This is an article in our Pregnancy Week by Week series, a resource to help you manage your job and life, through and after your pregnancy.
Week 20: When Nosy, Insensitive Colleagues Are Up In Your Pregnancy Business
Sex, religion and politics.
With the possible exception of the 2016 Presidential election (and the seemingly never-ending tsunami of media aftermath), these three topics don’t generally come up at work. When they do, it inevitably doesn’t take long for people to remember why they’re too taboo for the workplace.
So what is it about carrying a baby that makes people feel like they can be more personal with you -- or worse, even touch you? Even if you subscribe the theory that having a child is something a whole community can (and should) get excited about, that doesn’t mean the modern workplace is a village square where anything goes.
Even if you feel like invasions of privacy tend to occur more frequently when you’re pregnant, remember that most people don’t mean badly or have negative intentions. Believe it or not, many people seem to think they’re just making small talk when they ask how much weight you’ve gained or whether you’re planning on delivering vaginally, going to breastfeed, or taking an extended maternity leave. The possibilities for inappropriateness are endless, and for some people, a visibly large tummy seems to look like a green-light.
Even bosses are not immune from putting their feet into it. When Babble compiled a list of rude things that had been said to their pregnant readers, one of the most shocking comments was reported by a manager. When Dana Blackmon Carroll told her boss she was pregnant (with her first child), “the first thing he said was: ‘Are you going to keep it?’”
By now, many of us have gotten used to the fact that our physical attributes tend to unfairly be in the spotlight. But pregnancy can take things to a whole new level. Though most people realize it’s never OK to talk about about a woman’s body at work, there may still be a stray, unsolicited comment about the bump’s size. (Read: never talk about someone’s tummy even if you are planning on saying it’s “small” and especially if you think it’s “big” or that it “looks like you’re having twins.”)
Oh, and please don’t use the term “waddling” or ask a pregnant colleague whether she can see her feet anymore. Just don’t.
It can be particularly bad if you work in a macho, bro-ey culture where inappropriate jokes tend to run amok. As one woman described in her work confession, “When I was 8 months pregnant at work, a male co-worker made the sound of a truck backing up when I walked by. It was in front of many other colleagues - mostly male - and it was completely humiliating.”
So what can you do? In many situations, unfortunately there’s not a whole lot of great options. You can of course be direct and tell offending colleagues to stop asking questions and stop making comments. But it can be tricky to do so without seeming overly sensitive, or like you’re making a mountain out of a molehill. Another approach is joking back, or making sarcastic comments that clearly indicate your displeasure. Finally, you may end up trying the non-confrontational approach of ignoring rude questions and changing the subject.
Hopefully most of you never encounter more than a stray awkward exchange with a colleague / boss / client during your pregnancy. For those of you who are grinning and bearing extra doses of “collegial banter,” you may want prepare yourself with some zingers.
Even if you’re playing the civilized grown-up and admirably hold your tongue, at least you’ll take some pleasure in thinking those thoughts.
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How do you politely shut down a totally rude coworker?
I have a co-worker who I think is trying to be friendly but asks all these questions that insinuate that my work and priorities are going to change soon....I think he means it in a good-natured way b/c he is a new dad himself, but it makes me feel...
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