Ten years ago, I was in the office staring at my computer screen, guarding a precious and vulnerable secret when I felt a sharp pain in my stomach. I rushed to the bathroom with my cell phone, and from behind the aluminum stall door I googled, “Am I having a miscarriage?” I scrolled desperately to the bottom of message board threads all the way back to 2002 looking for any sterile signs of hope that the photogram from the weeks before the ultrasound would make it.
Within 24 hours, I was back in business, which honestly was where I wanted to be. It was a relief to feel empowered. On the way home, I went to a follow-up doctor’s appointment to confirm if there was anything “left to take care of.” In the gray desk, I looked at the nurse, her safe haven of calm, and told her, “You failed.” Tears finally escaped and rolled down my cheeks.
After years of committing to studying harder, working longer, and saying ‘yes’ to everything I could do in my career so that one day I could ‘have it all’, I could feel my body saying ‘no’ to something more important to me. I felt very lonely.
Brushing with loss was my first step toward working motherhood. Before I had my first child—before belly and pregnancy leave (which I was so lucky to have)—I was already managing the dynamics of balancing work, having a family, and my own big ambition. But the truth is, I wasn’t actually alone.
From that moment on, I often told my story behind closed doors, trying to build a community around this extraordinary – and also quite mundane – landmark. In 2020, inspired by the pandemic’s dire impact on women in the workforce and their profound strength through it, I began writing my new book Carry Your Power: An Empowered Approach to Mobility During Pregnancy and Work to expand this community. I interviewed hundreds of inspiring women who shared their hard-earned experiences and deeply personal stories so their hindsight could be someone else’s insight.
Whether pregnancy began suddenly, after proactive egg retrieval, or after decades of mental gymnastics weighing the pros and cons of timing, there is no doubt that the entire journey is a roller coaster. And at work, even the most textbook of pregnancy can feel overwhelming. You get through one checkpoint and then there’s the appointment, the test, sharing the news with your unsuspecting colleagues, the symptoms, a big moment at work or a new boss, then the new symptoms, more appointments, more questions, and yes, celebrations.
For Lauren Smith Brody, CEO of The Fifth Trimester, a resource for new moms returning to work after having a baby, and co-founder of the nonprofit The Chamber of Mothers, making meaningful connections with others is essential to dealing with these obstacles. “When you’re going through something really hard for the first time, it’s so easy to think: I’m not trying hard enough, or something is wrong with me. You blame yourself and feel guilty. But it gets us nowhere.” Instead, see Look around, and find connections to other colleagues or friends — pregnant, trying or not — who might need some of the same solutions and work together to talk. You help yourself, yes, but so does everyone around you who can’t be too loud.”
With my second child, despite the fact that I had been pregnant with labor before and had a community of support, I still felt the weight of facing new, unexpected challenges. I worked until the day before as I would be agitated due to a high risk condition I had been managing for the past 5 months. But I also now realize my strength in these moments as well. Before I headed home and to the hospital, I performed for a group of interns, perhaps terrorizing them that I’d go into labor at any moment. Instead of feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I felt amazing. This was an ordinary moment elevated. It was as if the same positive and empowered feeling that work had given me after my first struggle had swelled up, near the end of the next chapter and with my gigantic belly.
I ask several women in my book who they most want to thank for their support during this time. Kathryn Suki, Head of Design at Draper James, simply answered, “I do.”
Thats all about it. There is a transformation through fear, joy, and connection in these moments, as we cultivate a stronger, more authentic version of ourselves. Being a mother gave me a crucial clarity of perspective with a new confidence—empowering me so others could be, too.
Here are three things I’ve learned on my journey to working motherhood to support you now or in the future:
1. you are not alone. Whether you realize it or not, many women (and men) experience the same feelings of fear, despair, and anxiety, but also hope, drive, and joy that you feel. One contributor recounted the first time she walked into a packed fertility clinic waiting room—and suddenly felt like the whole city was in the same boat—sneaking inside when the sun was up to jog before running off to work. While everyone’s experience is incredibly unique, there are others down the same path as you.
2. Your community is your asset. It is very important – even, and especially, in the darkest moments, but also in moments of celebration – to create a support system. Organize a personal board of directors, including noisy women and tough love types who will tell you the tough things you might not want to hear—maybe you shouldn’t make a big move now or need another lawyer in your corner with you for later. Value your network of mentors, advocates, and allies—and push it forward. Remember that different points of view are invaluable, but each decision is yours.
3. Together, we can flip the script to create a more positive and empowering pregnancy experience. The age-old stigma around pregnancy and work will take time to fade, but we all have a chance—and a responsibility—to repave the way for those who come after us. Neha Roch, founder of Mother Untitled, recently shared with me the importance of “leveraging the most positive potential” of working mothers, infusing strength and dignity at all of the many stages. Be the boss who made you feel safe and empowered when you shared the pregnancy news. And if you don’t have that boss, Become That manager when you have the chance to others. Be a business ally who really listens, who says, “I’m here for whatever you need” and really means it. Most importantly, with your support community by your side, take a space and raise your hand – for yours now as you become a role model for someone really special.
Stephanie Kramer is the author of Carry Strong: An Empowered Approach to Navigating Pregnancy and Work (Penguin Life, May 2023). Stephanie is a CHRO from L’Oréal USA and teaches management communication in Fashion Institute of Technology’s graduate business program where she serves on the program’s industry advisory board. Stephanie has two children.