It was like the post-WWII baby boom at my publishing company in Manhattan. The ladies’ room was full of women patting their stomachs, complaining about morning sickness that lasted all day and chugging Cheerios to battle nausea. I had never seen anything like it at any place I’ve ever worked. At my last job, many of the women were older and had never been married, and when I worked in sports, somehow a job was eliminated once a woman uttered, “I’m expecting.”
Experts say there’s discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace, and I’m sure there is. But sometimes, single women feel discriminated against, too.
I already endured these women flashing their two-carat diamond bands in my face while they illustrated their strategies during sales meetings, like flight attendants pointing to emergency exits. Their eyes glowing, they tried to hypnotize me with their love bling. “Look into my diamond and agree with everything I say.”
They began wearing loose-fitting blouses at six weeks, flaunting a not-yet-existent baby bump, like someone who unzips her pants after a large meal complaining she’s stuffed. When I walked into their offices they instantly minimized their computer screens, but not before I could see what they were really working on – UrbanBaby.com. I pretended I didn’t notice. While they munched on crunchy food during conference calls, I resisted the urge to stick my fingers in my ears. When they slugged down water like they had been hiking in a desert for four days, I blocked out the gulping swallows. And this was only their first trimester.
I know I should have been more sympathetic, because at least two of these women experienced major meltdowns trying to bear offspring. One miscarried during a client dinner in Chicago. Excusing herself, she left behind a large stain on the chair she was sitting on. We surreptitiously cleaned it up. Another went through the ritual of daily injections and herbal teas for months. And then used a $10,000 grant from the company for in vitro fertilization, praying and praying it would take. She also shared with our entire staff every step of the process. TMI. She thought it would help explain why she was out of the office at least two days a week at doctor appointments, why she often left early and why she was so distracted.
I gave her a copy of The Secret to be supportive, and soon enough her future offspring sunk into my subconscious, too. I was dreaming of a baby boy every night.
Unfortunately, it did not go unnoticed when sales plunged 75 percent. Working in marketing, I tried relentlessly to motivate her sales staff, but grew frustrated when I realized I was the only one working past 5:01 p.m.
On doctor-ordered bed rest for an entire month after being implanted, she felt she couldn’t harp on her team when she wasn’t there. In the process, two staffers resigned, and when our only male sales rep took a two-week paternity leave, I found myself in an office resembling “The Shining.”
Ironically, I had my own heart-stopping pregnancy panic and wonder during the initial baby boom. My body was trying to get in on the action. I was eight days late when I began imagining how I would break it to everyone that the 29-year-old, single marketing director – who hadn’t been trying – was with child.
As I walked to a drugstore to pick up a pregnancy test, the daydreams disappeared. My period arrived right before I plucked down $20 for an E.P.T. My pseudo-boyfriend called as I walked home, dealing with my mixed feelings of relief and disappointment. I had never told him. His aunt, like a mother to him, had just passed the week before and he was dealing with his own feelings of loss. Plus, the whole circle of life possibility had freaked me out.
Gone were the fantasies of being the single, knocked-up girl at the office. I wouldn’t be a test case to see how far our society had come. I wouldn’t have to worry about being scrutinized for being unwed. I wouldn’t be the main topic of water cooler gossip, nor would anyone wonder if I’d just gotten heavier because my gym membership expired and I had rediscovered Easy Mac.
If I had been pregs, I’d have kept it under wraps for months while I came up with a game plan. I’d be sporting long jackets and big sweaters, not complaining of nausea, unless I blamed the deli downstairs. There was no need to strategize though—I wasn’t.
My expectant colleagues were already checking out. Not only would I be covering for them while they were on maternity leave, but I had also been covering for them since they spotted those two pink lines. So I checked out, too. I began looking for a new gig immediately. I took the first thing that was offered to me and escaped right before five of them went into their third trimester.
Looking back, I see I was running from a club I wasn’t a member of, a club that included the commitment of a man I loved and the joy of producing a mini-me meshing of the both of us.
I do understand the enthusiasm of these women to boast of fertility victory after they chased it unsuccessfully for years. But what about the women in our office who, regardless of modern medicine, still can’t conceive? What about the women who do not know if they ever will? Experts say there’s discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace, and I’m sure there is. But sometimes, single women feel discriminated against, too.
I know someday I may choke on these words. That I will barely be able to lift my hand for the weight of my 6-carat diamond ring. That I’ll be married and pregnant with quadruplets, after swallowing enormous doses of fertility drugs. That I will be stoned on pregnancy hormones and love struck. So, I try to suck it up and say my turn will come, just as I do when I see the payroll taxes taken out for social security. Through for now, retirement feels just as far away as motherhood.
Original by Rainbow Kirby