When your water breaks—on its own or via a medical professional—there's only one thing it means: a baby is trying to actively make its way out into the world as soon as possible. If it happens when you're not at a hospital or birthing center, then the pregnant person needs to get there. STAT.
Maybe it'll break at home, maybe it'll break at work, maybe it'll break in the cereal aisle at Trader Joe's. You never know! But one thing you do know is that once that happens, you need medical attention.
Unless you're the pregnant woman featured in this viral tweet, who was coerced into finishing a work meeting WHILE IN ACTIVE LABOR.
It's a good example of how harmful hustle culture can be to pregnant workers.
"Friend's water broke during a board meeting," the tweet reads. "She says, 'I need to go to the hospital my water just broke!' Lead investor from well known fund says, 'Ok, but can we finish the meeting first?' She finished the board meeting in the car while en route to the hospital. WTF."
Friend's water broke during a board meeting.
She says, "I need to go to the hospital my water just broke!"
— Christine Carrillo (@ChristineCarril)
Unfortunately, this story is not as uncommon as you may initially believe. A lot of people responded to the initial tweet with stories of their own and how their needs were disregarded while pregnant at work.
@ChristineCarril I worked the entire day I was in labor with my daughter - meetings all day (kept post it notes of… https://t.co/qM1uV6wHkY
— Katica Roy (@katicaroy)
@ChristineCarril This crap is not just at board level. My wife had a miscarriage and was on her way to the hospital… https://t.co/sCUDNEn0Sv
— Serverless Sisyphus (@eineBanaleFrage)
@ChristineCarril I worked at a large corporation and received two calls while laboring at hospital. I had thought f… https://t.co/N5V62hzqwo
— Sandy F (@sandyfias)
Why does this happen? Well, the short answer is that it can likely be attributed to American "hustle culture" and lack of federal maternity/paternity leave. For many reasons, a majority of people who are employed and pregnant work right up until the very end. Hustle culture basically means that you're always working. Always "on." No work-life balance or boundaries. Work is done during office hours, outside the office, at home, coffee shops, the library—anywhere and everywhere.
Subscribing to this type of work can easily prove to be toxic. Studies have shown that long hours can result in an increase in anxiety and depression. Hustle culture can also make us lose sleep, which actually lowers performance levels. The rise of this lifestyle could certainly be one of the key causes of anxiety in the modern world, which could be a reason why pregnant workers feel pressured to work through anything that comes up—including active labor.
When I suffered a very physically painful miscarriage in between both of my children, it was right around the holidays. My husband, who was only allotted 10 vacation days per year, had already used them. I was physically unable to care for our toddler the day after and needed my husband to stay home from work. His boss told him that since his vacation days were up, he'd have to take FMLA (for eight hours) and then wait to see if the FMLA was approved (after taking it) via the Notice of Eligibility and Rights & Responsibilities (Form WH-381) and a medical certification form from the hospital saying I had a miscarriage. She informed him that if she and the company didn't approve his eight hours of FMLA, he would be terminated.
While grieving the loss of my pregnancy, we also spent our holiday season wondering if he would be out of a job. Luckily he wasn't fired, but it's an experience that haunts me years later. These types of stories are, sadly, too common.
The original author of the tweet (the pregnant woman's friend), followed up the story echoing this harsh truth.
"The reality is that for many women—and don't get me started if they are also women of color—they don't have the option to say, no I won't take money from someone who behaves badly when they'll lead a round. The power dynamics at play are enormous."
The burden shouldn't be on pregnant workers to put up boundaries when it comes to working and their health and wellbeing. Full stop. Here's hoping viral stories like this shine a spotlight on the problem and legislation like the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act inspires more protections to be passed for pregnant workers in the future.