In 1997 I was a naive, but extremely efficient, 25-year-old assistant production editor at Family Circle magazine in New York City. I was surrounded by veterans of the giant publishing institution, but held my own.
In January 1998, I became pregnant with my second child. It was not a secret by any means to my boss, the managing editor. We had many staff members who were parents. (Someone was always pregnant.) So I never could have imagined how poorly they’d handle my pregnancy.
Our managing editor had children of her own and commuted from Long Island to the city. Between the two of us, we were in charge of making sure the magazine went to press on time. Together we worked out a flexible schedule so we could be both efficient employees and mothers to our children.
When my manager wasn’t at work, I held down the fort, often having to move pages along at a fast pace to make deadline — much to the chagrin of many older staffers, who maintained a “while the cat’s away, the mice will play” attitude. Still, I was quite respected in my role.
I told my manager I’d be taking maternity leave a few weeks before my due date because I was having some complications, and my midwife wanted me on bed rest. My manager said she understood.
Soon after, I was called into her office and told that my position was being eliminated because of “company restructuring.” When I asked for further clarification, her answers were vague. I knew something wasn’t right, and I definitely knew I wasn’t going to take it lying down. This is what a family-centric brand does? No. That wasn’t going to fly.
I discovered through the grapevine that there wasn’t any “restructuring” going on. My company simply did not want to honor my request for maternity leave because the timing was inconvenient. My friends advised me to immediately call an organization called 9 to 5 and ask for help.
I was assigned a case manager and told her my story.
I was told my being laid off was illegal, even if I was considered only a part-time employee. Confident that I would be reinstated, I quietly went on leave and gave birth to my second daughter. After 9 to 5 contacted human resources, Family Circle said I was to be reinstated in my position after 12 weeks of maternity leave, six of which were paid. (I did not have to pay 9 to 5 for its assistance, and I’m forever grateful to the organization for its services.)
In the meantime, I took on freelance work (from home) to make up for the six weeks when I would not receive any income.
The day before I was to report back to Family Circle — and after much thought — I decided I couldn’t possibly work for a company that would treat women in such an unjust manner. The discrimination made me ill and I feared that if my children ever became sick, my employer would try to fire me again. The lack of support from my manager and editor-in-chief was also disheartening.
That afternoon I handed in my resignation, effective immediately. Yes, I could have given them two weeks’ notice, but I didn’t feel they deserved that respect from me.
Meanwhile, I continued to do good work.
I went on to freelance for Working Mother, Working Woman, and other magazines as a fact checker. And despite being one of the few people at the magazine who had children, Brides allowed me a flexible schedule and understood my needs as a working mother.
Looking back, parting ways with Family Circle was absolutely the best decision — for my career and for my family.
Chanize Thorpe has more than 15 years of experience editing, fact checking, and writing for national publications. She specializes in travel and consumer interest stories, with a heavy focus on Caribbean islands and the wedding/honeymoon market.