I’ve been meaning to write to you for a while and putting it off, not really knowing what to say, or not really feeling comfortable saying it. I don’t think I’ve even really admitted it fully to myself. But it’s happened and I need to get over it. I lost my job when I was three months pregnant. There I’ve said it. It made me feel (and still makes me feel) shit about myself, useless, helpless, pathetic, depressed, angry, furious at the injustice and the inequality, guilty, ashamed, a bad wife, and worst of all a bad mum, before I’ve even started this journey of motherhood. It’s almost as though I’ve gone through stages of grief – mourning the loss of my job I’d worked so hard for, the profile I’d built and a career.
Is this the end of my career? No longer will people see me as a journalist, a writer, an editor. Six months out the system with no reason for leaving and then another nine months to a year of maternity – will I be able to get back into it? Will people remember me? Will people ask what happened, why the long break?
But carrying a bump has put a fire in my belly and I want to make things work for her. I want to make things right for her. I want my little girl to grow up in a world where this bullshit doesn’t happen to women BY women. But at the moment I’m not quite sure how.
It’s her that made me fight the decision. I just couldn’t believe it had happened. I really didn’t know, or want to believe, this stuff still happened to women. Does it? I still can’t believe it. I was bought up by a strong working mum, a successful and good employer, who taught me I could be anything I wanted. But she never warned me I might lose my job when I told a female boss I was pregnant.
The hypocrisy of my dismissal was outrageous and, with witnesses to support me, I appealed immediately with a lengthy six page letter to the company. I was good at my job. I worked hard and bought in ideas, creativity and new business. But after a stressful period of staff absence, including myself and my boss, I admitted to her I was pregnant and some of my recent time off and lateness had been down to this and severe morning sickness. She seemed supportive at first but within days her attitude towards me had completely changed and I was being called up on time-management and prioritisation issues. A formal process of meetings escalated quickly and within two weeks of telling her I was pregnant I was sacked and asked to leave immediately, but told I would be paid a month’s notice.
I contacted the Equality Advisory Commission and a maternity lawyer. I wanted to take them to court and seek justice. I wasn’t even thinking about compensation, at first I just wanted my job back, and then I just wanted others to know what they/she had done and why I’d suddenly left. I wanted to shame her and them and take them to the press. I went through the ACAS conciliation process and wanted to go all the way to tribunal and court. I was covered by my household legal insurance (which I didn’t realise until my helpful solicitor said I may be – and I would now recommend anyone to look into the safeguard that a £2 a month add on gives) so I didn’t have anything to lose.
But when it got to the deadline of the ACAS conciliation they accepted my solicitor’s offer. After months of battling what I had been saying (including denying they knew I was pregnant!), they just gave in. I was furious. I didn’t want them to. I wanted to see them in court. But my solicitor advised me, even though he claimed I had a really strong case, this was the best option. I’d already spent a lot on solicitor fees and, although covered by insurance (at time of court), a tribunal would be timely, costly, stressful (for me and bump), and worse we wouldn’t know the dates – it could end up being two weeks before my due date, and the whole process had already dragged on with stressful meetings and negotiations long enough. I needed to stop festering on what had happened and move on and focus on the positives and the joys of having a baby.
The settlement didn’t cover everything, and after fees didn’t leave much, and certainly won’t cover my maternity leave or SMP I would have been able to claim (and with less than 6 months to go I didn’t have time to get another job to be entitled to this), but it will go a long way for bits for the baby and I know it’s a lot more than some are able to claim. But it hasn’t really made me feel much better about it all. It felt like a hush fund. But I don’t want to be silenced about this. Without a tribunal will I be just another lost statistic? Another woman the system doesn’t account for having experienced pregnancy discrimination? How many women actually lose their jobs because they’re pregnant? Will we ever know? If they can’t enter the ACAS process within the short three month timeframe or pay the cost of tribunal how many actually fight it?
One of the worst things is that I feel I’ve been living a lie. I had to sign a confidentially agreement in order for my shitty ex-employers to pay me a settlement. I obviously couldn’t say anything to anyone while legal proceedings were going on either so still no one really knows what happened. Even some of my best friends don’t really know. I’ve been tip toeing around the subject for months and walking on egg shells. When going round my in-laws it’s like there’s a gigantic, big, fat elephant in the room and everyone’s too scared to ask what’s happened or what I want to do next – as though they’ve already concluded from this I want to, and will be, a stay-at-home mum forever. I’ve almost resided myself to this too, and maybe I will be and it’ll probably be the hardest job I’ve ever had. But I’m not a sitter. I get fidgety and get cabin fever. At age 29, I’ve worked for 16 years. Earning money is what I’ve loved doing since I was young enough to own a bank account. I saved £15,000 by the time I was 18 and then spent it on an incredible gap year, with the remainder getting me through most of uni. I love the freedom that opens up from earning money and the sense of achievement that if brings – I worked hard to be able to enjoy it. The thought of relying on my husband to fund the household, me and the baby, sends feminism shivers down my spine. He doesn’t have a problem with it and keeps reassuring me it’ll all be ok – but will it? I wasn’t bought up to use someone else’s bank card. It just feels wrong. And will it be able to cover everything?
I don’t know what we’ll do but something I am sure about – it’s made me want to do something to help others. I somehow want to fight the appalling injustice women are experiencing. How dare others have the right to affect people’s lives in this way? To take away what many consider to be normal life decisions of starting a family and still having a career. Me and my husband didn’t actively “decide” to start trying for a baby but we, maybe naively, just assumed that if I did get pregnant it would be ok. I have used some of my settlement money to study part time again and I want to use some of it to build a freelance website and try and set up on my own. We’ll see what happens next once the baby is here. I can’t wait to meet her now and for her to bring joy and a sense of purpose back into this limbo life I’ve been living since losing my job.