A reader writes:
I am working in a large international organization based overseas in a developing country. I am also about 3.5 months pregnant and it is a higher risk pregnancy, given my age and some other medical circumstances. I had to tell my immediate supervisor of the situation in order to get approval to travel to a western country to visit a doctor. So my boss already knows, although I would have preferred to keep it under wraps for a few more months.
I don’t look obviously pregnant at this time. My boss keeps hinting about when we should tell the rest of the staff – about 10 people who are on my team. I like most of my teammates, but we don’t hang out as friends or share our personal lives, although we get along fine. There are a couple of staff who I don’t really like and find some of their commentary rather misogynistic, but I usually ignore it, for my own sanity really, and because I need to get along with them. So, the team is okay but kind of a mixed bag.
My boss keep hinting about when we are going to tell everybody my news, and insinuating that we should do it soon. I do agree that they will need to eventually know, because I will be on maternity leave and some of them will have to take over some of my work. But, I really feel somewhat personally irritated by the pressure to announce – partly because the pregnancy is relatively high risk, and partly because I am just not obsessed with my coworkers as friends. Last year, another woman on our team brought in a cake and called a meeting to announce her pregnancy. She had already been obviously pregnant for a while. I couldn’t help feeling like she was sort of pressured into it, but I don’t know if that is true. One person made an off-color comment after her announcement. Our team does not have regular meetings, and I have no interested in launching one, and getting a cake and then discussing it with everyone. I dread that.
So, my question is: There are a lot of articles out there on how to tell your boss that you are pregnant, but, how do you tell your coworkers you are pregnant? Or, do you have to? (You can see I am dreading it!) How can this be done discreetly, where I feel like my privacy is still being respected? What are the norms in informing coworkers? How and when (or does!!) this need to happen?
It’s really up to you.
You can make a big to-do with a cake if you want to (you clearly don’t), or you can mention it matter-of-factly (“I want to let you know that I’m pregnant and will be out on leave from June to September, and I’ll update you on plans for my leave when we’re closer to that time”) and let people see from your manner that you’re not seeking a bunch of hoopla. If people miss those cues and make moves toward hoopla, you can politely let them know that you’d prefer to keep it low-key.
But first! Before any of that, talk to your boss. You’re feeling pressured to announce your pregnancy before you’re ready to, but it doesn’t sound like you’ve told your boss directly that you prefer to wait. If I’m right about that, go let her know what you’re thinking and get that out of the way. Say something like this: “I’m getting the sense that you’d like me to announce my pregnancy to the team soon. My preference is to wait until ___, particularly since it’s high risk, so I wanted to let you know that that’s my plan.”
It’s possible that your boss will respond with some reason to announce earlier (for example, so that someone can be cross-trained on your responsibilities sooner or so she can explain to the team why someone other than you needs to attend an event in August), and if that happens, you can take that into consideration. But barring some compelling reason, it’s reasonable to hold firm about not announcing until you’re comfortable (assuming you’re not waiting until your eighth month of pregnancy or something like that).
And then when the time does come to tell your coworkers, it’s fine to keep it simple. You can send out a simple email, or mention it at a staff meeting, or whatever feels the most comfortable to you.
If people start talking about showers or cake or anything else that you don’t want, you can simply say, “Thank you so much for the thought, but I’d rather keep it low-key. Thanks for understanding.” If they continue pushing, get more firm: “No, I really don’t want that.”
And if you run into people who want to talk BABIES PREGNANCY BABIES, it’s fine to say “Oh, I’m all pregnancy-talked out,” or “I’d rather not talk much about it right now,” or “I’m trying to keep work a time when I’m not focused on it.”
And if someone makes an off-color remark, you ignore it or say “That’s really inappropriate” or “Please don’t say things like that around me” or whatever shut-down strategy you feel most comfortable with this group.
You really do have a lot of control here, and it’s fine to exercise it. Good luck (and congratulations)!