With more and more women entering the workforce and climbing the corporate ladder, you might think that we, as a society, are close to achieving workplace equality. Well, we might be closer than we were a few decades ago, but in my opinion we haven't gained nearly enough ground. Don't believe me? Ask any pregnant person or mom to tell you about the sexist, stereotypical, and otherwise rude comments they heard when they announced their pregnancy at work. I went ahead and asked some moms for you, and their responses were unbelievable, telling, and proof positive that when it comes to equality in the workplace, we, as a society, have a long-ass way to go.
We have a huge cultural problem on our hands, with working women in pretty much every field facing some big challenges. And while a lot of employers say they support working moms and families, some of us moms end up discovering, often times the hard way, that that the people at even the most "family-friendly" employers will still ask pregnant women questions and make comments about their family planning that they would never say to dads-to-be. For example, I've heard the following in office spaces I've shared with men and non-mom coworkers:
"I bet you are going to quit."
"Don't you think it will be impossible to work after having a baby?"
"It's too bad you have to work."
"I could never let some daycare raise my kids."
"Do you think you can really do it all?"
"This is why women shouldn't be managers. It's bad for business."
Please join me in responding to these questions and comments with the following question: WTAF?
And, of course, no one said or asked anything like the aforementioned to my now ex-husband. Even when I was our family's breadwinner, and he worked part-time, no one assumed that he would stay home with our daughter or shamed him for continuing to work after having kids. The moms I spoke with told me similar stories, too, that involved a huge variety of industries, including tech, military, nonprofit, education, retail, healthcare, legal, restaurant, and service industries. These comments are not only hurtful, sexist, and rude, they devalue women and their life choices. In case you need a reminder, that's not OK.
Now, I am not saying that being a working mom should be easy and it's up to coworkers and employers to make it so. Working while parenting is a balancing act, for sure, and working mothers are more than willing to do what's necessary to achieve their goals in and outside the workplace. But when I hear about how other working moms were treated when they announced their pregnancies, and the rude comments they heard as a response, it makes me think that working moms can't win. That the system is set up o make sure we don't win. We have to change the way we view childbearing in our culture, if we want to achieve equality, and that starts from the time someone announces their pregnancy. Read on for examples of what not to say:
"The owner of a business I worked for, when I announced to him personally, said: 'Yeah, HR already told me about your... issue.'
Not only did I feel HR violated my trust, but I wasn't a fan of my pregnancy after infertility being called an 'issue.' Not surprisingly, this place found a reason to force me out of my job, while I was pregnant."
"I am active duty military, and just gave birth to my first child. You wouldn't believe how many people felt compelled to inform me that I'd miss my baby when I deploy in the future."
"I'm a teacher. When I wrote to my headmistress to tell her I was pregnant with my second, she wrote back saying: 'I was sorry, but not surprised, to hear from you that another child is on its way.' Thanks for that."
"Are you f*king kidding me? You barely know this guy. You're not seriously thinking of keeping it are you? What the hell is wrong with you?"
"This was when I worked in IT. With my firstborn, someone said to me, 'Are you going to keep your job?' Yes, because, shocker, between me and my husband, I’m the breadwinner.
With my second born, they asked, 'How much unpaid leave do you plan to take? We’re trying to plan budgets, and it’d be great if you took six weeks unpaid.'
Yeah, guess what? I was planning my budget, too. I was still the breadwinner in our house, so, no, I was not taking any unpaid leave. Besides, they didn't pay me as much as my male counterparts, so I wasn’t able to save for unpaid leave."
"When I was 37 and pregnant with my first, a childless coworker said, 'Oh, I didn't think you were having kids.' I had been posting articles on Facebook about women's reproductive choices being nobody's business, in part because we were struggling to conceive. So, I guess it was just an honest thing to blurt out, but still."
"But you have so much potential."
"'That was fast.' My daughter was born nine months and one day after our wedding."
"I had to tell my boss I was pregnant, because they wanted me to lift heavy stuff. I hadn't planned to tell them yet, but my hand was forced. Initial comment from my boss: 'What did you do that for?'
The abuse started immediately, starting with comments about how much weight I'd put on. From there it was a constant barrage. One day I split my pants bending over and she called everyone in admin out of the office to laugh at me. Another day I had been on my feet almost eight hours with only one 20-minute break, and I braced my hand on my lower back and flexed a little with a grimace. She peered in at me and sneered, 'You don't get to complain. You played, now you get to pay.'
I worked up through the evening I went into labor. 12 hours a day, on my feet. I was never so glad as to tell her on the very last day of my maternity leave that I wasn't coming back. I started my own company and never looked back."
"I had a coworker repeatedly and intentionally creepily call me the 'little mother' my entire pregnancy. The same coworker said that my roundness looked good on me as well. I had many coworkers ask if I liked my 'summer vacation,' and wish they could have a summer break, too, saying I planned both my pregnancies that way."
"Do you plan to have any more? It’s pretty difficult making things work, while you are out on maternity leave.”
"With my first, I was 24. I got asked if it was planned, if I was happy about it, and if the dad was going to stick around. I also heard, 'But, you're so young!'"
"Oh you fertile myrtle. You need to find another hobby.' Never mind my five losses."
"'You started quickly!' When my first was born before our first anniversary, and, 'When are you stopping?' when my twins were born five years later. Now it's, 'Are you going to have anymore?' One can't win."
"You're sending your child to daycare? I could never leave my child with a stranger."
"I’m a stylist. When I became pregnant with my second, I had the worst comments from clients. Somehow they didn’t seem to realize that their hair wasn’t as important as my family:
'Who will cut my hair?'
'Don’t forget that this job should always come first.'
'I hope you don’t plan on cutting your hours.'
'Is your husband okay with you still working?'"
"'I think when the baby comes, you'll mostly be a mom.' (As opposed to my career.)
'So, did you think you were going to be a singer, or did you just want to be a mom?' (Two babies later, my checks still deposit.)"
“To my face: 'Ha, better you than me.'
Behind my back, 'She got knocked up so she could stop working and stay home.'"
"I had horrible morning sickness all day long. I was calling in sick left and right because I just couldn't fathom running to a bathroom that was so far away multiple times a day. Anyway, I emailed in to my boss and team that I wasn't coming in one day, and I got a reply from a coworker: 'Boy, she sure is milking this pregnancy thing!' Followed by many attempt to recall notices. I turned her in to the boss, and quit soon after."
"'Don't you know what causes that?' My answer: 'Yes, and we're damn good at it!'"
"I'm sorry, but we have to let you go..."
"'That's one way to get out of deployment.'
Ummm .I've already deployed before, and my husband is currently on his fifth deployment and will miss the birth and first seven months of this girl's life, so go f*ck yourself."
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