Does being up the duff send your career up the creek ?

Sarah Levett is a successful standup comedian, writer, MC, co-host of the New FM Breakfast Show … and soon to be a Mum for the first time.

Today, Sarah writes the first in a series about the emotional and professional rollercoaster ride of dealing with the management, audience and peer perceptions of having a baby – while maintaining a successful career.

I am sure that it is normal for all women – when they see the double lines on “that stick” – that there is a moment of elation and then trepidation. At least I hope that’s normal.

Because I experienced both.

Shortly after the elation of knowing I’d have 9 months of having my stomach kicked in, the trepidation kicked in. “What does this mean for the career that I’ve worked so hard for?!?”. Then… “Oh my god, I can't put on weight!” (there is still pressure to have a good head, even in radio).

And…“What will the higher powers-that-be think?” (Fortunately, management here has been very positive, supportive, and excited for me – as I’m sure most management throughout the industry is nowadays – but you understand the sense of trepidation, right?)

And … What will an audience think of a heavily pregnant woman on stage? ”She can't say that – she is ‘With Child’”

And (importantly for standup comedy – and also for radio when the songs are playing) … “When I’m pregnant, is it ok to swear?”

While all this was raging through my brain, I did have a moment of clarity: I can do both! I can have it all! After all, when my Mum was pregnant with me in the late 70's she was flat-out running a live rock agency representing big music artists – she was a high-powered, 80-hour-a-week Alpha-Chick, and all that – the hospital had to call her to tell her it was time to come in and be induced. So she peeled the phone from her ear, finished up the paperwork for the day and went into hospital.

She was back at work in no time (with me under the desk).

And she brought me up with that same strong work ethic. I’ve never taken a sick day – except that one time when I passed out on the surgery floor (very embarrassing, I had pulled my neck so badly during pump class it was pinching a nerve and making me ill) and the Doctor said, “you can't go to work today”. Through tears of agony and anguish I found within me the voice of that chick from The Exorcist – “Waddyamean I can’t go to work?!?”.

Which led to one of my fears of being pregnant – would I be considered “soft” if I took a day off or complained. The first Trimester is hard because you’re not telling people – morning sickness and breakfast radio don't mix.

So … no days off yet – and I’m (3 months) pregnant. But is it wrong that I secretly hoped to get morning sickness so I might not blow up overnight like a blimp? Nobody told me morning sickness would be all day nausea without any calorific benefits – thanks very much!

And of course, as I alluded to above … regardless of living in these enlightened times with HR rules around pregnancy and maternity leave, and regardless that management here is so positive and supportive, work-wise the big niggling fear is that somehow having a baby might be the end of this part of my career. Let’s face it: we’ve all heard the stories, whether the woman having the baby was on-air or off-air – get pregnant, have a baby, take your maternity leave with the promise of coming back to the same (or a similar) role … and sure, Jackie O, Wendy Harmer, and Kate Langbroek and a few other high-profile stars came back to their gigs … but what about the rest of us?

Never mind that when the Doctor told me “your body clock is bonging like Big Ben on speed – better start trying for a baby … now!” (I am only 34). I started daydreaming that I’d get pregnant quickly – so that the baby would arrive in the last few weeks of the survey year and I could take a short maternity leave through December to be back on board and breast-feeding live on-air in Survey 1! Of course, the timing hasn’t quite worked out that way, but that daydream did pass through my mind*.

And, regardless of wanting to continue my career while becoming a Mum, rightly or wrongly the perception amongst many women in radio is that management is likely to think “well, she’s turned into a baby factory now – who else can we get?”

I am curious to hear from other women in our industry who have felt these and other emotions and trepidations after learning they were pregnant – rather than just feeling free to wallow in the joy of getting pregnant against the biological odds. So, whether you’re in a management role, on air, promotions, news, or whatever else, I’d love to hear from you. And, of course, please feel free to remain anonymous.

* Note: I will be taking a very short maternity leave in survey before getting back on air a.s.a.p. That’s not due to pressure on me from management to get back on air – and I’m not saying this to judge anyone who wants to take maternity leave for as long as they want, as the choice is different for everyone. But my choice is to get back on air and on-stage as soon as possible.

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