Senator Sarah Hanson-Young fell pregnant the same week she found out she had been selected to run for Parliament. “Running an election campaign while going through pregnancy kept me extremely busy and, although juggling both was definitely testing, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world,’ she tells Women’s Agenda.
Falling pregnant doesn’t always happen exactly when you plan – or at the best time in your career. It is, however, crucial to manage your pregnancy and career by seeking the right support, understanding your physical and emotional requirements, and planning ahead.
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Carole Brown, national president of the Career Development Association of Australia (CDAA), Australia’s largest national organisation of professionals who work in the career development industry, recommends that pregnant women advise their manager as early as possible (guided by medical advice).
“Mid-term is ideal as it gives colleagues and employers time to plan for your vacancy and your return,” she suggests. “Plus you will hopefully get a lot of support along the way.”
Whether you’re at a busy peak in your career like Senator Hanson-Young was (her daughter Kora was born seven weeks early, and Senator Hanson-Young’s first media interview was conducted the next day from her bed in the maternity ward), or working from home and planning ahead, like Victoria Jacono-Gilmovich, who is a self-employed musician and music teacher, preparation is pivotal – as is always remembering to prepare for the unexpected.
“I accepted work accordingly to fit around with obstetric appointments and my wavering energy levels. I did, however, have to sit down and think about my business format to see where change might need to occur as a result of the pregnancy,” Jacono-Gilmovich says. “That said, Estelle arrived three-and-half weeks early, so I didn’t really get the break I scheduled in.”
Preparing for your future is essential, and having a plan in place early on will minimise your stress levels. “Pregnancy can be a physically and emotionally draining time and having some certainty about what you will be doing upon return – hours of work and so on – should be agreed to as far in advance as possible before having the baby,” Brown recommends.
“Many organisations have very clear policies about how to enable return to work after childbirth and I advocate everyone to familiarise themselves with these.”
Initially, Senator Hanson-Young’s desire to maintain a thriving career while pregnant wasn’t perceived favourably by everyone. “To be honest, their concerns just made me more determined to manage my new and busy life even better,” she remembers.
Fortunately for Jacono-Gilmovich, her flexible working arrangements and support network allowed her to tailor her workload according to her energy levels. “They didn’t change much so I worked until the day I gave birth,” she says.
The key with any employment situation, whether working for a corporation, for yourself from home, or managing staff, is to consider your options early on. In a situation where you are working for someone, although you can’t predict how management will react to your pregnancy and personal ideas on how you’d like to return to work, if you want to stay on good terms – be specific and put forward at least two feasible propositions (for example after the birth of your baby you might want to return a few days a week, or only work mornings, or have the year off and then revisit the situation).
If you’re clear about your goals, your management team will be more willing to work with you to come up with an ideal solution.
Eight tips for mums-to-be
- Keep things professional – tell management before someone notices the bump.
- Plan and prepare, but don’t over-commit.
- Transitions can be difficult, so remember to give yourself a break and don’t be too hard on yourself.
- That said, don’t let anyone at work see you slack off.
- Work together with your employer (or your staff) to achieve the best outcome for everyone.
- If you need support or help, don’t be afraid to ask.
- There are a range of workplace laws that are designed to protect women’s rights when having children. Read up on them and know where you stand.
- Don’t stress if you change your mind after the birth of your child. You may have imagined yourself going back to work straight away, then revisited the idea after the birth of your child. Remember to be clear and honest about your revised plan to everyone involved.