Last year, when I was 35 weeks pregnant, I did something that most working mothers might consider crazy. I started a new job in a new city. And, as fate would have it, I delivered early and only spent 17 days at my new desk before three months of maternity leave. To say that time was a whirlwind would be an understatement.
Through all the moving pieces of relocating my family-such as selling/buying a house, finding childcare, and registering for schools-it became the best change for my career, family, and health. I wasn’t looking for a new job while pregnant, but an opportunity presented itself and I knew that I had to take it. As a human resources professional and recruiter in the creative industry, my experience reminded me just how far we’ve come in corporate America. Obviously, the situation is still far from ideal. We have a lot of work ahead of us when it comes to making the workplace friendly for working parents. However, I am hopeful that one day, pregnancies won’t hinder career advancement or professional dreams.
I should make it clear that my journey wasn’t smooth or easy. When I first heard about the new opportunity, I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I was overwhelmed with the pregnancy of my third child. I was also nervous about relocating to a new city. Why add a new job to that burden? After all, I was happy with my old job. My then employer generously allowed me to stay in my position while moving to a new city. But the leadership at Colle McVoy and the agency’s reputation enthralled me, as did the chance to work with a progressive female CEO, which I always wanted to do.
I found the experience enlightening-and it inspired me to empower more women to take the leap if that’s something that they want or can do. Here are my tips on changing jobs while pregnant.
On job hunting
If you’re unhappy with your career situation, I always recommend keeping your options open. You need to network as much as possible, especially with working parents who can give you the scoop on the best companies to pursue. If you’re pregnant and someone approaches you about a job, it can be hard to leave your current maternity benefits when you’re months (or days) away from delivery. In this instance, the smart thing to do is to compare your options. If the new job benefits aren’t as great, keep in mind that you can negotiate financial coverage for maternity leave. Don’t assume that you need to take unpaid leave. Ask when it comes into effect (some companies don’t offer coverage until after working for a year). You don’t want your new job to be tainted by a loophole.
On whether you should disclose your pregnancy
You are not legally bound to reveal anything, but I recommend having the conversation before you accept an offer. Legally, a company can’t rescind the offer because you’re pregnant and didn’t disclose it. However, disclosure creates trust, and during the discussions, you’ll learn pretty quickly just how progressive the company is and how you’ll fit in. If you’re feeling uneasy about talking with a potential boss, have the conversation with the hiring manager. If companies don’t want to have the conversation when you’re pregnant, then it’s probably not the right place for working moms.
On assessing how supportive a company is of working parents
Any time you take a new job, you’re taking a leap of faith. The risk feels like it doubles when you’re pregnant. In addition to robust medical benefits, make sure your new employer provides support for new moms when they return to work. Do they offer flexible work schedules until you’re ready to go full time again (or not at all)? Do they provide a private space for nursing mothers? Do you get the sense they respect and honor the challenges of parents? Is there a parent affinity group or the chance to mentor with another parent? As a new parent, you’re much more vulnerable and uncomfortable with change. Make sure you have all the tools to be successful and give yourself some grace to figure out what works best for you and your family.
On understanding the company benefits
Whether you are pregnant or going to be pregnant, everyone should know the benefits a company offers. Ask detailed questions that cover any possible scenario that might arise: What is the paid leave policy for parents (maternity and paternity)? Do they offer an adoption plan? Do they provide benefits for surrogacy? You should also make sure your benefits kick in as soon as you start.
Starting a new job when you’re pregnant is a personal choice. In my experience, if you have a history of health problems or complications, I’d consider taking the less difficult route and wait to start your new job until after your delivery. No two scenarios are the same, and only you can make the best decision for you and your family.
Ashley Aagaard is the talent acquisition director at Minneapolis creative agency Colle McVoy.