How am I going to tell work?
How am I going to tell work? This was one of the first thoughts that went through my head when I found out I was pregnant. Well, after sharing the news with my husband and having a mini-panic about how much my life was about to change.
My concern about telling work was definitely linked with my anxiety around my changing identity. I was going to become a mum. Gone were the selfish days of doing what I want, when I want. Was I going to be any good at it? I can barely manage the juggle of work and having some semblance of a social life as it is… What is this going to mean about work? Being a good doctor has been my main priority for years, but that has to change. Are people going to think I’m less committed? Less competent?
Now to be clear, I don’t think this of working mothers/parents. I’m in awe of them, and how they are completely committed to being parents and more-than-competent clinicians. But I’m not naïve enough to expect everyone else to think like that. Looking through the SIS website submissions, there are a multitude of examples of sexist and misogynistic attitudes towards pregnancy or even the reproductive threat of women of childbearing age.
Meeting with my educational supervisor during which I informed him I was pregnant. He said he had thought that might be the case because my breasts were much bigger than they had used to be.
Told I should have my tubes tied before applying for ST3 otherwise it would be a waste to give a training job to someone who may get pregnant…
Is it any wonder with attitudes like this flying around the NHS, that I chose not to tell my colleagues about my pregnancy? I did tell my educational supervisor as soon as I found out. I wasn’t silly enough to avoid the occupational health adjustments needed, but when it came to my colleagues I avoided telling them until it was obvious (and wearing baggy scrubs to work meant that my news wasn’t public knowledge until after 28 weeks).
Pregnancy is a hard enough time as it is – the fatigue, nausea, back aches and worry about your unborn baby – so dealing with the archaic attitudes of others is the last thing we need.
And why are these attitudes still occurring? Women make up a vast majority of the NHS workforce but we are not the ones who hold the power throughout healthcare. Things are changing, with an increasing representation of women in leadership positions, but the culture has a long way to catch up.
Pregnancy and parenthood do not only affect pregnant people, though they of course are the ones most disadvantaged in the workplace. Whether men like to think about it or not, they too are affected by pregnancy and we need them to start championing pregnant people and appreciating just how difficult it is to do the job whilst feeling extreme exhaustion and nausea. We need understanding when we come in late after attending antenatal appointments. We need an appreciation that working flexibly and LTFT does not mean we are less committed.
We need to work in an environment where we feel comfortable to share our good news – and that means we definitely need a change in culture.