Pregnancy Discrimination, Anyone Can Be a Victim

I was absolutely speechless. It hit me upside the head like a Mack truck at full speed might hit a wayward water balloon. I was being discriminated against. I’m not kidding! Not because of the color of my skin, or because of my cultural heritage, it wasn’t because I was a woman, or because I had a handicap. It wasn’t even because I had green hair, purple fingernails and a scabby body rash. It was because I WAS PREGNANT. (And for the record, I have never had green hair or purple fingernails, not that there is anything wrong with that. I’ve also never had a scabby body rash, but if any of you do, there is something wrong with that, so go to the clinic as soon as possible, please.)

Like many mothers to be, when I found out we were expecting, I was over the moon. Even at just 5 weeks along, I would stand in front of the mirror, looking at my as yet flat belly and giggle like a toddler who has just discovered their own bellybutton for the seventh time. I was also working a full time job smack dab in the middle of corporate America, or as I like to call it, Daycare for Wayward Adults. I was making a good salary; we won’t go so far as to say a “fair” one for the position, but I was able to pay the cable bill and on good weeks could even buy milk and bread. When friends and family found out I was pregnant they warned me not to tell my boss until I absolutely had no choice, and at the very least not until the third month marker. I thought they were nuts. My boss was a nice, considerate, professional man who had two children and a wife of his own. We’d never had any problems getting along; our office atmosphere had always been relaxed and friendly. Certainly he could understand something as commonplace and natural as a pregnancy? I was after all, of legal age, married (see Grandma, told you it would happen sooner or later!), and not living in a box on a street corner. As it was, the decision of when to tell him ended up out of my hands. I developed fairly severe morning sickness (okay, now WHO in their right mind named this morning sickness? Isn’t that the same as calling a full day’s work a “quick errand”? Or maybe like calling a seven-course meal a “quick snack”?). This forced me to be out of the office for a couple days while I spent my every waking moment cradling the cool porcelain ring that I to this day am on a first name basis with. In the end I had to explain the reason for my absence, and as I’ve never found lying to sit well with me (mostly because my own mother came equipped with a built in, always on, lie detector and I NEVER got away with it anyway) I told him the truth. He was very congratulatory and made all the appropriate noises, telling me to let him know if there was anything I might need. I sent a mental “So There!” to everyone who had warned me to hold off on spilling the beans.

It took me almost a month to see what was going on under my very nose, which is actually much harder than it sounds, because have you ever seen what’s right under your own nose? Without a mirror? Didn’t think so.

It started off harmless enough, some abrupt emails from him asking where certain things were, if certain tasks had been completed. When I always replied in the affirmative, or found what he was looking for, I no longer received so much as a thank you. His attitude toward me seemed to be deteriorating steadily. We started a daily routine of him losing his temper and yelling at me for not finishing the report he never gave me to do, or because the dressing on his lunch salad sandwich tasted funny. I remember being yelled at at least once due to an apparent paper clip shortage in the office. I of course issued a red alert and sent a runner straight to the office supply store around the corner to buy every box they had in stock. For a week or so I even wondered if my hormones were indirectly affecting his brain. Coming to work began to make me even queasier than the morning sickness. I forced myself to not miss any more days of work, and suffered the consequences many times in the office restroom, on my knees praying to the same porcelain beast I was growing to despise. The experience of such certainly makes you feel ultra professional at the time.

“Sign this proposal for me?”

“Sure, one sec âÂ?¦. *GAG*. Whoops, just wipe that with a wet towel, it should come right off.”

My stress level continued to skyrocket as I began to spend my evenings worrying over any little thing I might have forgotten to do at work, any item I may have misplaced, or god forbid, if the sun might fail to rise the next day. Eventually, the silly reprimands got meaner, and the serious ones were downright evil tempered. I honestly started to wonder if pregnancy was clouding some major portion of my grey matter and creating all these random episodes in my mind. After a particularly scathing email, the water balloon was dropped and the Mack truck struck me full force.

