Most working mothers are painfully aware of the facts surrounding pregnancy and childbirth in regard to their careers. Among other issues, our country lacks mandated, paid, maternity leave and daycare costs are exorbitant to the point of some women not bothering to work after having a baby. What some may not realize is that there are women losing their jobs solely because they’re pregnant. One mother decided to take action after it happened to her.
Joeli Brearly was fired from her job after becoming pregnant. The self-employed, U.K. mom was working on a year-long project when the client summarily dismissed her after learning she was pregnant. Brearly tells Think Progress “I couldn’t actually believe that people would, firstly, behave like that, but also that they thought they could get away with it.”
After giving birth, Brearly met other moms who experienced similar discrimination saying, “I was really appalled by how many of the women had similar stories.” Hearing their stories inspired her to start a website called Pregnant Then Screwed, where women could share their tale of being discriminated against by an employer for being pregnant or having a baby. Initially, the site was only in the U.K. but is expanding this month to include the United States and Spain. The U.K. version has around 450 stories collected so far ranging from tales of employers asking a woman to get an abortion to women being fired after announcing their pregnancies or right before taking maternity leave.
The accounts shared on the site are appalling, to say the least. One woman says that after a chilly response from her superiors when telling them of her pregnancy, that she was let go after her subsequent miscarriage. “I took the natural option with my miscarriage and took time off whilst it took its horrible course. The day I returned to work I was offered a package to leave, it was non-negotiable and roughly on par with what a tribunal would have awarded.” Another mother tells of a lost promotion after announcing her pregnancy. “When I needed time off for fertility treatments, they said they would still promote me but also hire someone above me instead of letting me manage someone else. When I announced I was pregnant they changed their mind again and no promotion for me. So to recap – they told me I was getting promoted, then I got pregnant and they hired someone else for that role.”
Sadly, I could add my own story. Shortly after finding out I was expecting my first child, I was laid off. My manager didn’t know I was pregnant, but finding a new job at that point was a scary prospect. Fortunately, I managed to land a temp-to-hire position before the end of my first trimester. I opted not to tell my employer until I was further along. All the while, my boss told me the “temp” part of the offer was a formality and that I would be hired permanently after the temp period ended. I eventually told my managers and that I planned to take a brief leave and return to work after having my daughter. They didn’t fire me, but all talk of my permanent status ceased. During the first week of maternity leave, I received a letter from my employer saying they had decided to terminate my position and go in “a different direction.” As I was still considered “temp” when I went on leave, they were technically within their rights to let me go. Deep down, I knew my status as a new mom was likely the reason why, but I had no idea what to do about it. So I did nothing.
The fact that this happens so routinely is extremely disturbing and Brearly’s website spreading the word about the real women this discrimination affects will hopefully bring the issue into the open. I felt so alone when it happened to me. I wish I’d had a resource like this site to know that it was happening to other women too, and that I could try to fight back. Brearly says that as a result of her work, she wants “structures and systems and laws changed that will assist women better.” Getting the word out about the mothers this is happening to is a step in the right direction that will hopefully contribute to meaningful change soon.