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Guidance for the pregnant mama who has been laid off

Guest editorialist Grace Lee offers 11 meaningful pieces of advice from someone blindsided by a layoff at 35 weeks pregnant.

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When we connected with up and coming digital marketer, Grace Lee and learned about her story, we knew it was the perfect opportunity to pass along everything she learned – the following is in her own words:

I began writing down this story on International Women’s Day, and the irony has not escaped me. Organizations all over the world are sharing inspiring social media posts about their unwavering support for women, and yet so many women that week found themselves victims of the massive corporate layoffs transpiring across the globe. I found myself checking my LinkedIn messages (which I admittedly don’t do often enough) and saw that a friend and former co-worker was connecting me with one of his contacts. His message read: 

“Grace meet ______. [I’ll keep her name private for now]
She was just laid off at 7 months pregnant.
You have some experience here.
Any tips or best practices?”

I drafted out a novel of a response – words pouring out that I didn’t even know I had in me. A little over a year prior, I had found myself in the same predicament. I’ve decided to share my story, along with some words of encouragement and hopefully some practical advice for others facing similar situations. 

At 35 weeks pregnant, I remember trying to get in a few minutes of early morning prenatal yoga when I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. It was the head of our marketing team, letting me know that he had been laid off. He didn’t know how the rest of the team would fare, but he wanted me to be aware of what happened in the event that others on the team might be laid off as well. 

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Soon thereafter, I got a last-minute calendar invite from the head of Human Resources, and I immediately knew what was happening. Even though I had been warned, I remember sitting on the call with tears welling up in my eyes despite my fervent attempt to keep a straight face. Darn you, hormones.

“I’m eight months pregnant.” I told them, “Who in the world is going to hire me right now?”

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m very much a planner. I write out to-do lists and create spreadsheets for fun. At this point in my pregnancy, I had already engaged with HR regarding my maternity leave and had adjusted our family budget to reflect the upcoming change in income. The excitement of a first pregnancy was accompanied by hours and hours of planning – from the baby registry to nursery decorations, spreadsheets for pediatricians, daycares, and more.

Needless to say, a layoff was not in my plan.

A season of life that was supposed to overflow with joy quickly turned into a spiral of anxiety, fear, and self-doubt. My husband, parents, and friends kept reminding me that this wasn’t my fault; however, that didn’t stop the little voice in my head from assuring me otherwise. This brings me to my first two pieces of advice for anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation:

  1. Allow yourself some time to grieve. Grieve the loss of a stable job. Grieve the crumbled expectations of a “normal” maternity leave and spending months focused solely on bonding with your baby…
  2. But after that grieving period, leverage your maternal instincts to your advantage. That thing inside you that says “I would do anything to provide for my child” will be what helps you apply for jobs at 3:00 am while you’re nursing a sleeping baby. It’ll be what gives you the strength to log back onto your laptop after you’ve put the baby to bed, even though all you want to do is sit on the couch and watch TV.

    Being a mom is a strength you should tap into, not a weakness.

Soon after my call with HR, I received another call, this time from Diana, my former Chief Marketing Officer, who had left the company months prior. She heard about the layoffs and immediately reached out to her former leadership team, asking who needed the most help; they pointed her in my direction. She shared plenty of sage advice and had herself been in a somewhat similar situation early in her career.

Here’s a practical piece of wisdom from Diana:

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  1. Negotiate your butt off. She didn’t say “butt,” but you get the point. She helped me draft a letter to HR outlining my reasoning for requesting extra severance pay. The company was already offering me a generous package, but they found some wiggle room to add a little more considering I was on my husband’s health insurance and wouldn’t be taking them up on their offer for one month of free COBRA coverage. Not all companies are able or willing to be flexible on this, but you’ll never know until you ask.

After a few days of feeling like getting out of bed was the biggest (and possibly the only) accomplishment I’d make that day, I got started on the job hunt. I posted my story on job boards, looking for opportunities as well as advice from other moms and advocates of working moms. The next piece of advice was one I received over and over again from just about everyone I talked to:

  1. Get on unemployment as soon as you can. I had never navigated unemployment before, so there was a steep learning curve for me. It can be daunting, and rules and processes vary from state to state. Spend some time researching and preparing. Most states won’t allow you to apply while you’re still receiving severance pay, but you’ll want to be ready when the time comes.

As if applying and interviewing for jobs wasn’t already stressful enough, you can only imagine how nerve-wracking it is when you’re on a tight timeline and under incredible amounts of mental, emotional, and physical pressure. You’re about to birth a human, and with every interview you must hope that you won’t be immediately turned down because of that human. You must pray that the potential employer will be willing and able to allow you some time to deliver that human and recover from a major physical trauma and potential surgery. These are tough waters to navigate, but here are a few additional tips that helped me maneuver the job hunt and interview process:

  1. Leverage your connections and online job boards. You will find that there are so many mamas who are hiring managers and will empathize with you. Don’t focus the conversation on the hurdles of your upcoming life changes, but rather emphasize your strengths. You’ve got this!
  2. Look for contract roles with work from home and flexible hours. With the promise of 12-14 weeks’ maternity leave having vanished before my eyes, I knew I’d have to start working again well before my intended return date. I started interviewing for contract roles with the possibility of a full-time position in the future.
  3. Be honest with potential employers. Legally, they can’t discriminate against you because of your pregnancy. Were there people who went radio silent after I told them I was pregnant? Absolutely. But I wouldn’t want to work for those people, anyway.

