Last week it emerged that the belief that pregnant women are bovine in every respect is endemic in British offices. In a paper to the British Psychological Society, Dr Helen Pattison, a psychologist at Birmingham University's medical school, said that, despite the majority of working women in Britain being in paid employment during their pregnancy, both employers and colleagues tend to see them as "physically and mentally incapacitated".
We all know that pregnancy isn't an illness. Yet in my experience, announcing "I'm pregnant" to your colleagues has a curious effect. After the initial "how nice" and "well done", there is a shift in attitudes, which grows and alters in proportion to your foetus. No one ever says: "Eurgh, how revolting," - it wouldn't be nice, but it would be honest.
Take morning sickness. Unless you suffer acutely and are permanently hurling on to your computer screen, it is reasonably easy for the pregnant woman to take this in her stride. You wake up, you feel sick, you have a ginger biscuit, you feel better, you go to work. And yet, when pregnant with my first child, I worked in an office in which I was excused from the day's first meeting (10am). I explained that I suffered from mild nausea first thing in the morning (6am) but I never vomited. But as far as many of my colleagues were concerned, I might chuck up and soil their shoes at any given time.
What is also off-putting is that weird combination of matronly concern - being offered comfier chairs, having people volunteer trips to the canteen for you (until, in my case, they find out quite how frequent these need to be), and no-nonsense- just-because-you're-pregnant-don't-think-you- can-go-soft-on-us lectures. The latter, in my experience, tend to come from women, which is sad, but there you go. It didn't help that, during both of my pregnancies, my immediate female bosses were the kind of women who had babies in their lunch break, hosed themselves down and came back in time to shout at the slackers who took a two-hour lunch.
One of my erstwhile colleagues appeared to be fascinated by my pregnancy's progress. "Does it have toes yet?" he would ask, sweetly. "How big is its head?" Less adorably, after a few months of this, I began to notice that every answer of mine was met by the kind of smile you scrabble for if you are trying not to retch. One night, he got very drunk and proposed a toast, in public, to the end of my sex life.
In her study, Dr Pattison singled out moral disapproval of pregnant women by colleagues as an area of particular concern: "People who saw pregnant workers negatively also tended to disapprove of young mothers working," she found. "They considered them to be selfish women who were putting the safety of their children at risk." What, by earning money? It's a sweetly old-fashioned idea, but true none the less: within seconds of having announced your "condition", you can wave a wistful goodbye to the after work drink, for instance. I drank, in moderation, through both my pregnancies, and have lost count of the number of alcoholic men with tragic, messy lives, who spent entire evenings berating me for this.
The reason co-workers get the creeps around pregnant women is, actually, perfectly obvious. Men don't like it because it proves you have ovaries, which confuses them. As a working woman, you can be one of three things: One Of The Lads; The Office Sexpot; or Bloody Ambitious. But lads don't have wombs; sexpots don't have kids; and ambitious women are only tolerable if they are de-sexed.
I think this also explains why I was treated so oddly by high-powered female colleagues: they must have been aware that carrying a child both humanises and sexualises one. When you've built your career, as they had, on sturdy foundations of ball-breaking, being forced to acknowledge an employee's fecundity might be disturbing.Reuse content