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Hyperemesis and a high-risk pregnancy taught me to ask for what I need at work

March 30, 2022, 1:22 PM UTC
Pregnant Office Employee Talking To Colleague
Asking for work accommodations during pregnancy can be fraught.
Getty Images

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Condé Nast employees are unionizing, Canada achieves a childcare victory, and a high-risk pregnancy taught one journalist to ask for what she needs at work. Have a great Wednesday.

Today’s guest essay comes to us from Fortune editorial director Rachel Lobdell. Rachel, who has been a Fortune newsroom leader for two-and-a-half years, is pregnant with her first child. A few weeks ago, she shared on Instagram that she’s been battling hyperemesis—a deleterious condition that affects nearly every aspect of her daily life, including her work. I (Emma here!) asked her to share her experience for the Broadsheet. Now, from Rachel:

– Growing, not glowing. “At least the baby is doing well!”

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this proclamation from well-meaning friends, family members, and colleagues. I’m 22 weeks into a high-risk pregnancy, and I’ve run the gamut of complications: a placenta hemorrhage that landed me on bed rest for four weeks, a shortened cervix that puts me at high risk for a premature birth, and, most notably, hyperemesis gravidarium, a severe form of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.

You might have heard of hyperemesis from Kate Middleton or Amy Schumer. The condition affects 1% to 3% of pregnant people and about 20% of patients experience the condition for their entire pregnancy. Hyperemesis goes far beyond traditional morning sickness. My nausea is near constant; I often feel like I’ve had one too many sweet cocktails and I’ll feel better if I vomit (spoiler: I won’t). In my first trimester, I lost 18 pounds from vomiting, and I was hospitalized multiple times due to dehydration and malnourishment. The key issue is that the condition doesn’t stop when morning sickness typically does. I’ve had just one day in the last five months when I didn’t vomit.

My nausea and vomiting completely control my life, but it’s worse in the early morning, so I now work a shortened schedule where I log on between 10 and 11 a.m. I’m extra efficient, and I get just as much done despite a truncated schedule. I limit my number of meetings per day, and I do most of my work while lying down. Pre-pandemic, I was in the office every day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. without fail, and I had no desire to work remotely; during the pandemic, but before my pregnancy, I routinely worked 10-plus hour days.

The last two years have shown not only our bosses, but ourselves, what other work arrangements can look and feel like. I had already proven to myself and others that I could excel in a nontraditional environment, and that helped when it came time to ask for adjustments this year. My body reminds me daily how necessary doing so is: Push myself too much, and I’ll get really sick.

My baby has continued to thrive and grow throughout all of this, but let me be clear: While I am thrilled my baby is doing well, I am not. That dichotomy evokes a feeling many of us have felt often both personally and professionally. Sure, that project went out on time, but the process was a nightmare. Getting a new title is great, but it didn’t come with the salary raise I deserve. My boss asked for a 5:30 p.m. phone call yet again. It all boils down to this: does my experience matter?

Before my pregnancy, I would have said that sacrificing my personal experience for a gold star at work was worth it. But I’m now forced to acknowledge that my experience along the way does matter. Still, asking for fertility- and pregnancy-related accommodations can be especially fraught.

I encountered complications before I felt ready to share something so personal. It became clear when I was around eight weeks pregnant that I was no longer able to work a full schedule. I crafted an email, read it at least 42 times, and nervously hit send. Even though I was confident that I could contribute to the team with a nontraditional schedule, it wasn’t easy to be so vulnerable with my bosses. I wasn’t comfortable, but writing that message was good practice in putting my family and health first.

My experience can offer some lessons to others in similar situations. Since we don’t talk enough about fertility and pregnancy as a society, not to mention in corporate America, there’s often an element of education needed. If you end up with hyperemesis, you’ll likely need to explain your condition to higher-ups. Be sure to note how it affects you specifically—pregnant people can have varying experiences—and the accommodations needed.

I have about four months left in this pregnancy, and it wouldn’t surprise me if a few more curveballs are thrown my way. But just as a fetus knows to take nutrients from a mother, even when there aren’t enough to go around, I’m learning to ask for what I need. My experience, and yours, matters.