In the final month of my pregnancy, I was able to leverage connections through a former coworker to secure a contract position that would start four weeks after my son’s birth. The flexible hours and remote nature of the role allowed me to work from home while caring for my son – logging on while he napped or having a family member watch him for a few hours so I could work on deliverables. Some weeks, I’d be able to work 12-18 hours; other weeks it was more like 5-10, depending on how well (or even if) my son napped. This brings me to a piece of advice that every new mom has heard a million times, but which I think is particularly apt in this situation:

  1. Lean on your friends and family. Seriously, do it. They will offer to cook dinner or watch the baby so you can shower or answer a few emails, and you should let them. As someone who would much rather serve than be served, this does not come naturally to me. But in this kind of situation, you’ll need all the help you can get. And your loved ones will be thrilled to help.

It was challenging for sure, and I had to take several conference calls while bouncing up and down with a baby strapped to my chest, but I found a team that was understanding and supportive, and who never made me feel like I had to choose between my career and being a mom. A rare find, but they’re out there!

When I felt ready to return to full time work, I began negotiating with the contract employer to transition into a full-time role. At the same time, Diana happened to be hiring for my dream job and after much deliberation, I ended up moving to a full-time role under her leadership.

Reader – I don’t know if you’re a spiritual person, and you don’t have to be. We don’t have to believe the same things, but I would appreciate you allowing me to share my beliefs as it pertains to this piece of my story. I truly believe that my layoff was just a part of God’s plan to move me into the next chapter of my career, and I couldn’t be happier with where I am now. 

I love my job, my team, and have people around me who are not only supportive but are also encouraging me to expand my family! The timing of the layoff even allowed me to spend the last few weeks of pregnancy where every expectant mama wants to be – curled up in bed watching K-dramas.

This brings me to my next few pieces of advice as you re-enter the workforce:

  1. All things work for good. If you’re a believer, dig into your faith as a source of strength during this season. Spend time in prayer, thank God for the things he has provided you, and trust in His provision for your future. Even though it may not be the perfect career plan you pictured in your head, you may be surprised when it turns out better than you could’ve ever planned it.
  2. Surround yourself with people who champion working moms. Both in my previous contracting position and in my new full-time role, my teams have been full of people who are either working moms themselves or avid supporters of working moms. These people have made all the difference in my confidence and my sanity as I juggle motherhood and career. They have been extremely patient and understanding and have loved my little family as if it were their own. Get yourself these kinds of people – get yourself a community to lean on.

There are those who will try to convince you that being a mom is a disadvantage – something that will ruin your career or make you fall behind your childless peers. Don’t listen to them. 

Yes, being a mom has placed some limitations on my schedule. I can’t be online at all times, and sometimes I even take calls from the floor of my son’s playpen if he’s home sick from daycare; but being a mom has also helped me be a better teammate and has given me greater purpose in my career pursuits. Motherhood has changed my heart and my outlook on life, sparked a drive in me, and led me to put others first more than ever before.

Just over a year ago, I felt like a complete failure. I felt like my world was crumbling, like the wind had been knocked out of me (though in hindsight, that was probably the small human using my lungs as a pillow). At the time, my mom kept telling me that one day, I’d be able to use this experience to help someone; and at the time, I didn’t want to listen to her because it was interfering with my pity party. But she was right, and if this helps even one person out there going through a similar experience, it’ll be worth it to me.

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To close out, my last piece of advice is this:

  1. If you find yourself in a similar situation, please allow my community to help. Whether that means sharing your job hunt via social media, sending you spreadsheets of all the baby things you actually need, hopping on a call to talk work things or mom things, or just letting me send you some diapers or newborn essentials, I’d love to support you however I can.

Finally, I’d like to say thank you to those who walked through my layoff season with me. From Michael, who did everything in his power to find me a new job; to Kerri, who welcomed me onto her team when most employers would have run the other way; to Diana, who consistently creates authentic, family-first team cultures that are unlike anything I’ve ever seen; to my husband, family, and friends who grieved with me and then celebrated with me – your love and support are what keep me going.

And an extra special thank you to my son, Xander, who has made me the happiest mama in the world – you are my biggest inspiration, and I love you more than you’ll ever know.

Thank you to those who have read my story, to those who will share my story, and to those who will help me support women who find themselves in similar situations. My prayer in sharing this is that we can create a community of people who can provide encouragement, support, and opportunities to expectant and new moms everywhere.

If this story has inspired you, feel free to share it with your circle. If you’re hiring for a flexible contract role, please consider a soon-to-be mama. If you know an expectant mom, new mom, or working mom who’s struggling, offer help however you can. Together, we can create an environment that harnesses a mama’s strength as the superpower that it is and use it to help us achieve business goals at the same time.

Who is Grace Lee?

Hi, y’all! My name is Grace Lee, and I’m a wife, a mother, a digital marketer, and above all, a passionate Christ follower. As a graduate of The University of Alabama, my passion for football is surpassed only by my passion for God and people; and as a digital marketer, I get the unique opportunity to balance my fervor for design, creativity, and making things beautiful with my analytical side and love for languages (both natural and programming).

I live in North Texas with my beautiful family – my husband (Joe), son (Xander), and Boykin Spaniel (Major). After having thrived in various types of roles in industries spanning Retail, Commercial Real Estate, Tech, and Cybersecurity, I have come to the realization that, at the end of the day, we are all in the business of people. My goal every day is to use my unique talents to serve others and create a lasting legacy to change the world for the better.

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The American Genius is news, insights, tools, and inspiration for business owners and professionals. AG condenses information on technology, business, social media, startups, economics and more, so you don’t have to.

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