Pregnancy Discrimination:
posted by Amy

Pregnancy Remains Heavy Load for Working Women by Anju Mary Paul focuses on the ways some companies still discriminate against pregnant women whose need to leave work for doctor appointments apparently isn't acceptable. According to Ann Crittenden, author of The Price of Motherhood, "An amazing number of women in the United States think (pregnancy discrimination) is their personal problem," she says. "Women in their 20s and 30s today are just not that politically active. They don't realize that their family issues can be political issues."

Sigh. I hear ya, Ann. At 27, I was pregnant with my first and due a few weeks before the end of the academic year (hey, we didn't think we'd succeed on our first try!). I happen to teach in a department where almost everyone else was, at least back then, a little older than me. I knew of only one professor who had had a baby during the years I'd been there as a student and then a lecturer. I wasn't sure exactly how this all would be handled, so I talked to an older professor who had been a mentor of sorts.

Her advice was a little unsettling. You should pay for a sub to cover your classes out of your own pocket, she told me. Or at least get some colleagues to cover the classes you miss. Who knows--maybe you'll be a little overdue and not need subs. The implication was that way the department wouldn't hold it against me that I was costing them money.

My pockets, of course, had nothing in them to pay a sub with. We were expecting our first baby, had just barely scraped together enough to buy a house, and already had a three-year-old. So--paying a sub to cover my classes? No. I couldn't help wondering if anyone had suggested to the several faculty members battling cancer and heart disease that they pay for their own subs as they missed classes due to treatment and recovery periods. I suspect not. Somehow, in my mind as well as in hers, though, pregnancy was different. It was somehow a kind of luxury, something I should just be grateful I'd been allowed to combine with work, it seemed.

Luckily (ha!) for me, I got the flu and was put on bed rest when I was seven months pregnant. The department paid for subs, as of course they legally had to, without any complaint that I know of. But that experience was the beginning how I came to see my family issues as political issues.

Pregnancy discrimination is one aspect of a bigger problem: a lack of support from workplaces for employees' full lives. People who try to combine fulltime work with caring for sick or elderly parents, partners, children, or friends run into similar issues. My husband and his friends became the caretakers for an elderly man who lived near their workplace. Finding time to get Rich to his many doctor appointments and various visits to government agencies required a master of organization (um, that would be the guy I married) and THREE adults trading off who took Rich where and when. Most of us are lucky to have even one adult to share caregiving duties with.

The pregnant woman in the article whose boss offers to pay for her abortion rather than have to continue paying for her prenatal care ends up, not surprisingly, quitting her job when she finds that in order to get her son to daycare at 8 a.m., she has to get up at 4:30 a.m. Others I've known have quit jobs when bosses harrassed them about taking time off to care for sick children. My gut instinct says that more of us are seeing how our personal choices are shaped by outside factors like pregnancy discrimination, lack of access to health care, inadequate and/or too expensive daycare choices, among other things. Does this mean we're becoming more politically active? I have to hope so.