Knocked Up and Laid Off?

October 06, 2009 12:00 AM by


By Lora Shinn

It’s the one time in your life you could really use a beer—and you can’t have one

“It’s truly amazing how one phone call can change so many aspects of your life,” says Marsha Martin, a mom in Jacksonville, FL. One Monday morning this summer, just after 8 a.m., Martin’s manager called her and read from a script: “Your position has been eliminated, effective today.”

Martin was seven months pregnant. “In one day, we went from planning a trip to Walt Disney World to wondering how we were going to afford the mortgage and the upcoming hospital bills,” she says.

Believe it or not, if your company boots you due to budget—not belly—it’s perfectly within the law. But while more than 14 million Americans are currently out of work, being pregnant and jobless presents unique challenges. Here are three stories from women getting through it, one day at a time.

From breadwinner to no dough
Stacey Morrisroe of Hawthorne, NJ, lost her marketing job in this year’s stark winter—when her husband, who is self-employed, also couldn’t find work.

Because she was the family breadwinner, their income went from six figures to low enough to qualify for free milk, eggs, and cheese from the government. “It was a very humbling experience, to say the least,” says Morrisroe, who ultimately did take advantage of these benefits.

Morrisroe is now working her network to the hilt, attending professional events and sending out resumes. Stressed about finding work before her unemployment checks run out, she isn’t telling employers that she’s pregnant.

“After all, as tough as the job market is right now, who in their right mind would want to hire a pregnant woman?” Morrisroe asks.

Don’t ask, don’t tell?
If you’re not showing, you do have to weigh whether it’s best to spill your secret. Telling the truth about your status may lead a prospective employer to jump to conclusions about whether you’ll be around for the long haul, despite laws that prohibit such assumptions.

But if you’re walking into an office visibly pregnant, it’s only human nature for the interviewer to take note, says Tory Johnson, author of Fired to Hired. Empathize and put yourself in his shoes, says Marjorie Greenfield, M.D., author of The Working Woman’s Pregnancy Book.

If you do reveal your pregnancy, describe how you’ve got childcare lined up for after maternity leave and talk about how much you love your career. Then steer the conversation back to your professional achievements and ambitions, Johnson adds.

If you can’t find work, seek help, like Morrisroe did. Contact your credit-card companies, student-loan holder, and mortgage provider to research postponing or reducing payments and interest rates until you can find employment. And remember—you’ve contributed to government aid with your taxes, so there’s no shame in getting a hand when you need it most.

Speak up: Thoughtless friends and co-workers may say things like, “Oh, lucky you! You don’t have to work.” or “You would’ve left anyway after having the baby, right?” Keep an easy, positive catchphrase on the tip of your tongue, like “I enjoy working, and I need to go back to work,” Greenfield suggests.

It’s a new day
Martin, who lost her job this summer, was completely at a loss after the layoff. But her husband and parents encouraged her to use the time to take good care of herself and to explore a new profession. So she’s studying for a teaching certificate, something she always meant to pursue, but never had time for.

“I thought my life was falling apart when I was told I was laid off, and now I feel it’s only the beginning of a new life,” Martin says. “This may be a setback for us financially, but it is only going to make me stronger as a person and make us stronger as a family.”

“You can recognize the blessings a blank slate can offer,” Johnson says of losing a job. We all daydream of ideal careers or our own businesses, even just the time to do so many things we’ve wanted to try, but now might be the time to act on a dream. “You can move in any direction,” Johnson adds.

That’s what friends are for
Feeling alone may be the thing that brings you down most of all. In December 2008, when she was only a few months pregnant, Alora Lindt’s employer asked her to pack up and leave, two weeks’ severance in hand.

Lindt, who lives in San Jose, CA, emailed her resume around, joined Facebook, and updated her LinkedIn profile. But she soon realized she couldn’t sit by herself in front of a screen every day.

So Lindt began joining working friends at lunch hours and
coffee breaks, logged lots of time at the gym, and met unemployed friends for support. “I even had them all over for lunch one day just to relax, have some laughs, and not worry that we weren’t working,” she says.

This is smart, Johnson notes, because maintaining work and personal relationships makes job-hunting easier, and keeps you out of the emotional doldrums. You never know, a women you meet in your evening prenatal yoga class may be the one who hires you in three months—or three years down the road.

Light at the end of the tunnel
A layoff may add to stress at first, but there are bonuses to a freer schedule, if you can get by, money-wise. “I got plenty of sleep and time for myself before our baby was born,” says Lindt, who even had time to try out new recipes on her husband and spend more time with her parents, who live a few hours away. “I wouldn’t trade these things for anything,” she remarks.

Greenfield admits that losing a job has a special silver lining when you’re expecting: “A lot of people are getting laid off, but you’ve got something else exciting going on,” she notes.

In fact, these may be the last free weeks you’ll have for a while, whether you score a new job or not. As a new mom, Lindt agrees. “After having my baby, I’m not as depressed about work,” she says, laughing. “I don’t have time to be!”

Get help!
If you suspect pregnancy-related discrimination, dial your state’s Department of Labor or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And get more information at eeoc.gov/types/pregnancy.html.

Ask HR about staying on your current insurance plan (and with your current care provider) through COBRA. The federal stimulus plan offers COBRA subsidies for qualified individuals. Read more at dol.gov/ebsa/cobra.html.

Grocery budget a stretch? Find out whether you qualify for food stamps at ssa.gov/pubs/10101.html or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
fns.usda.gov/wic/aboutwic.

If you fall between safety nets and need one-time assistance (or feel like giving some), check out the organization Modest Needs: modestneeds.org.

Use the generosity of friends and family wisely: Set up a cash registry at rainfallofenvelopes.com

Lora Shinn often writes about careers and money for publications like bankrate.com, Yahoo! Finance, and PINK, but this story was particularly poignant to research and write. She hopes the women she interviewed will soon be celebrating new jobs.

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