'How could they do this?' The bitter pill of redundancy during pregnancy

‘How could they do this?’ The bitter (and sadly common) pill of redundancy during pregnancy

pregant at work
Halfway through 2018, we started talking about a new baby. To be honest, it had been part of conversations for the last 5 years but we had always held back.

The timing was never quite right. I wanted more in my career: I wanted to be in a place where I was proud of what I had achieved and felt sure that I could come back after parental leave to an exciting and challenging next phase.

Now, was that time.

In November we received that happy news that almost 12 years after giving birth to our son, we were pregnant again.

In December, before the holiday shutdown, I had a productive conversation with my manager about the upcoming year, our plans and how we were going to achieve our goals. Financially, things had been rocky since shortly after I came on board nearly a year before, but I had been working for months on building and executing a new strategy I expected would help stabilise things. All was well.

On my second day back in January, I was made redundant. In the blink of an eye, I saw all my plans fall apart.

I was in shock: bitter, heartbroken, frustrated, angry, desperate.

I was the primary earner in our family – our growing family. I urged them to reconsider, for us to work to find an alternative. I couldn’t believe this was even legal. And even if it was legal, I worked at an NGO that works for gender equality. Surely we held ourselves to higher standards than minimum legal requirements.

I went into a frantic panic, calling my union reps, checking with Fairwork, calling solicitors for a consultation. How could they do this? Because I was made redundant days before my first anniversary, I was unable to pursue a claim for unfair dismissal. There was nothing I could do.

The last few months have experienced a rollercoaster of emotions. Job applications, interviews, hope then rejection. Financial woes, crunching numbers, worrying the calculator’s not on our side. Racking my brain, maybe this is the time to start my own business – think, think, think: what could I come up with?

Hormones, dizziness, nausea, intense mood swings, tears and the rabbit hole that is the world of cloth nappies, prams, cots and baby things. I’ve never felt more vulnerable. I’m terrified that the career I’ve worked so hard to build has just collapsed and will never recover. That I’ll have to take a step (or three) down just to make ends meet.

I constantly google ‘redundancy and pregnancy’. No-one seems to talk about things like this. I’ve scrolled through LinkedIn trying to find someone to talk about their experience. I know I can’t be the only one, but clearly, we’re pretty invisible. And I know intuitively that I’m one of the lucky ones – I have a partner who supports me financially and emotionally. After paying rent in Sydney, there’s not much to spare, but we make it work, for now. But how do others do it? What do you do when you’re a migrant family, with few friends and no family to lean on? And more importantly, why is this even legal?

At a time when we’re talking more and more about women and gender in the workplace – how do we get more women on boards and in management? How can we create diverse and inclusive spaces? How do we have genuine flexibility options and share carer duties? How do we close the gender pay gap? – how can we continue to allow workplaces to dismiss a pregnant employee?

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, 1 in 2 Australian mothers experience discrimination at work at some point – either during pregnancy, parental leave or upon returning to work. 84% of mothers who experienced discrimination experienced a negative impact — for example, on their mental health or finances — as a result of that discrimination.

The onus, at all times, is for the woman to take action – make a claim (if you’re legally entitled), start a grievance procedure, go to court. But even then, redundancy cases are very hard to prove. RMIT researched and reviewed 10 cases of pregnancy-related redundancies between 2010 and 2014: not one employee won the case.

I’m walking a tight-rope at the moment, trying very hard to keep my chin up, think of the amazing baby girl growing inside my belly, of my wonderful son and partner and how, together, we’ve overcome worse than this.

But I remain curious, at the least, how have other people done it? I’m terrified of my post-natal period. With so many uncertainties, how do you protect yourself against depression and anxiety? How do you pick yourself up after something like this?

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