The Pregnancy Penalty

When having a child suddenly makes you invisible at work, and other microaggressions faced by pregnant women.
Parveen Rahman

It was 2014 when I was finally able to get pregnant; I was also working full time in marketing while going to school part time in the evenings studying fashion design. Every woman I met who was ever pregnant always told me to enjoy my pregnancy. I tried to enjoy it but it was difficult. My subway station did not have elevators so every morning I started off with unnecessary exercise. When I got to the platform, the benches were all taken by people whose faces were glued to their phones. When I got on the train, it was a 35 minute ride standing up because again, no one could be bothered to look up from their phones. Whenever anyone did offer me a seat, it was almost always a woman.

At work, I was always worried if people would get annoyed at my having to go to the bathroom so many times during meetings. By my third trimester, I told my boss that unless there was a clear agenda for the meeting and it was being held in the same building, I would not be attending. It wasn’t worth the waddle. Besides I would’ve had to get up to go to the bathroom multiple times.

After I gave birth, I could not wait to get back to work and school- I missed my coworkers, my work, my classmates and my school projects. I hired a nanny to watch my son, and a trainer at the gym to get my body back into shape. I thought, women can have it all, kids, work, school, marriage, happy hours, fun! Goodness, I was so delusional. I was exhausted, stressed out and physically worn out because after a long day of work, school, and subway commute, I had to come home and bathe my son, make dinner, put him to sleep, clean up all the toys, and then finish homework. I was a “working mom!” And nothing makes my blood pressure rise like the term working mom. How come no one refers to my husband as a “working dad?” How come I’m the one who always has to lean in at work, do the laundry at home, change the diapers, and cook all the meals? When do I get to lean back and relax? Why am I waiting for 30 long minutes for the guy from IT to come out of the bathroom that also happens to be the designated “lactation” room? Lastly, was it necessary for other women in the office to all of a sudden call me “mama” or “mom?” Did I lose my name after I had a child?

How come no one refers to my husband as a “working dad?”

My threshold to put up with nonsense reached an all time low. I eventually quit that job, since I was also done with school and ready to start a new career.

In retrospect, I truly regret not being more assertive. I should’ve just asked for a seat on the subway, requested a more flexible schedule, and taken more time off for my mental health. But I constantly felt that my pregnancy was an inconvenience, and if I asked for days that I could work from home, I was putting a burden on my coworkers whom I loved and respected. I didn’t want them to think that I was receiving special treatment because I had a child at home and they didn’t. I felt torn, which soon turned into resentment.

When I did begin my next job, I made sure to be open and honest about what I needed, and surprisingly my boss was very generous. I believe it had a lot to do with the fact that it was a smaller office and primarily women. I suppose until we reach a critical mass of women in positions of leadership these are things working women can expect to face. And until then, I will continue to advocate for universal child care, longer and paid parental leave, and universal pre-school.

Parveen Rahman is a mom of 2 young children. She lived in Astoria, NY for 17 years before moving to Bedford, NY. Parveen worked in advertising and marketing for 16 years, then switched careers to the fashion industry. She’s currently working on several projects within her community, while trying to raise both her kids as feminists. She loves hiking, baking, and watching Star Wars with her family. 

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