I’ve come across this excellent Instagram page recently, it’s content documents a cause which has very real implications for woman & men all over the world but in some countries more than others. Pregnancy & parent discrimination within the workplace. You can bet that as soon as the word ‘discrimination’ is mentioned that some privileged prick somewhere is rolling their eyes as if the subject is in leagues with debating the existence of fairies, life after death or…I don’t know…the Loch Ness fucking monster. What seems to be forgotten is that this is NOT a subject whose existence is open for debate. This IS happening to caregivers of varying age, class, ethnicity & culture now, in 2018, & it’s a disgrace.
By following @pregnant_then_screwed (website: http://www.pregnantthenscrewed.com) I have recently been made aware of just how prevalent it still is. 2 days ago I read a post which stated that, in the UK a woman loses her job for getting pregnant every 10 minutes…6 women an hour…so in any given normal working day there are approximately 48 pregnant women made redundant with a child on the way to try & figure out how the hell they are going to support their new dependant! On the 7th of January I also read that companies such as The Co-Operative Bank & Virgin Money have released their figures on their gender pay gaps (which were shocking!) & all companies with over 250 employees being required to release their figures by April 2018 the reality of this will become transparent & *hopefully* addressed soon. The gender pay gap isn’t a new topic of conversation at all but it seems that even the repeated discussion hasn’t solved the issue so with increased awareness & acceptance that it IS happening we may begin to take steps to make a working environment which doesn’t penalise you for daring to procreate (by choice or by accident) or for having the gall to think that taking care of the health & wellbeing of your dependants is an important factor in your life decisions (how very dare you)…
Now, don’t let this ramble make you think that I am blindsighted in this particular topic. I am very well aware that, as an employer, it can be difficult to balance a workload when an employee needs to have some time off, whether this is expected or unexpected. I am also aware that there are finanical implications to this particular issue & that not all women (or men) choose to have a family. This is all fine & are understandable points when discussing the issue. We cannot, however, gloss over the issue that it is seen as unacceptable to discriminate against the race, sexual preferences, religion, mental or physical disabilities of an employee…to forcast whether or not someone may, or may not, require time off their employment for sickness, to take extended leave to go travelling or whatever else BUT it is somehow acceptable to do so in the instance of bringing a new life into the world or to care for the ones that are already here. This doesn’t just relate to financial discrimination in the gender pay gap…this also relates to how many upfront or ‘behind the back’ comments such as those which target returning on part-time hours/flexible working (for reasons which I’ll discuss in part 2) or refer to maternity leave as a ‘holiday’. I, personally, wouldn’t consider the excrutianting labour experience & the sleep deprived, leaky boob, don’t have time or energy for a shower, ‘Why is he STILL crying?’, ‘Why am I ALSO crying?!’, haven’t washed my hair for 4 days, wiping varying colours of bodily fluids from my clothes/sofa/arm months which come immediately after the painful arrival in any way the equivalent of sipping a fucking margarita on a beach but there are obviously those who think that’s a great way to relax & unwind.
A bit of personal background on the subject. I have 2 sons, born 10 years apart from 2 separate fathers. I was in full-time, permanent employment during both pregnancies & have had 2 very different experiences on this particular issue.
I was fortunate enough to have, on my most recent ‘holiday’ *eye roll* to have a boss which was pretty bloody wonderful. Someone who always took the care to ask about my ‘munchkins’ & how I was feeling with a genuine interest; & who also regularly stated that he found it was much more beneficial to all parties concerned to take care of your staff because if you do they would repay the kindness *please note, this wasn’t aimed at me, this was something he stated in a general attitude to all staff & well before my pregnancy*. This may be down to the fact he has 2 grown daughters with their own families or it may have been because he was just a thoroughly nice man. Either way, I never felt that my most recent pregnancy was an infringement to him as my employer & although that is something a person shouldn’t have to consciously feel in such a situation, I nevertheless felt extremely grateful for it.
First son, Ryan, now 12.5 years old. I was 17 when I fell pregnant with Ryan after being in a relationship with his father for a mere 3 months together (cue the inevitable judgmental ‘tsk, tsk’). Now, I’m aware that this particular circumstance of pregnancy isn’t the most desirable but we did love each other (once upon a time) & we were using contraception. Negligence & naivety (& a bit of irony) were absolutely present in the creation of my eldest son as I had my first supply of the microgynon pill in the drawer throughout my entire pregnancy…looking at me…mocking me because I didn’t know that I was already pregnant when I came home with the box that would’ve changed everything about my life (but not necessarily for the better!)
