The (Pregnant) Elephant in the Room
by Jen Park
My husband and I had tried for a long time to have a baby. When I finally became pregnant I was in my last term of library school. I was thrilled and very, very nervous about applying for positions. Although I was working part-time in a law school library, I knew I wanted a full time position for a few reasons: financial, scholastic, and I truly enjoyed what I had seen of the profession thus far. While I continued with my part-time job, I applied, applied, applied. In fact, I applied to so many places I had to create a spreadsheet—109 total entries were logged! Still, I was determined to find a full-time position, belly and all.
Interviewing with a large prego belly proved to be a hurdle. The physical preparation was more than I anticipated. After trying on suits three sizes above what I normally wear, I conceded to the fact that I would have to purchase a maternity suit which was an expense. I did not feel comfortable walking in to an interview and have the employers quickly judging me by my stomach, so I loaded up on accessories—scarves, bracelets, earrings…anything to detract from my belly. I also found that my shoes did not fit as they had 6 months earlier. Luckily, I found this out two days before my first prego-interview and was able to find a pair of shoes that fit.
So how did the interviews go? One employer said that whoever was hired to fill the position would HAVE to work on July 2nd (this was an April interview). It was clear that this was her way of saying “I see you’re pregnant…legally I cannot broach the subject but I can bring this up in other ways”. I explained that I could not commit to July 2nd (I was due June 30th). I did not get the position and, honestly, was not bothered by the rejection. I knew I would not want to work for an organization that did not embrace family. In another interview the employer either did not know about my pregnancy, or hid the surprise quite well. I will say that I did bring a very large bag for the interview which I used to keep my resume handy while using it as a stealthy tool to block the interviewer’s view of my belly. I did not get that job either, but I felt it was because I was not a proper fit for the position.
Finally, at 34 weeks pregnant, I interviewed for an internal position at another department within my current organization. During the interview, it became clear that there was an internal candidate who currently worked in the office of the position I was interviewing for. I boldly said that should the internal candidate receive the position, I would be interested in filling the vacant position. Sure enough, two weeks later I was called and asked to meet with the hiring chair. While meeting in person. I was told that although the internal candidate was hired for the original vacancy, I was being offered the new vacancy which had not been posted. I emphatically accepted! When asked for a start date, I said “Well, since I’m 36 weeks pregnant, I would like to begin as soon as possible in order to become familiar with the position. Otherwise, I can wait until after the baby arrives and then begin”. The look on the hiring chair’s face said it all—she had no idea I was pregnant. Granted, I had a large bag on my lap, but this was a department within my organization! I had assumed the committee knew I was pregnant. She uttered the words “I didn’t know you were pregnant…” and left the sentence at that.For a moment I was very nervous about what she was going to say next. Sure, it’s not supposed to matter legally, but the reality is that the employer can come back and say “we decided on another candidate whose expertise more closely suits our needs” or “we thought the budget would allow us to hire for this vacancy, but we were mistaken”. There are so many ways for an employer to retract a statement—especially when paperwork had yet to be signed. Instead, she said “But it doesn’t matter! We will work it all out! Let’s discuss this with your direct supervisor”. And THAT is the type of organization that I want to work for.
Jen Park currently resides in New Jersey with her husband, kids, and two furbabies. She is the Assistant Librarian for Access and Outreach Services at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, NY. Jen previously worked at Thomas M. Cooley Law School where she was hired while she was pregnant and, subsequently, has many onesies with the school’s logo. When she is not at work, Jen enjoys running, eating froyo, and watching trashy tv.