Does being up the duff send your career up the creek ?

Sarah Levett is a successful standup comedian, writer, MC, co-host of the New FM Breakfast Show … and soon to be a Mum for the first time.

Today, Sarah writes the first in a series about the emotional and professional rollercoaster ride of dealing with the management, audience and peer perceptions of having a baby – while maintaining a successful career.

I am sure that it is normal for all women - when they see the double lines on “that stick” - that there is a moment of elation and then trepidation. At least I hope that’s normal.

Because I experienced both.

Shortly after the elation of knowing I’d have 9 months of having my stomach kicked in, the trepidation kicked in. “What does this mean for the career that I’ve worked so hard for?!?”. Then… “Oh my god, I can't put on weight!” (there is still pressure to have a good head, even in radio).

And…“What will the higher powers-that-be think?” (Fortunately, management here has been very positive, supportive, and excited for me - as I’m sure most management throughout the industry is nowadays – but you understand the sense of trepidation, right?)

And … What will an audience think of a heavily pregnant woman on stage? ”She can't say that - she is ‘With Child’”

And (importantly for standup comedy - and also for radio when the songs are playing) … “When I’m pregnant, is it ok to swear?”

While all this was raging through my brain, I did have a moment of clarity: I can do both! I can have it all! After all, when my Mum was pregnant with me in the late 70's she was flat-out running a live rock agency representing big music artists – she was a high-powered, 80-hour-a-week Alpha-Chick, and all that - the hospital had to call her to tell her it was time to come in and be induced. So she peeled the phone from her ear, finished up the paperwork for the day and went into hospital.

She was back at work in no time (with me under the desk).

And she brought me up with that same strong work ethic. I’ve never taken a sick day - except that one time when I passed out on the surgery floor (very embarrassing, I had pulled my neck so badly during pump class it was pinching a nerve and making me ill) and the Doctor said, “you can't go to work today”. Through tears of agony and anguish I found within me the voice of that chick from The Exorcist - “Waddyamean I can’t go to work?!?”.

Which led to one of my fears of being pregnant - would I be considered “soft” if I took a day off or complained. The first Trimester is hard because you’re not telling people - morning sickness and breakfast radio don't mix.

So … no days off yet – and I’m (3 months) pregnant. But is it wrong that I secretly hoped to get morning sickness so I might not blow up overnight like a blimp? Nobody told me morning sickness would be all day nausea without any calorific benefits – thanks very much!

And of course, as I alluded to above … regardless of living in these enlightened times with HR rules around pregnancy and maternity leave, and regardless that management here is so positive and supportive, work-wise the big niggling fear is that somehow having a baby might be the end of this part of my career. Let’s face it: we’ve all heard the stories, whether the woman having the baby was on-air or off-air – get pregnant, have a baby, take your maternity leave with the promise of coming back to the same (or a similar) role … and sure, Jackie O, Wendy Harmer, and Kate Langbroek and a few other high-profile stars came back to their gigs … but what about the rest of us?

Never mind that when the Doctor told me “your body clock is bonging like Big Ben on speed - better start trying for a baby … now!” (I am only 34). I started daydreaming that I’d get pregnant quickly - so that the baby would arrive in the last few weeks of the survey year and I could take a short maternity leave through December to be back on board and breast-feeding live on-air in Survey 1! Of course, the timing hasn’t quite worked out that way, but that daydream did pass through my mind*.

And, regardless of wanting to continue my career while becoming a Mum, rightly or wrongly the perception amongst many women in radio is that management is likely to think “well, she’s turned into a baby factory now - who else can we get?”

I am curious to hear from other women in our industry who have felt these and other emotions and trepidations after learning they were pregnant – rather than just feeling free to wallow in the joy of getting pregnant against the biological odds. So, whether you’re in a management role, on air, promotions, news, or whatever else, I’d love to hear from you. And, of course, please feel free to remain anonymous.

* Note: I will be taking a very short maternity leave in survey before getting back on air a.s.a.p. That’s not due to pressure on me from management to get back on air – and I’m not saying this to judge anyone who wants to take maternity leave for as long as they want, as the choice is different for everyone. But my choice is to get back on air and on-stage as soon as possible.

Published on Tuesday, 14 August 2012 06:00

Kelli Paun(7:26am 14 Aug 2012)
WOW I'm not even pregnant and all those thoughts and feelings I have felt just thinking about the day I decide to take that new title, you are spot on with the fear and the thought of losing everything you have worked hard for, great read and being a female in the industry its nice to know I wasn't alone in this way of thinking, thanks Sarah
Anonymous(8:11am 14 Aug 2012)
I loved my role in radio and I was pretty damn good at it too!! When I fell pregnant with my first child I had dreams that I would have 12 months off and then return to work in a part time capacity. All was going swimmingly, I has a beautiful baby, spent the first year at home and when it came to going back to work I was told it was full time or nothing (which I have since found out was illegal) so I suppose I'm the one with the negative story. Having a child has been the best thing I ever did, even though I lost a job I loved in the process. Best of luck Sarah I look forward to reading about your journey to motherhood, what an exciting time for you.
Sarah Levett(8:38am 14 Aug 2012)
Thanks Kelli for your comment and great to hear from others ( who are obviously out there). Love to hear from the other side of the mic too. HR, Management etc?
Anonymous(8:42am 14 Aug 2012)
I'm not pregnant yet but am trying! Your article is definitely food for thought. It's great to see such a gusty, young women in the industry wanting to have it all because it gives the rest of us hope that we can do it as well! Good Luck
Sarah Levett(8:53am 14 Aug 2012)
Thanks Anonymous 1. Sorry to hear you had a negative experience. Bitter sweet. I hope you have found something else you love to do in the way of work.
Anonymous(9:06am 14 Aug 2012)
In an on air role I too dread the day I have to tell the boss I'm pregnant. I'm not trying yet but have thought about later on timing it so the birth is around the Christmas/ New Year survey break.

