Oh, Baby!

Posted on October 19, 2023

A scene from the animated film "Boss Baby" where several babies with pacifiers look directly toward the viewer.

Today’s Morning Buzz is brought to you by Meredith Reynolds (Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram), Deputy City Manager for the City of Long Beach, featuring Monique Kosal, Recovery Analyst for the City of Long Beach (LinkedIn), and Fern Nueno, Climate Manager for the City of Long Beach (LinkedIn).

What We Are Working On: Planning for maternity leave.

What We’re Looking Forward To: 

  • Meredith is looking forward to new team babies that are healthy and happy.
  • Monique is looking forward to sleeping on her stomach again. 
  • Fern is looking forward to new experiences (also sleeping on her stomach again).

What the Baby Food Apps Tell Us: Monique’s baby is currently the size of a jicama and Fern’s baby is currently the size of a beet (including the leaves).

In my office, it’s coming upon that season. Yep, you guessed it…baby season! 

Oh, did you think I was going to say Fall? Right, I can totally see how my opening would be confusing. Well, hold onto your pumpkin spice lattes, we are talking about little pumpkins – adorable squishy little bundles of joy! 

While I do not have children, many of those who have worked with and for me have children. I’m very used to working alongside parents who manage work and families. I’ve seen these parents balance deliverables with school drop-offs, schedule calls to and from swim practice or piano lessons, bring their kid to a community meeting after a soccer game, take a late lunch to shift kids from school to after-school programs, and flex time on an afternoon to attend a school performance and return to emails later in the evening after a child has gone to bed. For parents, this is part of the life juggle that seems to be necessary to have careers and family. 

So as I had two separate staff members, Monique and Fern, pull me aside and tell me they were expecting, my mind went directly to that familiar place where I pictured them being great employees and great parents, working on impactful local government programs and services, and raising good little humans. Somehow my mind skipped right over the part where they would be growing a human life over a period of 9 months and delivering an actual human child. 

Now look, I know better than to believe babies are delivered by stork, but as it turns out, I’ve never had a pregnant staff member before. So as my two pregnant staff members began talking openly with me about totally unrelatable mom things like OB appointments, morning sickness, off-limits foods, and maternity leave, I had this realization: what were we going to do while they were out on leave?!? And, just to keep things interesting, these two would be on leave for several months AT THE SAME TIME. Did I say realization? Leeetttsss call it a mild panic.

I was in no way prepared for this. But somewhere in the midst of my process of figuring it out, it occurred to me that from the beginning of time, mothers have birthed children, continuing to be a parent while keeping house, getting an education, going to work, having friends and hobbies, and living full complex lives. The doctor’s appointments, maternity leave, and needed flexibility is simply an aspect of life that has to be planned for in the workplace. We plan for contingencies in local government all the time and this was just another contingency plan.

Then it dawned on me: I was focused on the wrong thing. What Monique and Fern needed now was to feel supported and safe, understand how to access benefits and services, and be prepared to leave work to be focused to be new moms. As for the rest of us…we would be just fine. Full panic averted.

So I refocused on using this as a learning opportunity because the more I grow in my career, the more likely I will be to lead team members who have children. And as Monique told me, babies are really the boss of us starting in the womb! So I turned to the best teachers I know – Monique and Fern. I wanted to know what it was like to have to share their pregnancy news with their manager, how they were planning their work to be ready for maternity leave, and what advice they have for others in the workplace. So to understand their perspectives, let’s hear about their circumstances from their own voice.  

Monique is pregnant with her second child and her first-born is a three-year-old. From early in this pregnancy Monique was very open with me about her experience, which was completely different from her first.  

My first pregnancy was textbook perfect, with hardly any nausea, no complications, and the only thing that happened was that my belly was getting bigger. Every day when I got home from work I could eat and sleep as much as I wanted to and be pampered the way new moms deserve. This pregnancy, only three years later, is the opposite. I still get bouts of nausea in the third trimester, extreme fatigue, and complications I didn’t have in my first pregnancy. Not to mention that there is an energetic three-year-old who asks me every day why she can’t jump on me and why I can’t carry her. Becoming a second-time mom is not for the weary!

Being a pregnant, working mom for a second time is extremely hard. While I can easily lock myself away once the work day is done and have my daughter spend time with her dad, there is that little voice, aka “Mom Guilt” that pushes me to exhaust any energy I have left with her because my daughter’s time as an only child is slowly coming to an end. At home, I still have most of the baby items from round one and there is a sense of familiarity that makes you a bit calmer for the arrival of number two. 

Fern is expecting her first child, so this pregnancy thing is a new experience. I remember her telling me how weird it was thinking that she was growing something in her body! She was rather new in her role when she found out she was pregnant, which was not ideal timing for her as she didn’t want to miss out on all of the upcoming projects and events she had started. 

