Pregnancy discrimination is still alive and well.

Just ask Elizabeth Warren.

Senator Warren recently shared a story about how she lost her teaching position when she was — gasp! — Daring to Teach Other People’s Small Humans While Growing Another Small Human Inside of Her Body.

Oh, the humanity!

Warren described how her employer, a local school district, had the rule that teachers could not remain in their positions once their pregnancies became apparent. This was in the early 1970’s, prior to the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and pregnant-and-showing women did not have any other option but to resign from their positions.

Senator Warren is pictured here in the early 1970’s after she lost her teaching position for being visibly pregnant. Credit: Chicago Tribune

The notion that women could not continue to work because they were pregnant, of course, implied that they had a back-up source of income. There was the implication that there would be a male partner in the background who would continue to financially support the woman and her fetus.

Obviously, this assumption could be completely erroneous. These long-ago employers were assuming that there was a male partner in the background who would want to be there to support the woman and her fetus. Or that the male partner would even be there at all.

Senator Warren’s long-ago experience should have been a quaint anecdote, but there are far too many women out there who have dealt with pregnancy discrimination even after the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was enacted in 1978.

Far too many women…including me.

Her situation reminded me of some ridiculousness I encountered within my own era as an educator.

Heads up: you’re replaceable.

When I gave birth to Boy #1 in 2002, he was a very high-maintenance preemie, but I felt pressured to *still* do a lot of unpaid work during my maternity leave because I wasn’t tenured.

It was clear that if I wanted to keep my coveted teaching job — “English teachers are a dime a dozen, you know” — that I still needed to come in for the club I was sponsoring (the, ahem, all-important National Honor Society) and regularly help with writing curriculum.

It was horrible and exhausting. Nobody cared.

“Hey, you look tired! Is that baby keeping you awake until all hours? When do you officially come back to work? Hang in there!!”

Picture of a tired, bloodshot eye.
Picture of a tired, bloodshot eye.

Um, how about this closet?

When I returned to work, I asked my male principal where I could go to pump. Initially, he did not understand my question and, when I gently clarified, he said he had no idea and changed the subject.

I ended up befriending the librarian and she offered me a dark, musty AV storage closet with rust- colored carpet on the walls that felt both crusty and slightly damp. I was sincerely grateful for her help.

But there I would sit and pump, thinking how bad this all *still* sucked.

I had a little picture of Boy #1 propped up against that gross, carpeted wall, but it didn’t help me feel any better about having my boobs hooked up to a machine in a dark, smelly closet.

Needless to say, my efforts to pump lasted all of three weeks. I just couldn’t deal.

Picture of Medela breast pump collection containers.
Picture of Medela breast pump collection containers.
It was Just me, a picture of my tiny man, and the breast pump. Good times.

Sorry, but yeah…no.

Finally, in that same long ago school district, I was just entering the second trimester of my pregnancy with Boy #2 and I was interviewing for a dean’s position.

During the interview, I foolishly thought it would be okay for me to disclose my pregnancy, to a male interviewing team, in the interest of being transparent and a team player. Heh.

I later heard from a member of the interview committee that I was their number one choice for the job, but that they did not want to have to deal with finding another administrator to cover my maternity leave.

“But we would love to keep you in mind for a future position!”


Picture of woman standing in a board room, flanked by men seated on either side.
Picture of woman standing in a board room, flanked by men seated on either side.
credit: iStock

Sore, but in it to win it.

I dusted off my resume again and, six months later, got called to interview for an even better administrative job at a neighboring district.

I distinctly remember the interviews were running super late and my boobs were swollen and leaking all over the place. I had breast pads and washcloths hidden under my blouse and I silently gasped from the pain and pressure in my breasts. When the secretary apologized with a cheery “Sorry we’re running so behind here!” I just nodded and smiled politely.

I was determined to get through that interview without anyone knowing that I had a newborn and toddler at home.

And I did.

I got the job. Sore boobs and all.

I had learned my lesson about how ambitious mothers were treated in a female-dominated field that is primarily led by men.

In 1978, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act amended Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that prohibited sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was meant to further clarify that a woman’s source of income, the foundation of her economic stability, was to never be jeopardized because of something as basic and population-sustaining as pregnancy.

Yet here we are. Still.

I can’t imagine a single cisgender man out there who has ever had to deal with even half of this nonsense. And, men, if you have, please jump in and tell us your stories. I am sincerely interested.

But foreal now: Ladies, why are we still having to fight these fights?

Oh — and here’s the article about Elizabeth Warren.

It’s a good read:

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