my employee asked if I’m pregnant — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I have been experiencing secondary infertility for the last year and nine months. I have gone through two rounds of IVF since last October, which has meant a lot more time away from work than usual for monitoring appointments, surgical recovery, etc.

I supervise a small team of people at work, and last October (during the first egg retrieval), I decided to tell a couple of people on the team who were most impacted by me being out that I was doing IVF. I have not mentioned anything about infertility or the second egg retrieval, which was earlier this month.

Someone on my team (who I supervise) just came into my office and asked me if I am pregnant. I am assuming that person noticed I have been out more again lately. But I am just aghast. I feel so violated. Whether or not I was experiencing infertility, and whether or not I was pregnant, that question would never feel appropriate.

In the moment, I got very flustered and just said, “No, I am not pregnant.” Now I am stewing about whether to go back and address the comment — or what to do. I feel all kinds of emotions coming up when I think about addressing this myself, and I also want to be sure I am not directing all the emotions of my infertility toward this person in my response.

Was what they did really that bad, or is it something that I opened up space for when sharing about my IVF process? If I address the comment, is it as simple as me saying, “Hey, I was not comfortable with you asking about whether I am pregnant. I will share info about my family building with coworkers as I am ready”?

Context: I am queer and work at a queer-serving organization, so the person may have just thought I was doing IVF because of that rather than infertility. And also, I want to be mindful that while their question was completely not okay with me, I do hold formal power in the situation as their supervisor. Any thoughts or suggestions?

Your first instinct was correct — that question is never appropriate to ask.

Either the person is pregnant and they’ve chosen not to share it yet and so asking is intrusive and puts them on the spot … or they’re not pregnant and potentially upset about that and asking asking is intrusive and hurtful. (Or, just to be thorough, they’re not pregnant and don’t have any particular feelings about that, but asking is still intrusive and also maybe comes across as commentary on their body.) And you did not open up space for any of that when you shared that you’re doing IVF.

The only possible way I can see that your employee wasn’t horribly out of line is if there was some kind of miscommunication — like if she thought there had been an announcement that you were pregnant and she was coming to congratulate you. Although even then, it would have been awkwardly done.

I think you’re right to consider the power differential in how you approach her, but you still have standing to address it — both as the human she intruded on and as her manager since you don’t want her saying anything similar to others at work in the future.

You could simply say this: “I’m not sure what made you ask the other day if I’m pregnant, but please don’t ask anyone that. I know you meant well, but that’s something a pregnant person should share only when they’re ready, and it can be a painful question too.”

She might be embarrassed or even defensive, but it’s a useful message for her to hear.

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