Week 29: Work While Pregnant

Before feminism, work was largely defined as what men did or would do. Thus, a working woman was someone who labored outside the home for money, masculine-style.
— Gloria Steinem

I have a fantasy that I like to muse on from time to time. It’s the idea of having a whole week, maybe two, maybe even a month with no work, no commitments, no nothing. I can stay in bed as long as I want. Do nothing. Be a sophisticated slob for an indefinite time. Definitely longer than a weekend, even a three-day weekend. Then, after I get tired of that,. I transition to the next week of nothing and slowly make my way through all the tidying I’ve been wanting to do. Once my entire house, including my garage and storage items are sorted through and tidied, I take up the hobby I’ve been trying to learn. The one that I bought all the supplies for and ended up storing somewhere in a closet box because I never had the energy to start something new. That hobby. I’d work on it daily and get really good at it. I’d write. I’d finish the multiple book ideas and projects I had listed on scratch paper stored in different ends of the home, like coins dropped down a well. Just writing down the idea was putting it into reality and now the day would finally be here for me to bring it to life.

Eventually, after satisfying these needs, I’d slowly transition back to work. And this special time off would leave me feeling “caught up” with all the personal things I needed to take care of so that going to work would not mean sacrificing other things that felt important to me. I would be the closest I could ever imagine being to being ready to finally find a work/life balance.

Then I wake up.

You know the expression actions speak louder than words? I’ve shared this fantasy with my husband before, especially the sleep in bed ALLLL day one. But, my actions tell another story.

Historically, I’m a workaholic. To be more specific, I immerse myself into my work. I don’t work to live. I don’t work/life balance my life. I try, or at least I think I do and say I do, but I have no idea what that looks like. To be disconnected or disinvested in my work would make it so hard to find motivation to go in each day (and I’ve had jobs where I felt like this and promptly left).

So, I devote. I devote my time. My energy. My heart. My mind. To my work. I know no other way to do it fully. It’s important for me to not only be damn good at what I do, but also feel proud of what I am doing. I need to invest myself, and for the most part I have.

This attitude about work clashes with the expectations we have for pregnant women. Namely, to take it easy. Just this week, after explaining to my midwife that my blood pressure may be a little high because it’s been a stressful day at work and I rushed to make it to my appointment, she asked me if I might take a few days off. I scoffed audibly. In that moment, it felt immensely impossible to take a break, even a day!

 Photo by marcybrowe.com

Photo by marcybrowe.com

I work at a law office. A small law office. Anyone who has worked in the legal industry probably doesn’t need me to go any further. Stress and adrenaline in this field go hand in hand. While there are definitely peaks and valleys when it comes to the intensity and magnitude of work, it is almost always a high-stakes, high-stress type of job.

At my best, I thrive on it. At my worst, it brings up anxiety I didn’t even know I had.

Being a woman in the workplace stirs up a lot of talk and controversy and pressure. Being a pregnant woman in the workplace churns even more, especially if you’re like me and feel a constant need to be the best, to perform well and get recognized for it, to not appear weak or inept. I loathe the concept that being pregnant somehow means “taking it easy” especially when it comes to your profession. This mindset is a frequent reason men since the beginning of time think it’s justifiable that women do not get promoted as much, make as much, succeed as much in their fields as them. She can’t work as hard, cuz you know, babies.

Still, my work overdrive method contradicts with my overall attitude about my pregnancy. In all other areas of my life, I’ve done my best and continue to try to exercise self-care to the infinity. Lately, it’s hard to know if pushing myself to keep moving, keep working hard in spite of my pregnancy, is part of that self-care. Or, if giving my 110% will have me eating my words soon enough. I worry about the effect stress will have on me and the baby. Normally, I grin and bear it because I want to work hard, be successful, and do a good job. Is this a circumstance where I need to accept that some things need to change even if I am not ready for it? Even if it might mean sacrificing some part of who I am? It's such a push and pull. Studies like this that found working more than 32 hour weeks while pregnant can have the same effect on a fetus as smoking are terrifying. 

I’ve been proud and I’ve been vocal about still feeling pretty damn good. My energy is high. I am putting in extra hours at work and, though tired, I don’t feel the fatigue or exhaustion I felt in the past, pre-pregnancy. My work feels more important now than it ever has before, and something about being pregnant in the workplace has sharpened me and my focus.

IMG_7013.JPG

I am certainly not trying to lay blame on my work environment. This is an inner problem I have with all the jobs I’ve ever worked. From my first job as a barista at Starbucks to my time in the classroom, I have always pushed myself beyond my job description. At Starbucks, I became a Coffee Master and got to wear a black apron (look it up, it’s a thing). I worked at practically every store in my area to get more hours because getting recognition for it by the district manager brought me back to my teacher’s pet glory days. I was promoted to a supervisor when I was 19 and was on track to become an assistant manager before I turned 21. I learned how to place supply orders, I was responsible for calculating and dividing people’s tips. I lived to work, all while going to school full time. And I have approached practically every job I’ve had thereafter with that same mentality, that same work ethic. Something about work drives me beyond financial gain, what I do is an important part of who I am.

