I was at a hospital in the city the other day and several pregnant women who attended a regular clinic were engaging in conversation, sharing their experience on how difficult it is to handle the pregnancy, work and their domestic responsibilities during the entire nine months.
Curiosity got the best of me and I had to know more about what they were discussing. My inquisitiveness told me to move closer so that I could clearly hear the discussion. It was not like I was snooping but being a woman; the topic was really interesting.
“Have you ever seen a pregnant woman in uniform? By uniform I mean the servicewomen in the military or police force?” one expectant mother asked me as I was about to sit next to her. She really caught me off guarded by the question.
“I have seen many pregnant women in their workplaces but I haven’t seen those in uniform during their pregnancy; may be because I’m not in such a career,” I answered.
Being a mother and a journalist, the question really strikes into my mind. It raises many questions than answers on work-life balance during pregnancy.
It is an undisputed fact that women experience a lot of changes during the entire period of between 38 and 40 weeks, in which a woman should be responsible for the well-being and the development of the child she is carrying.
Career is equally a very important aspect in women’s life as it is to men, not only because it defines their profession but also it helps in putting food on the table and guarantee individual welfare and the welfare of the family.
Medical doctors agree that following the changes of the body and the hormone at this time, most pregnant women may feel fatigue in the course of their normal routine at work.
Workplace is one of the areas where people spend most part of the day.
Due to the importance of their work to them, pregnant women can’t just stop what they are doing and rest or take their time for themselves just because of the pregnancy.
How women manage to balance between pregnancy and career is certainly not an individual issue to deal with but needs a concern from those around them.
Dr Living Colman, a gynaecologist at Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH), says people should understand that the situation pregnant women are undergoing is challenging to the extent that they could have mood swings, become angry as well as tired.
“All in all they need the support of people around them in order to manage to strike a balance between pregnancy and career no matter what,” he urges.
A five-month pregnant waitress working at a famous restaurant in Dar es Salaam, says she didn’t know how it feels being pregnant. Being her first pregnancy Bernadette Mwita says she used to hear about morning sickness but she didn’t expect it to be that challenging.
“I didn’t imagine if one day I will lose my appetite for the whole first three months of pregnancy.
I couldn’t manage to take anything except drinking water; the morning sickness pushed me into a corner. I used to vomit each morning, feeling fatigue and sleepy,” recalls Bernadette.
According to her, she started hating her job as the pregnancy condition and the changes it is associated with forced her to go late to the office almost every day during the first three months.
“I had a difficult time with my supervisor as my performance at work gradually dropped. But it was not easy for me to break the news to her or the head of department,” she says.
For Irene Joseph, a resident of Kimara Suka in Dar es Salaam, things were worse. Irene was expecting twins and as time went by she even failed to attend to her normal routine at work due to the heavy weight she was carrying.
“Despite being a woman and a mother, my line manager didn’t understand me at all. It reached a point where she compared me to other pregnant women at work, saying they work normally and are sharp in attending to their duties than me,” recalls Irene.
“If it was not for the support from my husband, I could have quit my job,” says Irene, a civil servant.
Most bosses, heads of departments and line managers know that it is really difficult for a woman to tell everyone in the office that she has conceived.
Most women choose to hide their pregnancy to most people in offices except to close friends. However, due to that fact that pregnancy is a stage-to-stage development within the body, people will eventually come to know about it as the changes and time-limit conditions take place.
Lugano Bwenda, a human resources practitioner in the city, admits that it has never been easy for a woman to handle these three things altogether simultaneous; motherhood, pregnancy and work life.
“In African setting, gender roles were separated between men and women. Basically women roles can be grouped into three; family, society and work while those of men are in two groups; societal ones and work,” he explains.
According to him, things change when women get pregnant. Unlike working mothers, most women, especially those with first pregnancy experience, become frustrated as they don’t know how to handle and balance all of the aspects of things together; work life, family and pregnancy.
“This is not the end of life like many more think; a mother needs to plan her life in line with her condition. There are many ways to manage work-life-pregnancy balance. However, there are two major things; one is being passionate about both roles (family and work) while managing the pregnancy situation. Pregnancy is not a sickness, though it is understandable to some women it comes with complications,” he says.
“The second thing is to share and communicate with your employer. You need to engage your line manager and of course the HR representative on how you can manage your duties. Employers are different, by understanding your employer you will know how much to share,” he adds, continuing, “It is advised to be as open and honest as possible. While discussing with your line manager or human resources representative it’s better if you have a prepared set of alternatives on how your proposal for new work arrangement won’t affect productivity.”
He recalls a situation where arrangements were made between a supervisor, HR department and an employee with pregnancy complications to allow her to sometimes work from home provided she delivered her work within the set deadline.
“We managed the situation very well until she delivered,” he says.
Lugano says HR practitioners should understand that they live to help employees realise their potentials for their career growth. “As human resources practitioner, we are in a better position to help an employee since we deal with them day-to-day for their welfare and the welfare of the employers,” he says
Going for check-up
Dr Colman advices women to go for check-up before they decide to conceive. “This will help them know their health status and understand what kind of lifestyle they are supposed to live after conceiving,” he says.
“Your gynaecologist will advise you on what to do if you have any problem concerning the undergoing changes in your body. If you have a heart problem, he/she will let you know if you need to terminate the pregnancy or to rest so that to allow it to grow without more problems. If you have uterus problem, for example, you will be advised accordingly; whether to take a bed rest for nine months or to abort it,” says Dr Colman.
Above all, Dr Colman calls for support to pregnant women, whether at home or workplace during the entire nine months. “By supporting them, we will be making their pregnancy journey smooth and easy,” he says.
Alex Kotsos, a HR consultant based in Dublin, Northern Ireland says in irishexaminer.com that announcing pregnancy can be a major issue for women.
“They reported worrying about ‘what my manager would think as I had only just come back from another maternity leave’ or ‘my manager’s face dropped when I told them — you could see they were already worried about how the work would get done when I was away on maternity’.”
The website says if the manager’s a working mother, her own experiences [managing pregnancy and work] really shape how she behaves — if she was sick but struggled on, she expects the same of others.
“Managers with no experience of children often struggle with even knowing how to interact with a pregnant woman.”