There's nothing worst than constantly feeling as though you could possibly be punted for the talent that fills in for you.

HR, GMs and PDs at networks around the country should offer more support to young women.
Sarah Levett(9:26am 14 Aug 2012)
Anonymous 2, thanks for the comment. As I mentioned, Being raised by a successful Talent Manager and single Mum. Having it all is all I know.

Anonymous 3. I am certainly not alone. Thanks.I am known for my organisation skills but this little project had a mind of it's own. It was in the diary
Anonymous(11:00am 14 Aug 2012)
I am sorry i actually disagree. As a women who doesn't actually want to have kids why should a company hold open a position so that you can take 12 months off and then come back and work part time. Its a business not a charity. This goes for radio, the tax department, what ever. Its a privilage to have a baby but it is a also a repsonsibilty that you need to juggle. You can't have both and if you do that means sacrifice one of them or both of them somewhat.

Unfortunatley for 100 out there who want to do the right thing there are 100 who are taking the system for a ride. Good luck to you Sarah I hope it all goes well.
Callum Jones(12:57pm 14 Aug 2012)
Reading this makes me glad I'm a guy! All I can say is enjoy the ride, and keep connecting with your audience and loving what you do!
Jason McLean(13:16pm 14 Aug 2012)
Ok girls....this from a guy. I remember a few years back, a bloke in lower management said having a baby is a womans choice and the station owes them nothing. I was a bit startled but bear in mind, he was no fan of the woman about to take maternity leave. I think a station will support a woman if they value her work highly and don't want to lose her, but if they don't....they may use it as an excuse to move her on. Same would happen in any business.
Sarah Levett(13:50pm 14 Aug 2012)
Anonymous 4.I appreciate your thoughts. As mentioned I am not expecting to have my role kept open. I am very aware that an on air personality taking 12 months off is tough for everyone involved and can affect loads of people's jobs, too. Though as I pointed out, management here have been very supportive and I'm hoping to continue on-air after the baby is born. And I'd like to add, in all seriousness: good on you for exercising your right to not have children just because you are woman - it's every woman's right to choose, and not have to feel pressured one way or the other.
Sarah Levett(14:17pm 14 Aug 2012)
Nice to have some blokes respond.

Thanks Callum. I LOVE what I do.

Jason-I am just lucky that my Management and on air team are very supportive. In fact it is making for some great content.
Anonymous(22:16pm 14 Aug 2012)
Hey guys I have a good story .... I have worked in the industry for a long time , so when I fell pregnant with my first child I was nervous about returning to my job and how it would effect my career... But I had an amazing boss and GM who allowed me flexible hours.... I in return worked really hard to show them that having a baby does not mean you can't be a great employee and deliver great results. I have now come back from my second mat leave . You can be great at your job , have a career and be a great mum. It takes commitment and hard work and a good support network . If your good at your job your career will not suffer by having a child, but like everything in life it's up to you.
Sarah Levett(7:52am 15 Aug 2012)
Thanks Anonymous 5. Great to hear you had a positive experience.It sure does take determination, juggling skills and a great deal of support from work and home. You are testament that it can be done. I am sure that is reassuring for those expecting or thinking of travelling the road. Does anyone else have a positive experience?
Anonymous(9:22am 15 Aug 2012)
I have found all these comments very helpful as I decide for the first time in my life to try to have children. As a 40 woman I have spent my life in 'career mode' and love working in Radio Management. However the maternal instincts have finally kicked in. I am giving it 12 months, and if nothing happens well then I'll keep on with the career. However if a baby does come along, I don't expect to be able to go back to the same role, for the sake of the organisation and my child. I do hope however that I've gained enough talent and skills to contribute in a part time capacity some how - whether it's with my existing employer or another in the industry. Having a child is 'a career move' for most women, and it's reasonable for them to weigh this up as part of the decision to start a family.
Guy(9:39am 15 Aug 2012)
Hope thats me your talking about Sarah (Very supportive, caring and wonderful management)if not..... YOUR FIRED :-)
Sarah Levett(12:33pm 15 Aug 2012)
Thanks anonymous 6, glad you have found it helpful. I wish you all the best with your baby plans. It was certainly something I weighed up. I have always wanted children though, so when the Dr said I needed to get a hurry on for medical reasons I decided to take the plunge and cross the bridges when I came to them.
Barry Eaton(14:52pm 15 Aug 2012)
Sarah, I went on a honeymoon many moons ago and while we were in Hawaii there was a change of management at the Sydney radio station where I was working. I was not there to defend my position and came back to a very painful telephone message telling me not to come back to work.

So it happens to guys too (and I wasn't even pregnant)

PS I got a better opportunity anyway...
Sarah Levett(16:22pm 15 Aug 2012)
Thanks for sharing your story Barry. I guess that can happen to anyone in any industry really. As you mentioned, everything happens for a reason. Hurts at the time I am sure. Bet Hawaii soon became a distant memory.

While this can happen to anyone at anytime. Women have that extra weight on their shoulders and there ain't anything you or I can do to change that...I don't think. If there were I would be a billionaire. If you could, would you want to carry the baby? It is also the reason Men climb higher on the corporate ladder...
Terry(10:12am 16 Aug 2012)
You haven't lived until you have been on holiday and come back to someone else sitting in your chair.
Sarah Levett(12:54pm 16 Aug 2012)
Terry, if that is living, I would rather be Can only imagine how awful that would be.
Jess Scully(14:13pm 16 Aug 2012)
Some interesting thoughts I've often wondered at my very young age of 21. The obvious congratulations are in order and I hope everything turns out for the best Sarah!

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