Job-hunting is never easy. But when you're pregnant and looking for a new job, the stress can be unbearable. Though there are laws meant to protect the interests of pregnant women, it was horrifying to find myself two months pregnant and on the hunt for a new job. In my case, I was particularly anxious since I was applying to positions in Cleveland, a city with one of the highest rates of unemployment, in the male-dominated technology industry, and at startups with as few as five employees, which are not subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act.
But it was unfair of me to place so much pressure on myself, worrying about my growing belly, the decision to tell (or not to tell) prospective employers that I was expecting, and the potential for getting laid off as a result of my status. Looking back, I see so clearly how useless all of that fear was. I only wish I could reassure my past self and share with that ball of nerves the insights I gained through the overwhelming, painful process:
1) It's your news to share.
While some may argue that keeping your pregnancy from potential employers is sneaky, I strongly believe that such personal information is as private as you deem it. Especially during the early months of a pregnancy when the risk of miscarrying is highest, you shouldn't feel obligated to share your personal situation -- with family members, friends, and especially strangers.
When the time does come to let your employer know that you are pregnant (I would advise sometime in your second trimester), don't worry too much (as I did) about how the conversation will go. Simply say something like, "I wanted to share with you the good news that I'm expecting." Most people will react positively to such positive news. If, however, your employer has anything other than a positive response, try to stay calm and keep smiling. Assure your employer of your dedication and share with him or her your post-baby plans for managing your return to work and professional responsibilities with a newborn. Remember, all employers really want are hard working employees who are dedicated to adding value to the organization. Plus they know that everyone faces his or her own unique challenge of balancing their professional and home lives, so why would expectant mothers be any different?
2) Believing in yourself is half the battle.
No matter the job, all employers are looking for the same profile: a dedicated, hard working employee with a positive attitude and the potential to add value to the organization. Whether you are pregnant or not, you can be that superstar, A+ player for which all employers vie. The key when you are expecting is to a) truly believe that your value has not diminished as a result of your expectant status and b) demonstrate your value to prospective employers. In my case, I started by reflecting on my previous experiences. Each time I reviewed my past accomplishments -- both in writing on my resume and orally as I practiced for interviews -- I became more confident in my capabilities and potential. Additionally, as I networked with old colleagues, employers, and professors, I learned what they saw and appreciated in me. It wasn't long before I truly believed (as I should have from the onset) that any company would be lucky to have me regardless of my expectant status.
3) Feel the fear, then do it anyways.
Had someone told me (and my husband certainly did) not to worry so much, I probably would have brushed him or her off (actually, I stubbornly refused to listen). After all, who can just turn off their emotions as if flicking a light switch? The reality was that while I believed in my value and myself throughout (most of) my job hunt, I came awfully close to becoming paralyzed by panic and worry. It took all of my willpower and strength to face my fears each and every day and then continue on with my search as if I had nothing to fear and nothing to lose. Had I not faced my fears, I would have risked distancing myself from wonderful opportunities.
But, there were plenty of bad days too -- days during which I felt suffocated by anxiety and days during which my self-confidence plummeted. During those dismal days, no amount of rational thinking could overpower my brutal emotions, so I forced myself to fake self-confidence and continue the hunt. And surprisingly, no one could tell the difference so long as I smiled and stuck to my strategy of demonstrating my value.
Remember, you are in control of your career path. It's up to you, no matter how afraid or anxious, to advocate for yourself and demonstrate why you are the best person for the job, regardless of your pregnancy. As Sheryl Sandberg said in her book, Lean In try to think about what you would do if you weren't afraid... then do it.