By Annie Phelps
I am sure I am not alone in having experienced PGP while at work. I feel very strongly that it helps to be really proactive with negotiating changes to your work role; I also think it helps to come up with lots of ideas or solutions to your employer about coping in your job and demonstrating that some simple changes will not only help you but benefit the company as well.
The unplanned pub conversation…
Despite my strong feelings about being proactive in discussing the consequences of PGP symptoms at work and suggesting changes, I didn’t take the lead when I was pregnant. To be fair, I was thinking about it as I had just started to use crutches to get around. I was probably about 14 weeks pregnant and finding I was becoming constrained by the PGP symptoms so that my walking was pretty limited. I had to use the lift all the time and couldn’t stay at my desk for long without having to get up and ‘jiggle around’ to try and free up my pelvis which would quickly stiffen and become uncomfortable if I sat in one position for long.
I was actually in the pub when a conversation started between my boss and myself. We were both in a large group of people at a leaving do for one of my colleagues. I had wobbled up to the bar on the crutches to buy some of the drinks and my boss had realised that I needed help to get the drinks over to our table so he offered to help me. When he brought the drinks over, he sat down next to me and asked how I’d injured myself to the extent that I needed crutches to get around. I thought I was beginning to look pregnant but, being tall and slim, I suppose the bump wasn’t too obvious as yet.
Over the drink, I explained that when I became pregnant I had also become an unwilling foster mother to some pretty grim PGP symptoms. I gave a very brief explanation of the biomechanical problem at the root of the condition (thanks to reading about this in the Pelvic Partnership’s literature) and how manual therapy from a physio was the best way to combat the symptoms. I think I was very upbeat about the whole thing (much more than I actually felt) having just spoken to Sarah on the Pelvic Partnership helpline. I think I was also worried that the company’s very results-driven business might find grounds for dismissal, even though getting rid of me as a pregnant worker would be against the law.
To be fair, my boss is really nice although he pushes us all hard. My role was as a demonstrator of software for accountants so you couldn’t get much more customer facing. I had been thinking about how I could retain my role or perhaps change to something that wouldn’t involve any travel or seeing customers, but would still be of value to the company. I just hadn’t got around to putting anything on paper and booking a session to discuss it formally with my manager.
A formal exchange of ideas
It was my boss who suggested that we meet up in the office on the Monday to discuss the way forward. He’d obviously done a lot of thinking over that weekend because he came armed with loads of ideas about seating arrangements in the office, adapting the car to being automatic and altering my role to a website editor at the same salary. I made sure I had done my homework too, in terms of what to expect during the pregnancy e.g. how the symptoms might be more pronounced as I approached the birth, the useful ways to adapt furniture and facilities at work (lumbar support for my chair, a lap top that I could carry anywhere, a perching stool when the office chair was uncomfortable, etc) and warning him about the trips I would need to see my physio regularly in addition to appointments with the midwife. I knew he had got the message when he bought me, unprompted, an enormous bean bag to put in the staff rest room so that I could make the short journey there to lie down when I needed a break – I loved that beanbag! HR were interested too, so I arranged for us to obtain some copies of ‘About PGP’ to be left in our rest room. The only annoying thing is that now when anyone is pregnant, they are encouraged to come and see me for a chat regardless of whether they have PGP or not!
The changes were phased in over time
Although my boss took the lead with the discussions, it was early enough in the pregnancy for us to have the time to phase in some changes and particularly those where I was training up someone to do my demonstrating work. I already had a desk in the main downstairs office which was sufficiently close to the canteen, the loos and the lift to be practical for getting around but the start of the new role as a website editor took me time to adapt to because I really missed being out and about seeing customers. Having said that, I replaced the ‘meeting and greeting’ with more meetings from different in-house departments which kept the role varied and I am still doing much of that website role (with a few additions) today.
Outcomes were successful all round
I was very lucky with the helpful attitude of my boss and my colleagues, but also with my physio who managed to get me off the crutches towards the end of the pregnancy and saw that I was really flexible and walking well ahead of the delivery. As a result, my symptoms seemed fairly easy to manage during labour and once I was on maternity leave with baby Ted. As with a lot that goes with PGP, I think that good organisation and thinking ahead about all of the practicalities of life at work and at home can really help you to get through relatively unscathed from day to day. I know that we would have struggled as a family if I had just given up with work and left without trying to adapt, plus I would have really missed having a working life with new challenges and goals. So I would urge any other women who have PGP in pregnancy to get information and support from the Pelvic Partnership(including a downloadable PDF from the website about ‘PGP in the workplace: Information for employers) and to draw up a list of tasks at work that are going to be harder as the pregnancy and PGP progresses. Then have a really good look at the simple steps that can be taken to get the work done (but to keep you managing) so that both you and the company are not held to ransom by the effects of PGP.
Thanks, Annie, for writing this article and emphasising the benefits of reflecting on your life at work and how to adapt and adjust the role and furniture so you can still work effectively with PGP. The Pelvic Partnership has produced a leaflet about ‘Information for Employers’ which can be downloaded here – PP_employers_leaflet