Playing the Pregnancy Card

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Did you read the news story last week about the pregnant MP accused of ‘playing the pregnancy card’ and ‘making women look bad’? After being in the House of Commons for two hours and having given her speech, Tulip Siddiq, Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn and also 7 months pregnant, left for a break to get a snack. When she returned, Deputy Speaker Eleanor Laing pulled her up in front of the House, telling her ‘Don’t play the pregnancy card with me.’

As someone who was unlucky enough to have a pretty difficult pregnancy, this struck me as spectacularly unsympathetic and even cruel. When it comes to pregnancy, no two pregnancies are the same. Some women sail through it, looking ‘glowing’ and enjoy every minute. Others experience a whole host of nasty ‘side effects’, from sickness, to SPD, all the way to eclampsia – a life threatening pregnancy complication where your body literally shuts down.

I’m not ashamed to say that I didn’t enjoy being pregnant. I suffered from severe sickness throughout the pregnancy, finding that it never disappeared in the second trimester as all the books had promised, although thankfully the physical vomiting did ease towards the end. Unquestionably this had an impact on my work; I became very well acquainted with the women’s toilet and after just a few weeks of being pregnant had finessed the route to it with the speed of a 100m sprinter. And then at 3 months pregnant, we moved house, meaning a much longer commute and fighting to get a seat on the train on the way home.

Throughout my pregnancy my employer could not have been more accommodating. I am a hard worker, and although I’m sure that while my usual high standards may have slipped somewhat, they made it possible for me to continue being productive by making adjustments to my working life; I was allowed to work from home 1-2 days a week, and was given a second laptop to keep at home to save me lugging it across central London. I was so grateful for their understanding and I’m sure that played a big part in my motivation to work hard throughout my pregnancy and ensure that the handover to my cover was as thorough as it could possibly be.

Siddiq’s measured response puts the incident down to outdated conventions in Parliament, saying “I think it shows the conventions of the House are outdated for anyone, let alone for pregnant women or people with health issues. In certain cases people should be given leeway to leave without having to go through an administrative process. Elsewhere in society that would just be common sense.”

Which would be fine, except that it’s certainly not the case in society across the board. Although my employer was very sympathetic, I was taken aback by some of the responses I had from other people. The main one that used to really grind my gears was: “pregnancy isn’t an illness”. Really? Because last time I checked, if someone was throwing their guts up 3+ times a day every day, you’d call that an illness, no? Aside from my own experience, there are so many complications that can arise from pregnancy that we would certainly term illnesses.

And I spoke to numerous friends whose employers were not as accommodating as mine. They were made to feel as if they were shirking responsibility if their standard of work slipped, and received numerous comments in a similar vein to the ones made by the Deputy Speaker.

If people could take the time and show the emotional maturity to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, and to understand that just because you experienced a situation in one way, that others may have a very different experience. To show a bit of sympathy. It’s not ‘letting the side down’ to admit that you’re finding pregnancy tough – it is tough. Growing a human is hard and it takes a toll, both physically and emotionally. Let’s give each other a break, shall we?