He wasn’t upset by my performance at work. I had not been having random out of body experiences during which I ran around and stashed office supplies or wiped my memory clean of tasks I had been given. It had NOTHING to do with work. He was angry that I had DARED to put the creation of my family above what might be convenient for his office. Apparently I was expected, per office policy, to submit a written proposal as to how and when I might be intimate with my husband and thus provide a timeline as to when, potentially, I might become pregnant and generally wreak havoc and chaos among the entire corporation. Slack employee that I apparently was, I must have spilled coffee or smeared donut on that memo when it was circulated throughout the office, thus causing it to become stuck on the bottom of someone else’s file and later discarded as junk, because I failed to ever see it. The second part of the equation then fell into place rather easily. The fact that I even GOT to the second half of an equation is a revelation within itself considering how bad I am at mathematics, but when the equation is 1 + 1, sometimes we all get lucky. He was trying to get rid of me. He wanted me fed up, ticked off and up to here with it all so I would hurry up and quit of my own volition, and finally do something to make his life easier. He wanted me gone for two reasons. One, he would be able to hire someone most assuredly not afflicted with the dreaded pregnancy chromosome to fill my position, and probably start them at the lowest rate of pay physically possible. Two, with me gone, he would not have the horrendous chore of paying me actual money during my maternity leave. After all, I was probably just going to sit around on my couch on my newly fattened rear, watch soaps all day long and sustain myself on bon bons and flavored coffees.

After discussion with family, friends, and my ob/gyn (who, let’s face it, knows us better than half our family anyway) I decided to at least attempt to cut back on my hours at work. I explained to the boss that I needed to cut back on hours for health reasons, and offered him my doctor’s phone number for confirmation if he sought it. Somehow explaining to him that he was a demented workaholic who resented me for wanting to have a child just didn’t seem to be the direction to follow at the time. Primarily because I thought he was disturbed enough to admit it, which brought to mind visions of the female lion delicately licking her extended claws after disposing of the annoying hyena that had been harassing her. I then received some mumbling and muttering about part time situations never working out, and not wanting to put undue hardship on me in my “delicate condition”. In the end, I was fired. Not in so many words mind you, but rather in a ‘why don’t you work through the end of the week and then never come back?’ sort of way. I’ve never been fired from anything in my life, unless you count being dismissed as a cheerleader during summer camp because apparently sarcasm is not a desired trait when discussing seven-year-old cheerleaders. Who knew.

My first reaction to losing my job was sheer relief. The stress that had smothered me like a waterlogged blanket weighted with cinderblocks had finally been lifted, and I felt physically better immediately. Swiftly behind that came disappointment. Throughout my life I have always prided myself on being a good dependable employee. I wasn’t just good, I was wonderful. I was always the one to go the extra mile, stay the extra few hours, listen to the important client rant rave and swear about their bunions, their mother, and the IRS. It was my turn to be angry and trust me, I was GOOD at it. How DARE he make me feel as if pregnancy made me less desirable as an employee? How DARE he make me feel as if pregnancy was some sort of handicap that had been affecting my brain? And worse yet, how DARE he create a situation that could have potentially, through emotional stress to me, caused harm to my unborn child? A mother develops, somewhere right around a minute or two after she reads that positive test result, a fierce need to protect her young at all costs. The lion and the hyena image returned, this time with considerably more gore involved.

Today I spend my days visiting with friends, cleaning the house, falling asleep sitting up, and generally getting things prepared for our beautiful little son who will make his appearance into this world sometime in January (I am his mother, which means that I have the right to call him beautiful even though I have yet to see him face to face. It’s in the Constitution in the fine print. Look it up.). My husband is breathing much easier living with a wife who no longer thinks she has taken a swan dive off the deep end of an empty pool, and is happy to work a few extra hours to cover a few extra bills when necessary.

In all seriousness, I know many expectant moms out there are not as lucky as I, and cannot afford to leave a job where they may find themselves victim to the same type of discrimination that I did. And it is discrimination. My advice to you is this. Know your rights. Research the family and medical leave act for your state, learn about your state’s general labor and employment laws. If necessary, slip laxative into the coffeepot each morning for a few days. After the fourth or fifth day knock on the bathroom door and ask the boss if he thinks its “hormones”. And no matter what, protect you and yours. If you feel you are being discriminated against, many cities have legal departments available for free legal advice. Contact them and find out what you can do. Tell your family and friends, they may be able to help you find a new job. In the end, though revenge is sweet, the new life growing inside you is infinitely more precious than anyone small-minded enough to consider your pregnancy as something to hold against you.

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