Sunday, May 29, 2011

Different Spin - Pregnancy Woes

On one of my mummy luncheons, I was sad to hear the plight of my friend who was rejected last minute for an emcee gig because they found out she was pregnant. Initially, she thought the client was concerned for her health, but she found out that the agency that hired her was afraid the client would no longer find her ‘attractive’. My svelte, first-time mother friend was barely 5 months pregnant and could still fit into an empire cut evening gown beautifully with just a slight bump showing. She left the rehearsals midway, in silent tears and shared her story with us.

Another mum, also in the entertainment industry, was dissed for getting pregnant after joining the show. Apparently, the Head of Wardrobe of that particular station had her knickers in a twist, trying to find outfits to make that presenter look less ‘pregnant’. To make matters worst, the programme she was to anchor, was a women’s show. Ironic huh?

Isobel before she chopped off her locks

While I was carrying Isobel, I was a constant worrywart. I worried about my food intake, the cramps in my third month, the 3 quiet days when I didn’t feel any fetal movement and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to tolerate the pain during labour. I’m sure I am not the only expecting mother to feel this way – and according to the experts, all these fears are perfectly normal. So going through physical and emotional changes of the body during what should be, one of ‘your happiest moments’ of your life, is daunting enough and the last thing you want to worry about is being discriminated for procreation!

Picture of me when I was pregnant with Isobel Daniella

Isobel, Bapak & Mama

In Malaysia, we have the Maternity Protection law in the Malaysian Employment Act 1955, which outlaws employment discrimination against expectant mothers. But despite this legislation, the fact that pregnant women need to be treated as would any employee with a broken arm or other temporary disability – i.e., not get fired or demoted- seems to have not sank in.

Sikin, another mother whom I spoke to, had her yearly appraisal downgraded to just average the year she was expecting her first born. Apparently, she was told that she was less aggressive compared to the time she was not pregnant.

“The reason didn’t make sense. I knew what I was doing and I was certainly not underperforming. If at all, I felt I was more gung-ho!”

This was the same story for a news reporter who didn’t qualify for her yearly bonus because she was deemed ‘sluggish’ - incomparable to the other reporters in the newsroom. Was this fair? And what constitutes a just comparison?

Grace, an aquaintance, was initially touched that many people were concerned about her running around during her second pregnancy. However, things became irritating when ‘well meaning individuals’ thought they were doing her a favor by forbidding her to do what she needed to do.

I recall getting equally agitated when I was asked not to do this and that during my first pregnancy. I was humbled by their anxiousness, but I knew my own body better and was not going to allow someone stop me from doing something as simple as crossing the road by myself!

I was 4 to 5 months pregnant with Isobel here

Remember the court case back in 2005 between former Malaysia Airlines (MAS) stewardess Beatrice Fernandez who lost her battle against the national carrier for terminating her services when she became pregnant with her first child? She said the provisions in the MASEU (Malaysia Airlines Employees Union) Collective Agreement, still discriminates women.

Negotiations with MASEU increased the limit on the number of children from two to three before expecting them to resign or risk having their contract terminated. Despite these improvements, critics, including the Joint Action Group (JAG) against Violence Against Women, point out that unmarried stewardesses and those with less than five year’s experience still have no protection and the company has the right to terminate the contract if they get pregnant the fourth time around.

Many would agree with JAG, but for Christine, a Forest Researcher, she puts logic behind her reason for having pre-requisitions when hiring; “If I hire ladies, I’d ask if they’re single or if they’re married and ask if they plan to have babies because the job requires them to spend weeks scaling steep hills in the forest and living in rough conditions – not exactly an ideal place for pregnant women.”

She does agree though that it is not fair to pre-judge what a person can or cannot do regardless of their condition.

A research done in US showed complaints on pregnancy biasness on a rise. It seems that there is an underlying assumption that a woman will not be as interested in her work or as committed once she’s pregnant or has a baby. And then there are financial reasons as to why a firm may not want to hire a pregnant woman; her health insurance will be more expensive and she’ll have to take leave in the foreseeable future.

So what about the case scenario of my rejected emcee friend? What excuse can they logically give her? I was loss for words by an apparent study that summarized its research by this; “pregnant women gross people out”.

I was ready to clobber the mindset of these focus group subjects whose mother was once just as heavily pregnant carrying these ungrateful offsprings. But that’s research for you.

That prejudice may stem from an urge to give pregnant women lesser duties, and many might feel they’re doing the right thing – but I personally think they’re not. What do you think?

Daphne Iking is a mother to 3 year old Isobel Daniella. Besides the breastfeeding and confinement period, she had no problems with her first pregnancy and prays the same for her next one.

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