’t mind in most situations. Where I do mind is in a room full of people where work is the primary matter at hand.
This only happened to me once during my pregnancy -- at the beginning of a meeting -- which is honestly a lot better than I was expecting. But it still didn’t feel great. It immediately put the room’s focus on me and my health (and what is pregnancy besides a health condition) instead of the task at hand. And when I’m in a work meeting, I want the focus to be on my contributions, not on my health.
Another thing I did not have to deal with (but heard of others who did, unfortunately) was having my pregnancy be “outed” before I was ready. Again, pregnancy is a health condition, and you wouldn’t tell your coworkers about someone’s illness without their permission, right? For this reason, I always appreciated when someone explicitly asked me if my news was public, and if not, who I was comfortable with knowing vs. who I wasn’t.
Takeaway: Start a conversation on the right and wrong ways to talk about pregnancy at work. A good rule of thumb is to treat pregnancy like you would any other health condition -- and when in doubt, ask what the person is comfortable with.
5) Make the unspoken explicit.
I’ve been fortunate to have had a fairly easy pregnancy, which has meant that I’ve been able to operate like normal for the most part. But not everyone is so lucky. The physical symptoms that go along with pregnancy can make functioning -- at work, at home, basically anywhere and everywhere -- next to impossible.
One thing I’ve heard can really help is having honest conversations throughout pregnancy about how an employee would like to be treated at work. For example, during pregnancy, do you want to advance your career and take on new opportunities? Do you want to stick with what you’re doing? Or do you actively want to take your foot off the gas in a few areas? Any answer is acceptable -- what’s not is assuming that a pregnant employee can’t or doesn’t want to handle new opportunities or increasing responsibility. I for one would have been driven insane if I sensed I wasn’t being challenged because I was pregnant, but I’ve also known people who want or need to ease up a bit, and that’s totally fine.
Takeaway: Instead of making dangerous assumptions about how a pregnant employee wants to be treated or what she would like to take on (or not), managers should have a conversation to get on the same page -- and continue talking throughout the pregnancy in case circumstances or preferences change.
6) Offer encouragement.
Like I said, I’ve had a pretty easy pregnancy, but that doesn’t mean I’ve haven’t had days where I’ve felt totally out of it at work, or like I dropped the ball. As someone who’s used to pushing herself and always expecting the highest level of performance, having days where I was 50% (at best) was really hard to swallow.
With that in mind, encouragement from my colleagues -- while always nice -- was especially impactful during my pregnancy. A simple “good job” went a really long way when I felt like I was doing anything but. Of course, patronizing would have been obvious and not as welcome, but people looking to support their pregnant colleagues should know that a deserved piece of praise is as good as gold during a physically and emotionally challenging time.
Takeaway: If you see a pregnant colleague do something awesome, let them know! I can guarantee even the smallest of positive feedback will be extremely appreciated.