Too close

April 18, 2012

This is rather a whiny post. I apologize in advance. I know this isn’t my best side, but it’s a side. And I decided to show it in this space because I can’t think of where else to go to process this.

At my workplace, I’m on a couple of steering committees that oversee different “Teams.” One of those teams staffs a public service desk, with team members each being assigned a certain number shifts to fill up a certain number of hours a week. The work done at this desk, the work of this particular steering committee of which I’m a part – both are something I’m passionate about. And both require a lot of thought and work and (sometimes) defending as we face staff shortages and shifting organizational priorities.

I realize that’s vague. It’s back story and it’s about my workplace, and I try to be discreet when talking about my workplace. But sometimes my work life and my life life aren’t separate creatures. More often than sometimes, really.

We were discussing asking anyone anticipating an extended leave to publicly provide an anticipated return date. This sounds very reasonable, yes? And even necessary, when you are looking at staffing a public services desk. But there are two problems:

  1. This would have been a guideline ostensibly for the whole team but in reality aimed at a very small group. This sort of communication, the “Everyone remember to …” with a side of “We’re looking at you, Billy” just doesn’t sit well with me. If someone has a problem with a particular person’s work, why can’t they just approach that person directly?Yes, I know there are times when that doesn’t work, but there are times when not being direct is taking the easy way out in a way that just allows resentment to fester unecessarily.
  2. The small group in question? Pregnant people. To be clear, pregnant people in my workplace now number zero, but relatively recently pregnant people number two, me and a coworker. Really recently pregnant people – that’s just my coworker. Who came back to work earlier than expected after giving birth, which is apparently what started all of this off (I’m still surprised that people weren’t just happy to have her back sooner than expected).

And point number two is where I just can’t even speak to the issue because I’m so close to it. I carefully planned two pregnancies, two work absences. In terms of them going as planned I’m a complete failure. Pregnancy number one involved a life-threatening congenital defect and unexpected bedrest. Though my baby did conveniently die, making it easy to pick a date to return to work and also making it harder for my coworkers to be irritated by my inconveniencing them.  Pregnancy number two is the one that was problematic, from the working perspective. First of all, again with the unexpected bedrest. Followed by a birth a couple of weeks early than expected. Followed by my coming to terms with the fact that I wasn’t going to be fit to work as soon as I’d hoped – not for physical reasons but for emotional and situational ones which I didn’t discuss with anyone at work because I didn’t have to. My partner wasn’t comfortable taking care of the baby for extended time periods. I wasn’t comfortable not reassuring myself as to her being alive for extended time periods. And I probably should have known I was going to be a hot mess & planned accordingly, but I didn’t. So I didn’t give my return date as promptly as I should have.

It’s true, pregnancies can be planned for. A lot of them probably even go according to plan. But expecting them all to go according to plan and expecting new parents to know what they’re doing before they’re even new parents – in my experience this is maybe not the best way to look at pregnancy.

And now I feel like I’ve contributed, negatively, to the perception of pregnant people in my workplace. That my pregnancy difficulties (which can’t be addressed directly, legally) and my being a hot mess after Dot’s birth, have messed up the environment where I work. To the point that, when my energetic, enthusiastic, hard-working coworker returns to work earlier than people expected after the birth of her daughter, this is treated as an inconvenience instead of what it is, a damned good thing. Guilt, guilt, guilt. Hurray! More guilt. Because what I really wanted now that I finally am starting to feel like I’m more healed than broken – more guilt!

The ironic part is, there just aren’t many of us working here who have young children, and there’s a very slim chance there will be any pregnancies in the organization’s immediate future, so this is a definite case of closing the gate well after the cows have gotten loose.

The sad part is that if we weren’t so weirded out by the fact that work life and life life aren’t actually always separate things, there would have been the kind of mentoring available to both my coworker and me that would have allowed us to minimize this sort of fall-out. And I also wouldn’t have been so private about what was happening to me medically and personally, which would have allowed for better planning if not for more understanding.

The saddest part is that I now realize that my workplace, which I’d viewed as extremely accommodating and supportive, may not have actually been as willingly supportive as I thought it was. I think I’m wrong about this, that what I’m seeing right now is due to a lot of factors beyond my control and that most, if not all, of my colleagues are truly supportive, and that after I’ve had a few days to process, I’ll be able to believe this again. Still. Blech.

Baby loss. The gift that keeps on giving.

The steering committee did decide that we didn’t want to issue the guideline as coming from the committee. I expect the person who drafted it will take their concerns to the administration. And, years from now, if any of my colleagues is expecting, I will have some decaf coffee with them and try to offer the kind of mentoring I wish I’d had.



One comment

  1. I think you (and all the other lovely Americans I like) should move here, where I think we have a much better grasp of the whole work/life balance thing. You can sleep on my floor til you get established!
    Seriously though, I don’t think you were whiny here at all. I feel your frustrations and I think you are totally justified to feel this way.

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