When I found out I was pregnant, I was extremely hesitant to share this news with my company. Like most moms-to-be, I was very cognizant of not telling people about my pregnancy before the three-month mark.
But I was also very concerned how my pregnancy could affect my career, how my colleagues and clients would receive this news, how some people may stop perceiving me as a whatever-it-takes kind of leader.
Women in this advertising industry, especially those in leadership positions, work their asses off to be where they are. Most women I’ve come across, including myself, don’t try to be a mirror image of their male counterparts. But we do carefully carve out our own work personas: strong, bold, fierce, decisive, energetic, results-plus-people-oriented. A colleague once said to me that every time he sees me walking down the hallway, he knows I’m a woman on a mission.
When my body started adjusting itself to the pregnancy and the hormones kicked in, I was tired to my bones. I needed to step out of meetings and splash water on my face to wake myself up, which has never happened to me before, even when I went on for two or three days without sleep on TV shoots. Thirteen years in advertising has trained me well to care very little for sleep and rest in general, especially in Hong Kong, where our city ranks No. 1 for the longest working hours in the world.
I was encountering a mix of feelings. A part of me was intentionally not listening to the signs of my body. I always believe the body yields to the mind, so if I stayed mentally strong enough, my body would have to adjust to my mind, instead of the other way around, so that I could continue with my normal ways (and hours) of working. Then there’s also guilt. I think women in this industry are incredibly, tremendously tough on themselves. We try to do everything; we try to be in every meeting and add value; we always make time for other people before tackling our own to-do lists because we’re collaborative and supportive; we often prioritise others over ourselves because we lead by example.
Diversity is certainly an important aspect in our industry. But I would say for those who’ve stuck with this industry, it truly boils down to one reason—an unwavering and unexplainable love for this business. Like a rollercoaster ride, this business is filled with highs and lows and you can go through all sorts of emotions, up and down in a single day. But this is what makes our business almost … addictive. A “let’s shoot shit against the wall and see what sticks” kind of conversation can often turn into a brainstorming session for award-winning ideas, or an awesome client presentation leaving everyone in the room feel like they’ve travelled and landed on the moon. While I don’t suppose we’re all workaholics, but we do take pride in what we do, and pride is addictive and also what lures us to stay so relentlessly committed to our work and chained to our desks even beyond the midnight hours.
It wasn’t my company, my colleagues or my clients who were being difficult with me and my pregnancy—quite the contrary. It was my mind, my guilt and my pride that got the better of me and my body. The ironic part is being adaptive to our environment is key to succeeding in advertising, as this industry constantly evolves so you have to juggle between many different priorities at any single moment. But I failed completely to be adaptive to the “new” me, the pregnant version.
I’m in no position to tell anyone what to do, there’s so much I still need to learn in this industry and even more so in becoming a new mom.
But I do have some tips based on the experience I went through. Make sure you tell your company about your pregnancy. I’m not asking anyone to announce their pregnancy in an all-staff memo, but don’t be hesitant to have the conversation. My company was extremely supportive of my pregnancy and we discussed the additional support and flexible working hours I would need. More importantly, pace yourself, take it easy and walk slowly. Deadlines are deadlines and will always be there, but there will always be a way. And lastly and most importantly, listen to your body.
I ended up being prescribed bed rest after my doctor observed abnormalities in an ultrasound nine weeks into my pregnancy. Happily everything is fine now. I'm back to work and in my second trimester.
But the statistics are scary: 25 percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage in the first trimester, and this percentage is even higher for women my age. But as I’ve learned, there are things that we can be more conscious and cautious of when it comes to our work and career. After all, my baby is undoubtedly and absolutely the most important project that I’ll ever take on, and I’m the only one who can see it through.
Jacqueline Lam is client services director at Publicis Hong Kong.