Pregnant. Plumber. A Pregnant Plumber.
One of the biggest challenges I faced as a plumber working for my family business was deciding when to have children and how long I would take on maternity leave.
While by law you should be offered a minimum of 12 months to care for your child, when you work for yourself or a family business, the amount of time spent away can be determined by when you’re really needed back to keep business rolling.
The other challenge was being pregnant and a plumber at the same time. It had a big toll on my body. I was forthright in throwing myself into work without really thinking of the effect it would have on my baby. When I was 28 weeks pregnant, I had spotting and a small leak from my waters. My obstetrician (and I) believe it was caused from overdoing it at work. The previous day before the spotting I had a 12 hour day travelling from one side of Brisbane to the other, unblocking drains to bending and squatting to install new toilets. I was shattered.
When I was in hospital receiving steroid injections and being monitored in case I went into early labour, I got angry with myself for pushing myself too hard. You see I had conditioned myself to work hard because back in my apprentice days I wanted to prove that I could be a good plumber and working big hours was a source of pride to show others that I had what it took to be a plumber.
How wrong was I??
I had wanted to be a mother before I even thought about becoming a plumber and here I was working myself hard and not looking after myself and my baby.
In some ways I had it easier than others because I had a family business that could adapt to how I was coping, but for other female tradies who are employed, it’s a different scenario.
What I will say is don’t go hard at work to prove you can work while being pregnant. Every woman is different in how they cope with pregnancy.
My suggestion is to do apprentice like duties from the start of the third trimester or earlier if you aren’t coping. It’s hard in a way to do this though because it’s a challenge to be taken seriously when you’re a female tradie and you don’t want to jeopardise what you’ve worked hard for. But the job will still be there. Your baby and this precious time with your newborn won’t wait for you.
I had Esther in August 2010 with no complications and I can assure you plumbing was the furthest thing from my mind when I cradled her in my arms. Although I did take a few maintenance calls in hospital thinking they were clients wishing me congratulations, but instead they were ringing up for a plumbing problem to be solved.
The 2011 January floods was what got me back on the tools part time after I had 4 months off to look after Esther. The Global Financial Crisis and my dad’s desire to retire sooner rather than later was what prompted us to change our business direction to solely focus on domestic maintenance work, servicing the stay at home mums. That change in direction made the transition back to work easier because there is less pressure in domestic work than that demanded in the commercial sector.
When I fell pregnant with my second baby, I found it difficult to work on the tools. I was quite sick for the first 16 weeks of my pregnancy. I would joke that being near toilets was a good thing with my condition because I always had somewhere to throw up!
I returned to work after having Magdalene around 5 months later. The first day back at work, she didn’t want to be looked after by my mum so I packed her into the Baby Bjorn and took her to work with me. I could do that since I was working in homes and doing fairly clean, easy plumbing maintenance work.
My self-confidence didn’t waiver after having children. In a way I think it boosted my confidence because if I could give birth to two beautiful daughters, I could tackle anything in the plumbing world. Three months after returning to work after having Magdalene, I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant again.
This was a shock to my family and my dad made the painful decision to close our plumbing business because he wanted to fully retire and I knew I would have my hands full with three children under 4. My third baby Phoebe is 10 months old and I can’t believe how fast the time has flown and how I’ve adapted to life’s changes.
I now blog at The Plumbette quite regularly and write for other online publications too. I always said plumbing and motherhood could walk hand in hand but it needs to have a tight support group both at work and at home.
I’ve been pregnant twice while on the tools and though it wasn’t easy it was so worth it and I know that if I can do it, any female tradie can. But understand your limits and don’t compare your capacity with someone else’s.
It’s always best to talk with your obstetrician on what you can and can’t do while pregnant. A lot of it does come down to common sense and remembering that when you’re pregnant you’re carrying precious cargo.
And Steel Heels agrees, pregnancy and work can co-exist! You don’t have to be torn between doing your job and taking care of your bump. Here are our tips for managing pregnancy and work:
- Nausea, baby brain and utter exhaustion – unless you are akin to antenatal unicorn, pregnancy will come with some symptoms. Recognise and manage them where possible. Like The Plumbette, maintain proximity to toilets, snack often to fend off nausea, write notes to address lack of focus, and rest when you can.
- Adjust your limits. Those used to working in male dominated environments are accustomed to shooting deadly looks and heated words in response to ‘you can’t’ or just thinking, ‘I will show you [insert expletive]’. Just don’t forget your body is accommodating and building a new human, and whether it’s adjusting in a highly physical role like Rebecca, or taking steps to reduce mental stress, it’s important to take things down a notch before you need to learn the hard way. Define the changes you need to make and communicate them to your boss.
- If the photocopier sends you into a rage, Qantas ads dissolve you into tears and your thoughts for your boss range from infatuation to homicidal, a good dose of hormones is likely the cause. Time to filter your words, breathe and make a cup of chai. Try to save the hormones for your partner, the one who got you into this position!
- Plan to not have a plan. In pregnancy more than ever, you’ll need to be flexible and adaptable because babies are unpredictable (even in utero). How you work, how much time you need to take off, and how and when you return are questions that will all depend on many factors. The best you can do is plan a little, monitor a lot, and assess and change direction if you need to.
At Steel Heels we are usually opposed to words like, ‘know your limits’, ‘filter your words’ and ‘don’t have a plan’, but being knocked up is an exception to the rule. Pregnancy can at times feel like a super human effort so it’s as good a time as any to stop feeling the need to prove yourself. Have confidence that you are doing a great job and don’t need to work twice as hard. Wear your comfy undies, let your belly hang out, get a load off those swollen ankles and take your seat at the table!