It’s taken me a while to really admit to being a bit compulsive with my work until recently. So often over the past couple years, that’s where the fantasy about living a life that allows me to spend more time at home, focus on my hobbies, and live without the stress of professional responsibility takes form.

A downside of working the way I have for so long is that I can always pinpoint the moment or reason at each job I’ve had that I burned out. I can’t help but immerse myself in the work and inevitably exhaust myself of the work after a couple years. I know I can’t keep going this way, but time and again I can’t help myself either.

Sooner or later, a break is coming. I know after my baby arrives, I won’t be able to work as much or as hard as I did before, at least not for a little while. Whenever anyone has told me that I should slow down, that I’m working too much, or doing to much in general, I always say I feel fine. It’s true. I’m not feeling fatigued like I expected. I’m not in pain that isn’t easily relieved by lying down or a nice bath. My swelling is pretty minimal. I keep waiting for my body to tell me to slow down. I expected it much sooner, and still, feel better than I ever have. It helps that I have the ability to eat as much as I want and as often I want because of our small office vibe. I am given a lot of flexibility when it comes to wearing comfortable clothes, or taking a break if I need to (but I don’t do this enough). While I have more autonomy than it feels like sometimes, I’m always the one to choose to do more, to volunteer to work more, because I know there is so much work left to be done.

Still, even though I am feeling physically well enough to work, the stress some of these intense hours brings makes me second guess my own decisions. 

Now that I’m in my third trimester, I can’t help but worry about how in hell I am going to work after having my baby. Knowing what I know about myself and how much I throw myself into my work, what does that mean for my child? What does that mean about my health postpartum? I have gone almost an entire day without eating or drinking water in the past because so much is going on in the office and I just forget, it can get that hectic. How can I realistically do this, and then come home and have to care for a child? When I have to pump?

Early on in my pregnancy, I thought I had it all figured out. Now, I’m starting to realize that I’m going to have to scale it back a little. I cannot work six days a week with an infant. I can’t work twelve hour plus days unplanned with an infant.

Well.

I’m sure I can. And I know others do. But, I don’t want to. Still, I don’t know how to make that something that becomes a hard rule. When I am the one that is cracking the whip, how do I stop myself?

There’s also fear then that scaling it back means that you lose your gold star. You lose what made you a great employee in the first place. And then what? That joy, that pride in your work, starts to fade.

Are you feeling the scatteredness and chaoticness of this entry yet? Because I am. Everything feels like it’s spinning on a day like this.

I wanted to write about work a month ago. Back then, I felt like the star of a romantic comedy. You know the one. The woman who is crossing the street in New York City, dressed to the nines and on top of the world. She kills at her job. She is a boss! I wanted to really just write/brag about feeling this way. I still do some of the time. But lately, reality has started knocking some of that narrative down.

The whole being the first sitting Senator to give birth I think is ridiculous. It’s 2018, we need more female senators, there are only 22 of us. But I’ve been a little overwhelmed by how landmark it is when it shouldn’t be — it’s the 21st century.
— Tammy Duckworth via Romper

The problem is that all I can do is check in with myself on a day to day basis. I don’t know what will happen to me in my third trimester any more than I knew how I would feel in my first trimester. I keep waiting for a sign or a symptom to help me set the pace for my work day, but nothing really, besides my bladder, gets in my way. I do my best to take it easy outside of work, but with all the other things I have left to do, it feels like my actions are still telling me that work is still my number one priority when the time comes to choose.

I am told all that changes when a child is born. I’m told that you figure out what works for you when the time comes. To just wait and you will find a way to make it work.

Work, work, work.

Does “making it work” mean the same as “making it good”, “making it worthwhile”, “making it to your satisfaction”? Your guess is as good as mine.  

Further Reading

By now you may have noticed that some of these entries reference current events when I have an August 25 due date. Since this series wasn't published until February, I've gone back and spent time revising and adding to my prior blog entries since there are some timely events that are worth including. 

Tammy Duckworth Says It’s “Ridiculous” Her Pregnancy Is Historic, & She Has A Point

In Japan, baby-at-work fuss highlights deeper issue: few women in politics

Working 32 hours a week or more in pregnancy 'is as risky as smoking'

Working While Pregnant in Third Trimester

Fairygodboss.com - Awesome site with the goal of improving workplace and lives of women. Check it out for rating of companies with regard to maternity leave, information on women's rights by state with regard to maternity leave, and much more.