Women who are pregnant with or without a history of loss face many challenges at work. They wonder who to tell, when to tell, and worry about issues like maternity leave, health benefits, job security and of course, what to do if their water breaks at the office.

Women who are pregnant again after a perinatal loss (PAL) have some additional concerns that warrant attention. Often, there are additional fears and anxieties about how coworkers might respond to a new pregnancy. Because workplaces are so varied it’s difficult to make generalizations.   However, there are common questions and concerns I have heard from clients across a number of fields and disciplines:

When should I tell my boss?

Many women, knowing they will be taking a maternity leave, want to give enough notice so as not to leave their colleagues short-staffed but don’t want to give too much notice either. For some, it has to do with the work itself–women don’t want to miss out on meaningful work assignments or projects that will advance their careers. For others, this reluctance to tell has to do with fear of another loss or the desire to not discuss the current pregnancy.  When to tell depends on many factors including the realities of the job and your need to protect yourself during a vulnerable time.  Many women feel an enormous sense of relief when the news is finally shared.

What if a colleague tries to engage me about the loss or the new pregnancy?

After a loss, most women reach a point where they feel ready to go back to work. They see it as a welcome distraction or as a return to some semblance of “normalcy.” However, this does not mean that they are ready to engage in conversation about their loss nor does it mean they are willing to answer questions about a new pregnancy. While many people will be sensitive, some will be awkward, intrusive, or just plain inappropriate. (These are the ones whose eyes drift to your midsection while talking with you!) If someone approaches with a comment or question about a new pregnancy and you are not ready to share the news or talk about it, it is acceptable to say, “I am not ready to talk about it.” Hiding a pregnancy with creative dressing works for a little while but busting out the maternity tunics does not always correlate with emotional readiness to share the news.

My colleagues are way more excited about this pregnancy than I am. Instead, I am terrified! Is there anything I can do about this?

Others will be happy about a new pregnancy especially if they know about the previous loss. But this does not always match the complicated feelings of a PAL mom. Some colleagues will feel relieved that there is a new pregnancy and, as a result, have enthusiastic reactions that feel over-the-top to you. Because the death of a baby is a difficult thing for most people to contend with, many people will avoid talking about the loss. A new pregnancy gives them a topic of conversation that feels “safe” even if it doesn’t feel safe to you. They may not be thinking that you are anxious about losing this baby, too. A number of different approaches might work including changing the subject. You could say, “Thanks for your excitement. I am happy, too. So, how do you think this morning’s meeting went?” Another approach might be to address the “excitement discrepancy” head on if it’s someone with whom you feel more of a connection. “Meg, I really appreciate your excitement, but I’m just not there yet. Let’s talk about something else.” There’s no perfect way to address this so do whatever feels right for you and your workplace.

My colleagues want to throw me a baby shower but I am not sure I am ready. What should I do?

This one is easy: Ask the coordinator of the shower to hold off until after the baby is born.   There is no rule that you must have a baby shower. Colleagues who want to buy your baby a gift will anyway. The celebration can happen at any time you feel ready to celebrate.

I have been crying at work and I don’t want others to see me! How can I get through each day?

It is very common to feel emotional in pregnancy. Women who have had prior losses may feel scared at times and emotions don’t wait until the clock strikes 5 pm. It can be really difficult to hold it together for the duration of a work day. If you have an office with a door you can close you can take a few minutes to yourself if things get overwhelming. For those who work in open offices or cubicles, bathrooms and stairwells sometimes have to suffice. It can be really helpful to have a friend or ally in the office who knows how you are feeling. Whether she can provide you with an office or not, it can help to know that you are not alone and that someone else in your office has an understanding of where you are emotionally-speaking. Crying is natural way of grieving and you will probably find that if you suppress your feelings all day at work they will find a way out at some point.

Making the transition back to work after a loss is challenging as is hiding and then revealing a new pregnancy. Talking with your partner, friends, or a therapist about these concerns can help you develop strategies for dealing with this specific type of stress.

Photo source: “Pregnant” by Erik bij de Vaate @ Flickr, licensed with Creative Commons 2.0

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