When queen-in-waiting Kate Middleton announced her second pregnancy just as she hit the six-week mark, her fans were delighted. With most celebrities we have to endure months of bump watching until an official announcement is made.
But Kate, who suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum (severe morning sickness) in both her pregnancies, was forced to let the cat out of the bag at a phase in her pregnancy when many other moms-to-be don’t even know they’re expecting.
Her decision was to avoid speculation when she bailed on her official engagements. While the public’s sympathy lay with Kate, it has raised the question about when it is an “acceptable” time to share your special secret with the world.
Midwife Ingrid Groenewald explains that you may feel hesitant to announce your pregnancy early if you have experienced a miscarriage in an earlier pregnancy, or are concerned about complications.
“There are positives to telling people you are pregnant early. Firstly, they will understand why you are tired or not feeling well and can offer you help, and if you do suffer complications they can offer you support,” she says.
However, if the pregnancy ends in miscarriage you may feel drained by having to tell everyone, and if you have other children telling him or her very early may be confusing to them because of the long wait for the baby, says Ingrid.
What's up doc?
One of the challenges for healthcare professionals is that women delay reporting their pregnancy, which means they may miss out on essential medical care at a crucial stage of their pregnancy – the first 12 weeks. You want your pregnancy to be managed properly from a medical perspective.
“Seeing a doctor or going to the clinic as soon as you know you are pregnant means they can check your blood pressure and exclude any other dangers that may interfere with your pregnancy, such as diabetes,” says senior lecturer in Health Sciences Education at Unisa, Dr Johanna Mathibe-Neke. But there’s also a lot going on in your head during pregnancy, and Dr Mathibe-Neke says that receiving early medical intervention means that emotional and mental support can be given if you are feeling wobbly.
“A woman may separate from her partner because she is experiencing psychological problems caused by her hormone changes,” she says. Apart from counselling, you can be referred to social services where financial assistance or accommodation can be provided if you are facing these challenges.
Question of culture?
Whatever background you come from, many issues around your pregnancy will be influenced by tradition and superstition. And these kick into play the second you pee on a stick and it turns pink. In many Southern African cultures, discussing pregnancies is considered taboo, leading women to withhold their due date from everyone except those closest to them.
Withholding your pregnancy until close to the due date is not an uncommon practice in women who were raised in a rural and highly traditional African culture. Senior lecturer in Health Sciences Education at Unisa, Dr Johanna Mathibe-Neke, explains that this is based on a superstition that “people in the community could use witchcraft to affect the health of the foetus and there is a tradition that pregnancy is considered sacred and should not be shared with anyone”.
Superstition isn’t confined to African culture – in Jewish tradition women only announce they are pregnant in their second trimester in order to keep the “evil eye” away.
Another factor, relevant in our country where unemployment is soaring and many women are the primary breadwinners, is a perception that revealing your pregnancy to your employer early on will give them time to find a reason to dismiss you. And this concern isn’t confined to women with vulnerable work situations. This then raises the question: how do you tell your boss you’re pregnant?
The office announcement
The ideal scenario would start with a private discussion with your boss, after which you reveal your pregnancy to your colleagues by showing off your 12 week scan. Together you can work towards finding a suitable replacement or a plan to share out the workload while you are on maternity leave.
But the truth is, you may not be so lucky, and that sinking feeling in your tummy when telling your boss may have nothing to do with the baby wriggling inside. So, when should you break the news?
As soon as possible – say the experts. Legally, “employees must notify their employer at least four weeks before you intend taking maternity leave,” says Candice Eaton, head of HR and labour consulting for RSM Betty & Dickson.
“But, bear in mind that the sooner you notify them, the sooner they can identify risks and hazards that may affect your pregnancy.” This may mean adjusting your working hours if you work long shifts, or moving you to desk job if your environment exposes you to harmful chemicals.
Giving them the heads up will also mean they are able to respond appropriately should there be an accident or you fall ill, says Candice. You also need to consider that if your work environment harms your pregnancy in any way, and you haven’t informed your employer you are pregnant, you will not have any claim against them.
But while the law is on your side, it doesn’t stop pregnancy discrimination from happening, says Candice. She gives an example of a case where a woman announced her pregnancy two weeks after she had been made a permanent employee.
Her boss required her to return to work a month after giving birth – which turned out to be to a set of very colicky twins. Overwhelmed and exhausted, the woman requested more time off. Instead, she was replaced. The courts found in her favour – according to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act you are entitled to at least four months’ maternity leave.
So what should you do if you feel you are being discriminated against? “Read through the employer’s policies on maternity leave and pregnancy and then if necessary lodge a grievance with HR,” says Candice. If conciliation fails, you can lodge a claim with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). But, warns, Candice, “Being pregnant doesn’t protect you entirely and you can be dismissed for, amongst other things, poor performance or misconduct.”
Telling your boss you are pregnant at the three-month mark has other practical repercussions. “If you are in a senior position they will need time to find a suitable candidate for your maternity leave and there is also a lot of administrative paperwork that needs to be done in advance by HR for your UIF submission,” says Anja van Beek, HR director for Sage AAMEA.
Who else to tell?
Most importantly, let the father of your baby be the first to know. While you might be aching to tell your BFF or mom, the father of the child is likely to be your partner in the big adventure you will share ahead. Let him enjoy your little secret until you’re both ready to share it with the world.
Want to make it a moment he’ll remember? Have some fun with it – have a T-shirt made that says “Baby Daddy” on it, or ask him to take something out of the stove where you’ve already placed a bun and see if he makes the connection.
Planning on hitting the gym to keep your body fit and healthy for the upcoming birth? The sooner you tell your personal trainer you are pregnant, the better, says Ryan Burger, part owner and coach of Crossfit District 6 in Cape Town.
Your trainer will adjust your workouts, and their intensity, based on how far along you are, “to make sure you are not endangering your life or that of your unborn child,” he says.
You have probably heard that you should wait until the 12 week mark before you announce you’re expecting. Why is this so? By 12 weeks you are through the most vulnerable stage of your pregnancy and are less likely to miscarry. You also would have had your first appointment and a clear indication that baby is doing well.
Others feel you should tell friends and family as soon as you find out, so if something were to happen to baby, you have their support. They also will be able to support you through the tough pregnancy symptoms.
The law's on your side
South Africa has a lot of legislation that protects your rights during pregnancy and after the birth, says Jody-Lee Fredericks, an attorney at the Women’s Legal Centre. They are:
- The Basic Condition of Employment Act
- The Labour Relations Act
- The Employment Equity Act
- The Unemployment Insurance Act
The laws are pretty detailed around the rights of pregnant women, but there is no law that states when you have to disclose to your employer that you are pregnant, or that you intend to fall pregnant, says Jody-Lee.
“But the law states that if you are pregnant, and you have to go on maternity leave, that you have to notify your boss within four weeks from the day you want to start your maternity leave, and this has to be done in writing.” If you have had a miscarriage, you should also announce this to your employer as you are entitled to six weeks leave too, she says.