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Posted 4 December 2017
Edith realised she was pregnant shortly after a tragic event. She discusses how the support of her friends and family helped her navigate pregnancy, and gives advice to any single mother who finds themselves juggling being a pregnant single mother and work.
I found out that I was pregnant just three days after the funeral of my sister’s baby son. I swore that I would never complain about being blessed with a baby, when there are people suffering such heartache over losing one.
Knowing this made it much easier when I broke the news to the baby’s ‘father,’ who turned to ice before my very eyes. No supportive hug, no “Whatever you need,” nothing. I didn’t want a relationship with him, but some support would have been really appreciated. We had met through work; I had worked in the same call centre as him for more than three years.
I wasn’t prepared for just how my work life would change – and in the most unexpected way. For a start, I didn’t get to do any kind of “informing the boss,” because somehow the whispers and gossip had already reached him – long before I was ready to go there. The boss’s reaction was almost like an anti-reaction – no response at all. Looking back, I think those in charge might have felt embarrassed and uncomfortable. Or maybe they wanted to show me that they would make no difference between me and any of the other pregnant women in the place.
But there was no denying it was different. Where my pregnant co-workers were attending their appointments with their partners, I was attending mine alone. Where they were getting excited about expensive new prams, I was wondering how I was going to move the wardrobe to make room for a carrycot. Being single and pregnant has its own unique set of issues, that nobody will understand unless they have been there. Even standing on a chair to change a light bulb in my living room became a feat of balance and nerve. Small everyday things suddenly become huge.
My bosses were generally very good at letting me know my employment rights – if not quite so good at fulfilling their obligations. They told me that health and safety would carry out a risk assessment, take a look at my office chair, and fix the thermostat so that the air-con unit above me would stop blasting me with hot air all through the summer. None of those things ever happened; I got the impression that they knew they could just delay for a few months until my maternity leave started, and then they would be off the hook.
I probably gave the impression that I was tough, and that I didn’t want any sympathy from anyone. In fact, I know that I did, because I used to tell people that. But I would have loved for someone to ask me if I was really ok. Then I could have told them how it felt to have to walk past that man to get to the bathroom – 20 times a day – and have him look the other way, every time. Or about how lonely it felt sometimes to look over and see him laughing and chatting with his friends, life going on as normal.
I understand that my bosses couldn’t exactly walk over and force the man’s head around to look at me – at his baby’s mother. I understand that work life and personal life are separate. I guess it was hurtful that this wasn’t a big deal to anyone else when it was so incredibly difficult for me.
But the one thing that I wish I had realised, is that your bosses are responsible for your emotional wellbeing as well as your physical wellbeing when you are at work. Regardless of my circumstances, I had the right to ask for help and not have it seen as a sign of weakness. I could have moved to a different section, or a different shift, and things might have been so much easier.
My baby arrived in April of that year. I had great support from two friends of mine, who came round to the house to cook a meal, even washing up afterwards. I will never forget that. As I said, little things suddenly become huge, and that meant so much to me.
I was unable to find childcare that I could afford, and so I didn’t return to my job after my maternity leave ended. A lot of things have changed since then, and life is wonderful now. But I will always have the utmost respect for anyone that faces a pregnancy alone – and I will always ask them if they are ok. It’s nothing like the movies, but you can still have a wonderfully happy ending.
If you are pregnant and single at work, find out more about your rights at work on the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s website.
The following resources will provide you with even more information on your rights at work and your financial options during pregnancy and beyond: