Ask the grumpies: When to tell about a pregnancy?

Sunflower asks:

I am in my first year in a t-t position (although I had a two year limited term contract in the same position before convincing them to move me into a tenure-stream position). My husband (who is also t-t faculty in the same dept as me) and I are pregnant with our first child and are now at the “we can tell people” stage (13 weeks). We are not sure who to tell (or how) at work about our exciting (for us!) news. We will tell our Dean as soon as we can (we are non-departmentalized, so he’s our “immediate” report) – but are not sure how to go about telling our chair, colleagues, students, etc. We are collegial with most of our colleagues but not friends with them outside of work.

We talked about announcing it at our group meeting (not the whole faculty, but the subset that we work closest with), telling individuals and just letting word spread, not telling anyone and waiting until they figure it out… but haven’t decided which is best. Then there is the issue of telling our grad students (and the rest of the students in our area but not in our lab groups). We are both generally well-liked by the students, so we anticipate that they will all be happy for us… but it is gossip that will spread very quickly, so we have to be careful that the right people know first (e.g., the Dean) so that they don’t find out through the rumor mill.

We are both relatively private people – we keep work and private lives separate and don’t socialize with our colleagues outside of work functions (we are younger than most of them so we don’t really have much in common other than work-related things). We may be underestimating their reactions, but we are also cautious about how this will impact both of us (particularly me) – my chair is quite sexist and I’ve had to fight him on a number of things (although our Dean is a strong gay man and doesn’t put up with sexist nonsense from anyone, which is great!).

Only you can make these decisions (and perhaps you have already!)  I’m probably not the best person to ask– I told the people who mattered (my chair who is doing class scheduling and one of my friends who gave excuses when I had the miscarriage scare) and then took perverse pleasure in noticing when other people at work found out via the grapevine.  (I had a post about that in the drafts for a while but then had the baby before finishing it.)  It’s funny watching people gradually notice one’s growing belly.  You can tell they know when they start asking, “And how are you doing?” rather than the standard, “How’re you?”  There’s also a lot more door opening.  I found it greatly amusing with both pregnancies.

Of course, one of the dept secretaries just flat out asked me pretty early on this time around, and I always answered honestly if anyone asked.  And I did go to great lengths to hide it from a more sexist colleague in another department– his department didn’t know until someone’s wife saw me heavily pregnant at the grocery store when I wasn’t wearing something bulky.  Hopefully I’ve broken his stereotypes about pregnancy, babies, and women’s work ability.

And when one of my male colleagues announced his wife’s pregnancy (their child is about 2 months younger than our youngest), I mentioned to him, “me too”, but didn’t announce it to all and sundry.  Because I prefer to be sneaky like that.

My students cornered me one day before class and asked why I wasn’t signed up to teach anything the next semester.

So, if this advice is still useful, tell your dean as soon as you figure out what you want.  (Is there maternity leave?  Teaching load reductions?  What do other departments do if there isn’t an institutionalized policy?  I definitely recommend the teaching load reduction if you can get it because people will assume you got one even if you didn’t.)  As for the rest of the department, it’s up to you.

Any more advice for Sunflower?  (If applicable) How/when did you tell your colleagues other than your boss?  What have your colleagues done, and how did that work out?

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11 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: When to tell about a pregnancy?”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    That’s such a hard question. The first time around I told my boss right at 12 weeks as I had a new job, plus I wanted him to have as much time as possible to plan for my leave. The second time around, I did the same but then had a miscarriage, so that kind of stunk because then you have all kinds of people feeling sorry for you and wanting to talk about it. The third time I waited til about 20 weeks. In all instances I told my close work friends and immediate manager. I didn’t announce it to anyone else. Word spread on its own and after a while it’s pretty obvious anyway.

    I am in a male dominated field too.

  2. Miser Mom Says:

    I’d say that the question of “when” doesn’t really matter as much in the long run as “how” you tell them. For example, my sister had her son while she was still in college. If she said, “I’m pregnant”, people would say “I’m so sorry”. She learned she had to say, “I’m having a baby; I’m so happy” (even though, truthfully, she was a bit stunned by the unexpected pregnancy).

    It’s good to tell people in a way that lets them know how you want them to respond . . . and I don’t just mean, “happy” vs “distressed”. As the grumpies point out, you should be ready to ask your dean for a teaching release or other professional aspect. Since you’re private people and want to keep this mostly separate from your professional lives, it’s good to come up with a way of describing this in terms of what this will mean for your colleagues: “I just wanted you to know that, because I’ll be having a baby, I’ll be taking off X weeks and then teaching only Y courses.”

    There are going to be people who explicitly ask what you want (as gifts or support), and having an answer at the ready (“Thanks, but our family has already given us all the baby things we need; I’m just really glad to have a department that supports me” or some similar line) will further the impression you want of being professional. I think this is kind of planting the seed for the reaction you want is just as important with your grad students as with your chair, by they way.

  3. Thisbe Says:

    When & if the time comes for me, there are only a couple of people I would even consider telling before the 20 week mark. My thoughts about this are heavily informed by paranoia about things that can go wrong, and relatedly, unpleasant experiences people in my life have had when things go wrong and they find themselves having to explain to everyone that they are no longer pregnant.

    It seems like the cultural thing now is super early announcement – I’ve had a couple of people recently inform me that they were 8 or 9 weeks pregnant but waiting to tell everyone until they were at 12. I don’t get it, myself.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It’s easier to know earlier now than it used to be. One reason to tell people early is if you think you’ll want their support if something goes wrong. Of course, many people who tell early it’s their first child and they’re just excited. :)

      • Thisbe Says:

        That’s a good point about support. On reflection I think I feel honored that I hear about so many pregnancies in the Very Early stage.

        I think a major side effect of a medical education is that it makes it much harder for me to be truly excited about pregnancies (those of others, or hypothetically in the future my own) rather than “cautiously optimistic” until much further in, when it is possible to be more confident about a positive outcome.

  4. The Frugal Ecologist Says:

    Just dealt with this with my dept. I told my chair at 20 weeks – I was not showing much and a combination of travel and an new chair was the main reason I waited that long. I probably would have done it a bit sooner.

    I had already done my research on leave policies here and knew what I was going to ask for which was very helpful since the chair has not ideas what the policy here is (and was shocked when he found out what it is – no paid leave at all, although we can take up to 6 months off). The day I told my chair, I told my grad students.

    I took N&M’s approach about not saying anything else to anyone unless asked about it. We are also pretty private people and while I am friendly with colleagues at work, I didn’t really feel a need – besides the rumor mill works very fast around here.

  5. EMH Says:

    I just went through this as well. I am the only woman in a small (15 person) trading firm. We don’t qualify for FMLA and we don’t have a maternity leave. I formulated a plan of what I wanted to do after the baby was born and at 16 weeks I informed the owners that I was pregnant. About two weeks later, I told the rest of the office in our weekly meeting. It was a relief when I finally told everyone because I was nervous about their reaction but everyone has been very kind and understanding.

  6. plantingourpennies Says:

    I think I’d probably do what friends of mine did – arrange the bulk of any coverage for work with colleagues who are also close friends first. Then go to supervisor and let them know around 18-20 weeks while its still not visible asking for privacy. Everyone else found out when it could no longer be hidden (we don’t get the benefit of super bulky sweaters down here), which was usually around 24-27 weeks. They treated it matter of factly and with plans in place didn’t get much blowback. One friend did get blowback when her 2nd was a year old and she heard unofficially that she was denied a FT position (she’s adjunct) because they were worried she’d have more kids and the 2nd one had major health problems when he was born. Sadly those problems had not affected her job at all since he was born at the end of the spring semester and was fine by August.

  7. contingent cassandra Says:

    Haven’t dealt with this myself, but, based on friends’ experience, I’d second the advice to find out what’s possible/allowed first, probably by going to HR. Chairs don’t always know, and may make arrangements that turn out not to be allowed. Unfortunately, HR policies are often based more on the experience of regular staff than on faculty — so, for instance, it can be harder than it should be to arrange for a reduced load for a whole semester instead of no teaching for part and a full load for the other part.

  8. Eli Rabett Says:

    Most important thing is to decide if you can and if you want to stop the tenure clock. You may have to take action on this very early. Also if there are policies where your husband can stop his tenure clock.

  9. rented life Says:

    I didn’t want to tell anyone about it for as long as possible. I told my parents the week I took the test. (and since we’d been together for 15 years with no indication we’d start a family, mom didn’t believe it. I had to show her the test. It was pretty hilarious actually, since my brother and I regularly play tricks on her so she thought it was another trick.) I was only adjuncting when I found out, without confirmation of which classes I’d have during the semester it’d matter. Now I’m 7 months and still haven’t told my dean. I told my class, in the event I needed to cancel class but also to explain why the schedule is weird this semester. My other PT job my supervisor knew on hiring me (I was 5 months then) and she’s a childbirth educator so she’s pretty supportive about it. She’s already set up who would do my work when I’m on leave.

    As soon as you tell people you need to be prepared to for all kinds of questions, which is the biggest reason I didn’t want to tell people as long as possible. (mom wanted to tell everyone right away.) If you are private people, telling people presents a challenge, as somehow people magically think they have the right to know all kinds of information.


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