Aside from spending time googling an assortment of words (cycling, herbal tea, flying…) in combination with the word ‚pregnancy‘, visiting the doctor more times than in the last 5 years put together and observing daily with marvel as my belly swells up, I’m pretty busy at work. Which to my friends in England is no news, but to many Germans appears to come as a surprise. Surprised that I am at work at all.
Because pregnancy in Germany is extremely protected. In fact there is a law enforcing this protection. The ‚Mutterschutzgesetz‚ (quite literally mother-protection law) is a law protecting expectant and new mothers from dangers and excessiveness at the workplace as well as protecting against unfair dismissal and financial loss.
Each employer is required to identify potential hazards at the workplace. And it turns out the hospital has many potential hazards. From infectious patients to radiation exposition and general stress from night-shifts and on-calls. Thus, while my compatriots in the UK trudge on through their weeks of nights through the stages of pregnancy, battling with tiredness, crazy hormones and various physical complaints, pregnant women in Germany are not supposed to work night-shifts, not supposed to work on Sundays or to clock-in overtime. After 9 years of life being dictated by an on-call rota, this is a somewhat strange but not altogether unpleasant time for me.
Furthermore, the law forbids expectant mothers to work from 6 weeks before their due date and for the 8 weeks following delivery. To me it seems like a lot of the rules verge on being more than a little overprotective, because I tend to compare every aspect of my life in Germany with what I know of the UK. And I can’t help but think of my good friend in Ireland who (no joke) started labour in the middle of her leaving-day lunch at her place of work at the beginning of maternity leave and went from there directly to the delivery ward.
Pregnancy is after all a perfectly normal state and not an illness. But nevertheless it doesn’t change the fact that it comes with emotional and physical changes (that are brand new and unsettling to first time mothers) and which presumably affect each individual differently. And looking at it that way, I’m starting to appreciate what a privilege it is to be an expectant mother in Germany. And even if I find some of the rules a little over-the-top, I’m wondering how many of my UK colleagues and friends would have said no to a little bit of special treatment at work during pregnancy.