I wasn’t really sure what to expect with the physical and emotional changes that happen during pregnancy, and how planning for parental leave would impact work and other aspects of my life. I had a rough first 20 weeks with nausea and fatigue. The nausea went away, the fatigue stayed, and I developed a few new symptoms in the third trimester. I’m lucky that we have a hybrid schedule and I can work from home several days a week. I’m often physically uncomfortable and being at home provides more flexibility for how I can address the discomfort. Also, trying to find five outfits that fit and are appropriate for work each week would be stressful and expensive, at a time when I need to reduce stress and save money.

I have received so many encouraging words from friends and colleagues, in addition to advice and personal stories of their pregnancy and parenting journey. Many people have had babies in the last few years and are passing around items as children outgrow them. I appreciate the baby items shared with me in addition to the advice. Almost every weekend since my nausea went away, I’ve been trying to prepare my home for the introduction of a new family member. It’s a lot in addition to all the other things I feel I should be learning and doing to prepare for parenthood. I know I wouldn’t ever feel completely ready, so I’m just doing what I can and looking forward to what’s to come.

Reflecting on their journey, one of their first big steps was to share their pregnancy news with me, their manager. I’ve heard other parents be strategic about when this news is shared, so I asked them what was it like to decide when to tell me that they were pregnant. As I learned, if you have a healthy culture, sharing this news can be a joyous occasion.

Monique shared: When you are a second-time mom, your body remembers and you can’t hide it as easily as your first. On top of the physical changes, the nausea and exhaustion were rough during my first trimester so I knew I needed to share my news as soon as possible. A lot of people are afraid to tell their managers when they are pregnant out of fear of being viewed differently or losing their jobs, but understanding that there are many laws that protect pregnant workers is something that can help calm those fears. I was excited to tell my manager since I’ve been with the team for about two years at that point and knew Meredith would be excited and happy for my growing family. I felt nothing but love and support which has helped me be transparent with what is going on.

Fern shared: I wasn’t waiting for a specific time or stage of my pregnancy. I wanted to be ready to talk about being pregnant and acknowledge and prepare for the impact my leave would have on our small team. I wasn’t worried because I knew Meredith would be happy for me and supportive of my changing needs. She affectionately refers to my baby as “Baby Climate.” Even so, it can be an awkward conversation to get started so I can understand why many people would wait longer. I know others do not always have that support in a manager and that added stress can put a damper on the joyous experience of pregnancy and parenthood.

Next, I wanted to know how Monique and Fern were approaching planning to be on maternity leave. As I learned, they know their work best and are the best to set the team up for success.

Monique shared: I think one of the first things pregnant people do is calculate how much time off they are able to take for maternity leave. After you calculate time off, you can look at the calendar and see what months this will cover and begin planning ahead for what projects/deliverables will need to be accomplished during that time. For the pregnant employee, I would suggest that do you your best to create your maternity leave plan because you know what your projects are better than anyone else. You know who in the office is best suited to cover a particular task based on your relationship with them and their skill set. I am starting the transfer of work months prior to my first day of maternity leave to help my colleagues transition while I am still here. Maternity leave is no vacation, and while on vacation you may be reachable by phone for an emergency work question. But I guarantee work is the last thing on your mind when you are focusing on healing your body and learning how to take care of a tiny human, all while running on little to no sleep. Your manager and colleagues are covering you while you are out on leave and I think it’s important to do your best to set them up for success because it is ultimately your success when you come back from maternity leave.

Fern shared: Similar to Monique’s experience, I first wanted to consider my due date and amount of leave so that I could look at a calendar and see what events and projects were happening during that time. I then thought through my job duties and considered who would be best to do them, how might they need to rearrange their work, and what would need to change in order for them to take on additional assignments, and what may have to be on hold until I get back. I wrote out the list of duties and projects and discussed the transition plan with the team. I also wanted to prepare as much as I could in advance to make it easier for the team to get the work done. I thought about when I would meet with each person to discuss projects in more detail leading up to my time off and I looked at my calendar a lot while I was planning how to transition work. On the parenting side, I was already thinking about how old the baby would be, if I would be breastfeeding, what my daycare situation would be when my leave ended, and how that would impact my return to work. As a first-time parent, I don’t know how I’ll feel when the time comes, but it is hard to imagine sending a child to daycare before six months old, so my spouse may take additional time off of work when I go back to work. I’m learning as I go that there are so many things to consider at work and at home. This is in addition to other responsibilities, such as my volunteer work on professional and nonprofit boards.

