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I decided not to walk in my college graduation ceremony. As a transfer student who spent the majority of senior year interning for a Condé Nast magazine in New York City, I felt like I had already graduated. Rather than trek back to my college, I stayed in my Brooklyn apartment and got pregnant.
BAM. Welcome to adulthood.
I couldn't have planned a more stressful time to get knocked up—and yes, I said it, knocked up. Today I love that former fetus with every cell in my being. I'm grateful for his unexpected arrival; I was completely transformed. But back then, in 2008, 21 years old, it sure as hell felt like I was knocked up. Invaded. Those were some of the darkest times I've ever mustered my way through.
And the job hunt was quite possibly the most stressful part of my pregnancy.
The Internet is glad to tell us it's possible to find a job while pregnant—plenty of women are doing it! And we have rights, dammit! But that doesn't take away from the reality of actually going on (already unnerving) job interviews, hiding a secret in your mid section, knowing that if you do get the job, the issue will inevitably come up. They'll do the math in their heads ("You're HOW far along?"). Within weeks as the "new girl," you'll be having the very uncomfortable conversation of maternity benefits with a pounding guilt from not actually earning those benefits. That's how I felt, at least.
It's as if I had a clock in my belly, each tick and tock swelling my secret.
The only thing worse than job hunting while pregnant was imagining being the "new pregnant girl" in the office. I foresaw side-eyed judgment and in-office whispers, which was really just my own shame showing itself. I was ashamed. I was scared of ruining my life. I was angry that everything I had worked toward might have been a complete waste. I worried that I was inadvertently committing career suicide.
Those kinds of thoughts consumed my attention. Forget about the fact I was highly skilled and driven, having worked toward this one particular goal with laser-sharp focus. I would have been an absolute asset to each job interviewer, no question. But that's not what I was thinking about. I needed a job and health benefits more than the average 21-year-old—and fast. It's as if I had a clock in my belly, each tick and tock swelling my secret. I didn't have the luxury to pick-and-choose my options; I didn't have the luxury of time. Before each interview, I'd check my side profile in the mirror, pat my stomach and wonder how much time I had left. I'd say a silent prayer to ward off my morning sickness, if only for 30 minutes. Please don't vomit on the interviewer's shoes.
Turns out that's not the best attitude to have while interviewing for a job because man did I muck it up.
For my first big interview, I sat in the waiting area of one of the biggest women's magazines in the country—its name spelled in giant letters behind massive glass doors. My resume and writing clips were printed and bound. I'd been rehearsing for this interview since I was 15 years old, scanning the magazine's masthead in my childhood bedroom, researching and idolizing each name.
And now here I was, literal steps away from a dream I'd spent far too many hours constructing in my mind. It was happening, just not the way I'd expected.
I felt like my secret was written on my face, like I should just interrupt and say, "You know what? I'm pregnant."
I remember the panic attack I had as I sat in the chair, staring at two women who were there to judge and analyze me. I remember fumbling my answers (even today, 7 years later, I cringe when I think about all of the killer answers I didn't give). I felt like my secret was written on my face, like I should just interrupt and say, "You know what? I'm pregnant. I'm pregnant and I'm scared, but I know that this is a job I can do well." I didn't, though. I took all of the advice I'd read, kept my mouth shut, and blew my chances to smithereens.
With another job opportunity—an exciting and potentially lucrative start-up venture with an impressive cast of successful businessmen—I spilled the beans. I waited until the job was offered, per every "career expert" advice on How to Interview While Pregnant. I called the group of middle-aged men into the conference room and confessed the truth: I'm with child, gentlemen.
"Oh we love babies," one of them uncomfortably squealed.
"It's no problem at all," they promised with pumped-up enthusiasm.
Two days later, I got a call from the CEO about a minute after news broke that Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, two huge mortgage companies, folded. (Thus the start of the national "recession" narrative, yet another reason why this pregnancy was perfectly timed.)
"You know, now with this whole mortgage crisis going on, we don't think we'll be able to fill the position just yet," he claimed. "Once we start up the business again, we'll definitely call you."
Fast forward seven years, and that company definitely exists. They never called.
I can't say I have any resentment toward the situation—not anymore, at least. I did end up finding a job that was incredibly supportive of my pregnancy, with no side-eye glances or whispers. They created a special "pumping room" once I returned back to work, after a paid maternity leave, with no guilt trips or passive-aggressive comments.
I watched the publishing industry collapse. Magazines I had interviewed for started to close, editorial assistants were laid off in packs. I was able to jump into the digital publishing world from the back door, gaining skills that top print editors didn't have.
It all worked out, as it always seems to do. And now that hellish job interview experience is just another lesson learned: Sometimes we have to let go of and reshape our ideas and dreams. Sometimes certain events, certain people, come into our life and change us in ways we can't anticipate. And sometimes those people are very, very tiny.
It was hard and uncomfortable and downright embarrassing, but I made it through.