When I first found out I was pregnant, the last thing on my mind was how to tactfully share the news with my boss. I was more concerned with how I was going to fit a third human being into my tiny house and manage to raise a socially-conscious child with beautiful manners and high self-esteem while America’s Next Top Model and Grand Theft Auto were still out there in the world.
But as my pregnancy progressed, I soon became preoccupied with the inevitable task of sharing the news with my manager. On one hand, telling him would be a relief. I would no longer have to hide the exhaustion that made me want to leave work and climb into bed with a pint of ice cream around 3 PM every day. I could stop whispering “decaf, please!” when we went to get coffee, much to the annoyance of the teenage barista.
On the other hand, telling him—and everyone else in my office—terrified me. Would I be treated differently? Would I be passed up for leadership opportunities or long-term projects?
Like any modern mother-to-be, I consulted a few of the thousands of books and websites recommended to me by friends and family for advice. While some of the guidance was helpful (for example, the pregnancy bible What to Expect When You’re Expecting advises you to learn about your company’s maternity leave policy in advance and read up on your state’s pregnant workers’ rights), other sources seemed outdated and old-fashioned, encouraging women to shift their responsibilities early in the pregnancy to “avoid stress and fatigue” and continue their usual make-up and hair regime to avoid looking “sloppy.”
Fortunately, when I did tell my manager, he was not only thrilled but also very supportive and reassuring (the complete opposite of the way he acted in my hormone-induced dream, in which he told me that my pregnancy was “really a bummer” and forced me to move my desk closer to the ladies’ room).
But I won’t say it was easy. Now that I’ve been through it, here are some concrete tactics for approaching this potentially uncomfortable discussion.
1. Tell Your Boss First. Period.
I was dying to tell my work BFF about my pregnancy. It was all I could do to keep from texting her while the pregnancy test marinated in my urine. But, as much as I trust and love her, I knew she would tell one person. And that person would tell one more, and on and on until the news exploded onto my Facebook timeline.
If, like me, you’re connected socially to your colleagues through Facebook or Pinterest, your boss needs to be the first person to know in your office. No matter how forward-thinking your manager is, he will be miffed if he finds out through the grapevine rather than through a professional conversation with you.
2. Wait Until Your First-Trimester Screen is Complete
Most pregnancy guides shy away from giving any clear timelines for revealing the news. Each pregnancy is different, they say, and some women, like those who find themselves particularly morning sick, might want to tell work early in the pregnancy because it can be hard to hide bouts of nausea. Other women may want to wait as long as possible, until 18-20 weeks, especially if they have a performance review or some other major project coming up.
While I agree that every pregnancy is unique, and while I’m no doctor, every healthcare professional I’ve asked (two doctors and a nurse) and every pregnant woman I’ve consulted (quite a few) have waited until after their first trimester screen (a lengthy ultrasound that checks out the baby’s development and measures the likelihood of birth defects and Down syndrome), and then told their bosses soon after. At this point, you’re at a much lower risk of miscarriage, and you’re (probably) still not showing.
3. Don’t “Break” the News, Share It
I’ve always loved babies, but I’ve never been sentimental about pregnancy. I haven’t fantasized about shopping for maternity jeans or collected items for my dream nursery. But that’s all changed. Now that I’m experiencing it myself, I compulsively check my belly for growth and am dangerously close to needing a Pintervention.
Nevertheless, when I prepared for the meeting with my manager, I felt compelled to qualify my announcement with reassurances that my productivity wouldn’t suffer and that I intend on returning after my maternity leave. In hindsight, while these follow-up comments didn’t hurt, there was no reason to treat my pregnancy like a problem for the office. My manager and director were excited about the news and assured me that we had quite a while to decide on maternity leave logistics.
I realize that every mother may not receive such a positive response, but, regardless of your office culture, you should not feel obligated to frame your impending motherhood as an obstacle or inconvenience. You’ve made this decision, and you’re (hopefully) overjoyed. Don’t feel guilty about being an excited mom-to-be.
There’s no “right” way to tell your manager that you’re pregnant—the pregnancy guides are right about at least that. But if you find yourself getting cold feet, remember that you’re not the first nor the last woman to get pregnant, and it’s something that most employers are well-equipped to handle.
In fact, since I’ve told my team, I’m surprised at how little has changed. Aside from the occasional concerned glance at the size of my lunch, most days my co-workers rarely mention my pregnancy. I’m glad that I told my manager when I did—and I’m infinitely more relaxed now that I’m not carrying a secret, along with a peach-sized fetus, around with me.