Finally, I asked what advice Fern and Monique had for managers who have pregnant employees or employees whose partners/spouses are expecting. As I learned honesty, safety, flexibility, and empathy are the keys to feeling supported and seen.

Fern recommends: Please be flexible and supportive. Pregnancy and parental leave is one short period of a person’s career. The impact to the work can be minimal with proper planning. If an employee doesn’t feel comfortable or safe talking with their manager, then that will make the transition stressful and inefficient. Keep an open mind and know that pregnancy is a temporary shift in personal priorities and situations. Talk with HR and help the employee navigate what they need to do, who they need to speak with, and what their options are during this time. You don’t need to know all the answers, but know who the employee should go to when they have questions. If an employee has a good experience with their manager, pregnancy, and leave, then they will be more likely to come back to work with a positive outlook.

Monique recommends: Creating a safe space to share what is happening and changing (new pregnancy symptoms, diagnosed complications, etc) because staff cannot pretend pregnancy is not affecting them when it is. This isn’t the time for staff to put on a brave face and “suck it up” because many women can be disabled by pregnancy for many reasons and the health of you and your baby are of utmost importance, above that of work. Communicating my complications early on impacted my pregnancy in a positive way. I was able to be fully remote at the onset of my complications which allowed for my body to get the rest it needed and lower my stress, reducing the impacts on my developing child. I believe this outcome was only achieved because of the trust I’ve built with my manager over the last two years and being honest about how I was feeling from the onset of my complications. 

During our preparation for this Morning Buzz, Monique mentioned that there is a saying that working moms need to “work like they don’t have kids and parent like they don’t work”. I had literally never heard that before (but then again, why would I, I’m not a working mom). But I kept coming back to how ridiculous and unrealistic it is that two parts of people’s lives are expected to be separate. It’s about time we change that. So we will leave you with a few takeaways that we hope will help you be a good leader or coworker to expecting team members and some words of wisdom to support parents out there. 

  • Find a good time to tell your manager you are pregnant early on, especially if you have physical issues or complications. We don’t need to pretend that we aren’t pregnant at work and we should be bringing our whole selves into the work space. (We recognize this is often easier to do when working among safe and supportive teams and leaders and not everyone may have this, which makes this type of work culture/environment all that more important for employees who plan to be parents.)
  • Listen to your body and if you are feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, or having other physical symptoms, be honest with your manager (and to the necessary extent, your team) and see if you can work out an arrangement that works for everyone. Sometimes this can be an easy accommodation under work-from-home or flexible work schedule policies. Other times, it may be provided as a protection under the law, which is good to know your rights (For instance, California has a new Pregnancy Accommodation Law that provides some of these provisions for working while pregnant.)
  • Create your transition plan well in advance of taking leave to help your coworkers and manager adjust to your absence. Reducing your presence – especially when you are the rockstar you are – can have a real impact and discussing together what can be finished, what can be transferred, and what can wait are important parts of planning. Their success is your success. 
  • Staff who are pregnant can often end up navigating pregnancy on their own. They might be the only one pregnant in their work or peer group, they might not have a lot of support from places one might expect like HR, or new laws and rules come into effect that they have to learn to navigate. My staff shared stories about having to pioneer navigating short-term disability benefits, being given incorrect benefit information, and having to rely on others who were previous parents to learn about standard offerings like free best pumps via city insurance. The moral of the story here is to build your parent network and share information for better outcomes and feelings of connectedness. 
  • Every pregnant employee or employee who is the partner/spouse of an expecting mother may have different time off needs. Monique shared how she took off too early for her first pregnancy and hated being at home doing nothing, feeling miserable and tired, saying there is only so much Netflix you can binge. So this time she is planning on working right up to her anticipated due date. Fern has chosen to take off time in advance of her due date to prepare for being a first-time mom, hoping this will help with a low-stress experience. Whatever works for parents-to-be is an important part of the process, so be open to requests and find what works for your operation.
  • While pregnant, working mothers are superheroes, don’t be afraid to admit that it is hard and ask for the help and time off that is needed. Work will always be there waiting for you, but this short phase of being pregnant and going on maternity leave is an experience that doesn’t come around often. Take the time to process it all, the good and the bad, and to be grateful for the life you’ve been entrusted to take care of.

When Fern and Monique return from maternity leave, they will be different – they just brought a life into this world that they are forever responsible for. And when they are different, our work will be different, and I as their manager will need to be different too. But this is just one of many contingency plans we make as a part of our work so that we can still accomplish our goals and serve our community while nurturing the young lives of our team’s next generation. And I joke that their lives will be sticky and messy, which means we have to be ready to adapt and roll with what life brings!

Meredith’s footnote: Welcome to the world Baby Recovery and Baby Climate!

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