Is Pregnancy a Disability?

This weekend I saw a headline that caught my attention. Right there on the internet was an article that asked, “Should pregnancy be considered a disability?”

My initial gut reaction was a very loud NO. But the more I read and the more I’ve thought about it, the more I think my initial reaction might have been wrong.

This last week in my clinical (in the NICU) I came literally within seconds of passing out. It didn’t seem to be related to stress (it was a very low stress situation with a healthy full term baby), but more likely due to my blood sugar and prolonged standing, neither of which were ever a problem pre-pregnancy. It is only because in the final moments of the blurring vision and muted hearing that I told someone that I was going to pass out that I didn’t end up on the floor of the hospital, but instead in a wheelchair with a cool washcloth and a glass of juice.

And since then, I’ve been handled with a big pair of (metaphorical) kid gloves.

I’m not allowed to stand for extended periods of time in the hospital. I’m given all kinds of rests and water breaks throughout the day, most of which I find really unnecessary. I’m only 23 weeks pregnant, I can stand for a while, I can go several hours without food. I do love the water breaks because carrying my water bottle around has the potential to bring germs into the NICU or germs out of the hospital with me each day.

I am getting these accommodations because my clinical instructors are kind and reasonable people. But what this article made me realize is that many bosses and many jobs are not this flexible. They may not allow for breaks, for opportunities to sit or eat more often, and in that way, pregnancy is a health condition that may require increased protection at work.

To be clear, I don’t think that pregnancy should entitle all women to a handicap placard and front row parking. I don’t think that pregnancy is truly a disability unto itself. A normal, uncomplicated pregnancy shouldn’t require much more than some general understanding and compassion. But I do think that if pregnancy was included in the Americans with Disabilities Act, it would make working while pregnant a lot safer for many women. And I am a firm believer in anything that can reduce the risk of complications during pregnancy, even if it means a label I’m not all that wild about.

What do you think: Should pregnancy be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act?

 

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Is Pregnancy a Disability?

Being pregnant can be hard. Maybe you sail through with a warm glow to your skin and a beautiful baby bump and no other side effects. Maybe.

That’s not the experience most of us have. We’re fatigued and nauseated. Food won’t stay down. We gain weight and lose mobility. We can have pelvic problems that make it hard to walk and dizzy spells that make it hard to drive.

But are we disabled when we’re carrying children?

Some people think so. There’s a movement afoot to extend the Americans with Disabilities Act to include pregnant women.

Before you leap up in outrage at the idea that pregnant women might be considered disabled, think about what the legal protection would mean.

As the University of Dayton law professor spearheading this points out, being protected under the ADA would ensure pregnant women are accommodated on the job. The Dayton newspaper writes :

The designation would mean requirements for employers, and job security for pregnant employees. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers would be required to accommodate pregnant workers in small ways, such as the ability to be put on light duty if necessary, drink water on the job, and take more restroom breaks.

That all sounds great, and it’s true that pregnant women do need more family-friendly legal policies and workplace rules. Is this the best way to get it though? For the first months of pregnancy a woman isn’t even showing, but is often feeling nauseated and fatigued. Would I have to produce a pregnancy test to get extra potty breaks during my shift?

Whether expanding the ADA is the right way to approach the problem or not, it’s clear that working pregnant women often have a problem getting fair treatment from their employers. They do need accommodations they don’t need at other times, whether that’s extra breaks to deal with nausea or lighter physical work in the later trimesters when just walking can become difficult.

Linda Sharps at The Stir doesn’t like the idea of putting pregnant women under the ADA’s protection. She writes:

It seems well-intentioned … and also like one hell of a slippery slope. For most of us, pregnancy is a normal, healthy condition, not a disability. If a pregnant women develops a disabling condition, that’s one thing, but labeling every pregnancy as a physical impairment seems like the wrong thing to do.

What do you think? Should pregnancy be considered a disability, or just a normal part of life?

Photo: mahalie

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