In my experience, being pregnant at work is the worst. Sure, a few people will say "congratulations" or offer help, but the pros are few and far between. And while I get that having a pregnant coworker can be frustrating — and they might not be able to do everything they used to, or take time off during their pregnancy or for maternity leave — it would be nice if people at work could be, well, nicer to their pregnant coworkers. In fact, there are so many things every coworker should say to the pregnant woman in the office, because when you're growing another human being inside your body every kind gesture helps.
For instance, it would have been super nice if rather than having to ask for help, my coworkers simply said, "Hey, let me do that for you." But far too many of my coworkers acted like I was a hinderance and, if I dared to go to work, I needed to do everything in my job description, even if it meant peeing my pants or puking in a waste basket. I wasn't immobile or completely incapable, but I had a fetus pushing on my bladder, people. A little understanding would've been nice.
Laws like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act require employers to offer reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers — like different duties or the ability to work from home — so it would be nice if it didn't seem like such a significant ask. Plus, it's the "fair" and right thing to do. Women shouldn't have to choose between having careers and having families.
So with that in mind, there are a few things we should be saying to make work life a little bit nicer for our pregnant co-workers:
Initially, I didn't want to announce my pregnancy right away. I had just started a new position at work, so I was afraid that people would judge me. Then a co-worker noticed that I wasn't having a cocktail at a work event and straight out asked me if I was pregnant in front of, like, 10 people. There wasn't much of a choice after that.
A word to the wise: if you think a person is pregnant ,or is planning to get pregnant, it's super uncool to ask them about it, especially at work. It's none of your business. If they want to and when they're ready, they'll announce their pregnancies on their own time.
"How Can I Make Things Easier?"
By law, employers are required to offer pregnant women reasonable accommodations so they can do their jobs while pregnant. That doesn't mean your co-workers will necessarily be nice about those accommodations, though. So, yeah, offering to help, or make life easier for pregnant women in general, is the right thing to do.
"How Do You Feel?"
During my last pregnancy, I had hyperemesis gravidarum, which made me throw up several times a day. When I had to take time off from work, and occasionally run out of meetings to throw up, it was so nice when people asked me how I was feeling, even when the answer was, "Like crap."
I worked through all three of my pregnancies, and I have to admit, at times it was unbelievably difficult. But when people said things like, "you're so badass," "I'm impressed," and "good job," it made me feel confident and strong.
"That Seems Fair"
Instead of saying how unfair it was that I got to telecommute while on bedrest, or take 12 weeks of maternity leave, I wish my co-workers had showed some empathy. Offering pregnant women accommodations and unpaid family and medical leave is like the bare minimum of fairness. We can do better.
"Do You Want Help?"
I didn't necessarily want help, especially when I'm pregnant. Still, it would have been awesome if people had asked if I wanted help. Things like moving furniture, filing, standing, lifting, and bending became really difficult, especially in my third trimester.
The same goes for giving up your seat. I remember so many meetings where I stood in the back of the room and while everyone else sat. It was infuriating. If you know someone is pregnant, it's nice to offer them your seat, especially at work.
"I'm So Glad Things Have Changed"
If I had a dollar for every time a co-worker told me how bad things were for pregnant women in the workplace when they were pregnant, I probably could have retired. It would have been so nice if they would have acknowledged that improvements in gender equality are awesome for our society as a whole.
"How Long Will You Be Off Limits?"
I recognize that taking maternity leave put a burden on my co-workers, but it would have been nice if my co-workers had respected my need to recover from childbirth and bond with my baby.
"What Can We Do To Prepare?"
I am a planner, so I left detailed instructions for how to handle my workload while I was gone on leave. My favorite co-workers were the ones who agreed to pick up the slack in my absence, and who helped me get organized in advance.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.