Work

Where Are All the Images of Working Pregnant Women?

Nearly 70 percent of women work while pregnant, but they’re almost entirely absent from TV, newspapers, and magazines.

With nearly 4 million births in the U.S. each year and more than 70 percent of pregnant women working, former sports reporter Jane Gottesman wondered why she didn’t see images of them. They weren’t on TV, in newspapers, or in magazines that weren’t about having a baby.
Gottesman knew the value in using images to convey normalcy and show women in control of their bodies. So where were these pregnant working women, especially when more than 80 percent of them worked until the month they gave birth?

Teaming up with photographers across the country, Gottesman and the organization Game Face (later called Working Assumptions, which made this series available to Slate) set to change the visual narrative: A pregnant woman at work has her own story of how she navigates the stresses of pregnancy and work.

Susan Krane, executive director of Working Assumptions, says that a turning point for showing pregnant women on screen came in 1952, when Lucille Ball told Desi Arnaz on I Love Lucy that she was expecting a child. The word pregnancy was never uttered (CBS executives deemed it “too vulgar”), and the maternity clothes reflected an era when pregnancy was something to be hidden. Krane points to images of Jackie Kennedy pregnant as having a similar impact but struggles to identify additional examples of notable pregnant working women.

The images in this series are designed to shift the narrative about pregnant working women in a range of fields and industries. They don’t tell us the mother’s birth plans, the baby’s sex, or whether she has paid maternity leave, but they tell us about what she does for a living, before and after her child is born. By normalizing the images of working pregnant women, we can perhaps get to the thornier issue of why so many women still fear and face workplace discrimination. If we want to truly give women equal footing in the workplace, we need to address what is a vulnerable time for so many women and the ramifications that often last long after the baby is born.

Correction, Sept. 21, 2018: The photograph of Elizabeth below was originally credited to photographer Natalie Young. Since taking the photographs, Natalie has begun using the name Natalie Faye.

The photograph of Ginna below originally incorrectly named the dance instructor shown as Anecia.

Elizabeth leads a horse through a field.
“A lot of people didn’t know I was pregnant until the very end. Not that I was hiding it—I just wanted to focus on work. I sell my beef at a farmers market, where I know and am friendly with many people, and it’s hard to talk about your pregnancy with every single person: ‘I’m doing well today,’ ‘I’m doing well today,’ ‘I’m doing well today.’ So I saved it until the very end, when I was about seven months. Until then I wore a big coat and stood behind a large table with all our beef on it. People were more interested in the beef than the belly.” —Elizabeth, cattle rancher
Paul Wellman
Anecia teaches students on the bar in a ballet class.
Ginna,* ballet dancer and instructor.
Marilyn Shapiro
Rebecca writes on a whiteboard in front of a classroom of students.
“When you’re pregnant, your life is in some ways public. Psychologists are trained to keep personal things out of the client relationship. It is public knowledge. I never felt embarrassed about it. In fact, at times I felt that I’m a positive role model for some of my students: I take care of myself, I’m expecting a child, I’m teaching. I’m a professional. I’ve only seen glamour shots of pregnant actresses like Demi Moore and Jennifer Lopez. I don’t think I’ve ever seen pictures of professional working women.” —Rebecca, community college instructor, psychologist, and small-business owner
Geoffrey Biddle
Julie poses in graduation regalia.
Julie, a professor of occupational therapy.
Andrea Modica
Nicole, wearing a white lab coat, talks with someone while sitting at a computer.
“Nausea is a feeling of impending doom. I tried supplements, B12, small snacks, sucking hard candies. None of it helped. Sometimes I’d wear a mask because body odor from patients exacerbated the nausea. When patients went on and on about their aches and pains, it was hard for me to not look at them and say, ‘Try being nauseous all day!’ Then I’d wonder, ‘Am I just not tough enough? Am I just not handling this pregnancy well?’ ” —Nicole, physician
Geoffrey Biddle
Anna signs on the floor of the state Legislature.
Anna, an American Sign Language interpreter at the Massachusetts Legislature, with former Gov. Deval Patrick behind her.
David Binder
Elizabeth in work clothes.
Elizabeth dressed up in her kitchen with a child on her hip.
Photographer Natalie Faye* took both photos of Elizabeth, an apprentice electrician, on the same day. “The photos were unposed by me—Elizabeth chose her clothing and how to present herself. She felt like she has two very different ways that she presents herself, depending on whether she is working or not, so we tried both. She has to be really pared down at work, men’s clothing, no makeup,” Natalie says.
Natalie Faye
Laurie in scrubs in an operating room.
Laurie, a surgeon.
Carol Guzy
Alicia with two other women in a Jazzercise studio.
“I thought I’d feel like this happy, growing flower, but I felt more like a sick weed. I would teach my class, get off the stage, go throw up, and get back on. Working was what got me through my pregnancy. It was my one hour each day that I didn’t have to think about being sick. That’s what made me feel good. Pregnancy is not a deal-breaker. It’s important for women to know that they can be pregnant and still do their job.” —Alicia
Christine Osinski
Neyara cleans windows.
Neyara, housekeeper.
Cristiana Ceppas
Amanda rides the subway.
“Even though my mom worked through her pregnancies, I still face and enjoy breaking the myths that pregnancy is a time of weakness and disability. It feels really good to be in the third trimester and facilitate a daylong training and have people say, ‘Wow, you are doing a lot for someone who is pregnant.’ And respond, ‘I feel great.’ ” —Amanda, health educator
Lori Grinker
Kerry exits the restaurant she works at.
Kerry, waitress.
Lori Grinker
Jacqueline holds up two large scrolls.
“With all four pregnancies, I worked and scheduled until the last minute, including a wedding the week after my son was born. I said to the family, ‘The only thing that will keep me from being there is being in the hospital.’ ” —Jacqueline, rabbi
Geoffrey Biddle
Christine sits in a meeting in an office.
Christine, corporate executive.
Marilyn Shapiro
Kalahn sits at a desk in her office.
“Many women of color have a narrative in their mind about being able to do it all. We are accustomed to a certain level of stress. But it takes a toll on the body. I am learning from it.” —Kalahn, health policy researcher
Greg Miller

These photographs were commissioned by Working Assumptions for its project Showing: Pregnancy in the Workplace (2011­–­12), showingpregnancy.org. Select images from this project were later included in the exhibition Showing (work x family), now traveling to venues nationally. For further information, contact info@workingassumptions.org. All photographs are copyright the artist, courtesy of Working Assumptions, a nonprofit foundation.