I had been working for a few months as an Area Co-ordinator for a maintenance company in Cumbernauld. As if life wasn’t confusing enough at 17, in a full-time, demanding role & trying to appear like an adult in the workplace (see my first blog post; I still don’t feel like an adult now in my 30s) I now had to figure out employment with the proverbial bun in the oven. I was honest with my manager within a few weeks of finding out I was pregnant, thinking that, like myself, people appreciate honesty. I didn’t expect the first words out of his mouth to be ‘And you actually intend on keeping it?’….Yay! Nothing like a phrase of complete & utter unprofessionalism to stun the pale & nervous girl on the get go! After confirming that ‘it’ was indeed being kept, a lovely period of silence was had, broken only with the occasional huff or sigh as he fumbled around shuffling papers on his desk. I was informed that I’d need to take my medical appointments as holidays because I’d ‘only just started bloody working’ there & told not to tell anyone else in the office about my beautiful little ‘it’.
So, because I believed that my darling little fetus was a huge inconvenience to my employer & I desperately needed to keep my job I kept my mouth shut & done what I was told. It didn’t stay secret for long as my repeated trips to the toilet to vomit, my abhorrence for certain smells & the ghostly(ier) complexion I was sporting weren’t quite as inconspicuous as I’d imagined them to be. The rest of the office knowing I was pregnant didn’t make life any easier as the horror of my age & condition & what an embarrassment I must be to my family was discussed (& overheard by myself) frequently whenever I’d pop out to make a brew, or to the photocopier, or to the fun little bathroom trips I’d treat myself to. I took annual leave for my scans, tended not to go to antenatal appointments because they fell on days I couldn’t be excused & generally bumbled through my pregnancy as best I could. I worked right up to 2 weeks prior to my due date & although I had various meetings to plan my maternity leave, I had resisted the pressure to agree to come back when my infant son was 6 weeks old. I had the added bonus of being sent on many ridiculous errands such as an outhouse archive alone, in winter, to retrieve ONE file from many heavy boxes piled high. That was a personal favourite. I was fortunate enough that the one genuinely nice colleague ran out after me to help as she knew it was a dangerous task.
To include every instance of bullying I received there during pregnancy would turn this blog into a novel so we’ll just say that it was a hellish few months which I didn’t really tell anyone at the time because I believed that I was an embarrassment & that I probably deserved the treatment I was experiencing. I was also too young to understand the ins & outs of any discrimination laws present at the time so I kept my head down & carried on. When I did return to work I thought that things would be better…it wasn’t. It carried on to the level that I finally did speak up to my GP to ask for help & was told that ‘for the sake of [my] mental & physical health [I] had to get out of that place’ so off I popped as advised by the professional. The details of what came after are lengthy & more tedious to bring to the forefront of my mind than is worth sharing here. The jist of it is…it didn’t go down well, I had a long, lecturing phone call from the financial director of the company about what a disappointment I was & how greedy I was to expect to be paid for being on maternity leave when I’d ‘only been in the door 5 minutes’ *6 months in reality pre-pregnancy*. I did try for a period to discuss with the management my issues & how a path to return could be approached but it wasn’t to be so I left into the unemployed abyss & fell into a college course which was one of the best decisions I ever made. The fate of the wretched company I worked for didn’t end on a high note for them. I was urged by family members to raise a tribunal case against them to hold them accountable for the impact the treatment had on my fragile mental health (I was not always the outspoken verbal warrior I am today) & to save this happening to the next poor soul who dared to fall pregnant under such management. I worked with a few representatives who were appalled about the misconduct & done everything they could to bring it to a hearing but the wonderful D. H. Morris Group declared themselves closed for good 1 week prior to the set date. Such is life.
The second part of this tale I will conclude in another blog post & will shed more light on the excellent Pregnant Then Screwed cause, the general fight to be a working mother and the conflicting tale of baby ‘holiday’ number 2…I hope you tune in! There may even be another recipe card thrown in there to sweeten the deal.