Rachel Lobdell
rachel.lobdell@fortune.com
@rschallom

What about you, Broadsheet readers? Have you had to navigate a high-risk pregnancy—or ask for related accommodations —at work? What did the experience teach you about yourself, about your workplace, or about the support we provide—or fail to provide—parents-to-be? If you’d like to share your experience, send your thoughts to emma.hinchliffe@fortune.com. Your note may be featured in a future edition of the Broadsheet.

The Broadsheet is Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women. Today’s edition was curated by Nimah Quadri. Subscribe here.

Correction: Youn Yuh-jung, mentioned in Monday’s Broadsheet, presented at the Oscars in her capacity as an actor in the film Minari.

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- Canada's got childcare. After nearly a year of negotiations, Canada's largest province, Ontario, agreed to sign onto a federal child care program—the final missing piece in a key project for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The C$30 billion ($24 billion) program will cut childcare costs to C$10 a day, in an effort to alleviate financial burdens on families, especially young parents. Bloomberg

- Prestige doesn't payCondé Nast—the home of glossy magazines and some of the best-known women leaders in media—is unionized. More than 300 employees from 11 publications, including Vogue and Vanity Fair, requested yesterday that the media company recognize their union organized with the NewsGuild of New York. “The era of ‘a million girls would kill for that job’ is quickly coming to a close," said Bon Appétit editor Christina Chaey, referencing the Vogue-inspired movie The Devil Wears Prada. "And all for the better.” Washington Post 

- Take off. President Joe Biden's new budget proposal requests $26 billion for NASA, including $7.5 billion (a $1.1 billion increase) for its Artemis program, which aims to send a woman and person of color to the moon. Bloomberg

- Clean-up job. This week's episode of Fortune podcast Leadership Next features Clorox CEO Linda Rendle. She tells Alan Murray and Ellen McGirt how she's handling the back-to-back challenges of soaring demand followed by inflation. Listen here: Fortune

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Google VP Kristen Gil has joined the board of advisors at SteadyMD. Texthelp appointed Cathy Donnelly as its first chief people officer. Vista Equity Partners named Lauren Dillard chief financial officer and senior managing director. Fairwords named Donna Culver VP of business development. AMP Robotics hired Beth Dec as VP of people and Regina Madigan as VP of finance. Chainlink Labs hired Dahlia Malkhi as chief research officer. Accela added Kara Wilson to its board of directors. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Short-lived victory. The gender wage gap has almost closed for women under 30 in 22 U.S. metropolitan areas, according to a new Pew Research Center report. But the pay gap widens again after 30, thanks to the motherhood penalty that hurts the earnings of women who have children. Axios

- Policy shift.  Three women are overseeing Germany's response to the war in Ukraine, which is a major foreign policy shift for the country after decades of post-World War II pacifism. Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht is running a €100 billion rearmament program; Annalena Baerbock is developing Germany's national security strategy; and Nancy Faeser is handling the welcoming of Ukrainian refugees. New York Times

- Business boost. Vice President Kamala Harris and corporate leaders are promoting a $4.7 billion commitment to minority-owned businesses and underrepresented communities in Washington D.C.; Richmond, Virginia; and Baltimore, Maryland. The Greater Washington Partnership, a nonprofit civic alliance, will unveil the five-year, multibillion-dollar pledge at Howard University, where Harris will speak on Wednesday. CNBC

ON MY RADAR

Biden signs bill making lynching a federal hate crime into law CNN

Prince Andrew, banished from royal duties, escorts Queen to memorial New York Times

When ‘sir’ and 'ma’am’ miss the mark: Restaurants rethink gender’s role in service New York Times

The truth about being a woman in sports broadcasting The Cut 

How grandmillennial jewelry took over Elle

PARTING WORDS

"I really think it’s because we’re disrupting the financial world and we’re unsettling people. It’s the ideas and the research. They’re pretty provocative." 

- Ark Investment Management founder Cathie Wood, who says she thinks criticism of her firm is based on her work, not her gender. 

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