Your Pregnancy, Your Career and the Recession

Katy Rank Lev wasn't sure how or when to tell her employer she was pregnant.

A part-time instructor at the University of Pittsburgh, the 27-year-old didn't want her pregnancy to dictate whether the school renewed her annual teaching contract. She also worried that the sour economy and the university's recent hiring freeze on full-time faculty might not bode well for her.

"I really had no idea how to navigate work and being pregnant," said Rank Lev, who's now 30 weeks along and, as luck would have it, is due during her school's summer break.

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So she waited. And waited. Until one day, a coworker asked if Rank Lev had some news to share after seeing her "waddling up the stairs."

Rank Lev isn't alone in her fear of telling her employer about her pregnancy, especially in today's miserable job market. Check out any online community of new moms and you'll find dozens of similar stories.

Sure, there are laws that prevent employers from canning a female employee simply because she decided to breed.

But throw a baby bottle and you're bound to hit an expectant mom or a new one who found the timing of her pink-slip a tad suspicious. In fact, pregnancy discrimination charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have increased by almost 50 percent in the past decade, with 6,285 charges filed in 2008.

You can't predict how management will react to the news of your imminent parenthood. But if you want to hold onto your job, there's a lot you can do to convince your boss that you'll still willing to pull your weight -- now, and once that bundle of joy arrives.

Don't Wait for Them to Speculate

Though you may be afraid to drop the bomb, don't wait till someone notices your baby bump and does it for you.

If you're in your second trimester and you've started telling friends and family the good news, clue your boss in too, said Cali Williams Yost, CEO of Work+Life Fit, Inc., a firm that helps companies design flexible work programs.

If you plan to keep your job, be as specific and clear as possible -- about your due date, the dates your maternity leave will begin and end, and the fact that you'll be back at work with bells on post-leave, said Williams Yost. Don't make people guess when and whether you'll be available for key projects and business trips in the coming months.

"You want to drive the story of your pregnancy because if you don't, there will be a lot of assumptions driving the story that might not be true," she explained. "And in today's tough environment, you want your manager's decisions to be based on fact."

This is the tack a New York communications specialist I'll call Jessie took last month, after getting the thumbs up at her 12-week doctor's appointment. (Jessie, who's 31, asked to remain anonymous out of fear for her job.)

Upon hearing the news, Jessie's boss said all the wonderfully reassuring things a good manager should: that she was a valuable employee he'd come to rely on and that if she needed to pull back on her responsibilities, it wouldn't be a problem.

But, Jessie told me via e-mail, "Before he could finish the sentence, I said, 'No -- things will be status quo. Period. Appreciate your support, but I expect that I will not miss a beat.'"

Never Let Them See You Slack

That's not to say that Jessie, who had her first child two years ago, is worry-free.

"I am very nervous that responsibilities will be taken away from me like they were last time I was pregnant," she said. "My career is soaring and I just got promoted, but my company has a salary freeze so I haven't gotten my raise yet. Now, I'm worried that my raise will not be as high."

And despite her winning rapport with her boss, Jessie worries that "people will start to treat me like the weak link," knowing that she'll be on maternity leave for 12 weeks.

"I can't afford to slack at all," she said. "I've already scheduled all of my doctor's appointments for before work hours -- all the way through my third trimester."

Make a Game Plan

While you shouldn't play superhero to the point that you risk winding up on bed rest, the proactive approach is definitely the way to go, said Williams Yost.

"You want to make this as easy and seamless for your colleagues as possible," she explained.

For a smooth transition, Williams Yost suggested the following:

Plan to hand off your work a month before your due date. You may wind up working until the week junior arrives. But if he or she makes an early appearance, your co-workers won't have to scramble to pick up the pieces.

Initiate a meeting with your boss to review your plan. "Many bosses are afraid to say anything for fear of breaking the law," Williams Yost said. "Getting the ball rolling will be a relief."

Once your boss green-lights the plan, clue in your co-workers. Introduce them to key players, include them in relevant meetings and e-mail threads, and make sure they have access to your files.

Meet with your human resources department to review family leave and disability policies. "Be sure to clarify all dates when various leaves and payments begin and end," she said. "Then communicate the schedule to your boss."

Finally, Williams Yost added, don't overlook whether telecommuting or -- if you can afford it -- a reduced work schedule could ease your transition into and out of maternity leave.

"The choice doesn't have to be all or nothing," she explained. "Don't wait until you are in the middle of trying to create a new work-life fit to consider your options."

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michelle Goodman is a freelance journalist, author and former cubicle dweller. Her books — "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube" -- offer an irreverent take on the traditional career guide. More tips on career change, flex work and the freelance life can be found on her blog,