Facing Pregnancy and Childcare for Sign Language Interpreters

~ Authored by Hannah Hayes

“The strip turned pink!  It is a positive!  I’m pregnant!”  This moment is life changing, but especially for someone in an independent in-person profession.  Pregnancy and childcare for sign language interpreters make a huge impact on our work.

Pregnancy and childcare for sign language interpreters

The Problem

Our job typically does not allow us to take a break from office work to breast-feed in a separate room, take paid maternity leave, or ensure consistent work for predictable income and childcare.  This creates added stress, a struggle with work life balance, and a strain on finances.

Female Dominated Profession

Of all sign language interpreters in the United States, 84% are women.  Most of us work as independent contractors, though there are some staff or educational interpreter positions that may or may not allow more flexibility and income dependability.  We have to be on-site to provide services, and our profession is small.  This means even one person going on maternity leave impacts the community’s request coverage.

Added Stress

Most of us were drawn to the profession because of our desire to serve the community and fill a need.  We feel guilty taking time for prenatal doctor’s appointments, maternity leave, or childcare.  This adds to our stress which impacts the burn out rate of sign language interpreters, not to mention vicarious trauma.  (American Counseling Assocation)

Work Life Balance

Another aspect of pregnancy and childcare for sign language interpreters is that we worry about taking any of time off because when a job comes up, we feel guilty not accepting it.  What if that Deaf person does not get services?

The other concern is women tend to get fewer raises than men.  (Artz, Goodall, Oswald)  Since the interpreting field is 6:1 female dominated, the profession as a whole receives fewer raises.  Over time, without an increase in our profession, it becomes less and less affordable for us to keep working.  So we end up changing careers just to be able to pay the bills.  All the stresses we experience as sign language interpreters wear us down, and the money doesn’t even make up for the added vicarious trauma.

FinancesPregnancy and childcare for sign language interpreters

Whether a single parent or two parent household, many families rely heavily on the mother’s income.  So when she goes on leave or has to take off time to care for her children, the financial strain is felt.  She may also be limited to what assignments she can go on because she must breast-feed or pump at specific times.

There is also the added concern of babysitting costs.  Often interpreters do not make enough per hour to offset the childcare costs.  Or she has to drive so far for a 2 hour assignment that it is not financially worth it to pay for childcare.

What is the Solution?

So these are the concerns of pregnancy and childcare for sign language interpreters.  But what is the solution?  If you are a company who employs interpreters, be understanding and give them time and benefits for being a present mom.  If you are a mother and an interpreter, advocate for your rights.  Resist the pressure to ignore your family just to “fill the job.”  If you burn out, we will lose you from the profession all together.  It is better to take the time you need now to be with your family and take care of your baby.

Finally, consider some side income so you don’t feel the pressure to work so hard as an interpreter just to make ends meet.  Do you have a fall back job or can you request a company work around your needs?  You are sacrificing both as an interpreter and a mother.  So there should be NO guilt over making this type of request.


Additional Resources:

Isn’t that a Job for Women?” by Carl Boley

Self-Care for Sign Language Interpreters” by MT&A

Vicarious Trauma” by American Counseling Association

Research: Women Ask for Raises as Often as Men, But are Less Likely to Get Them” by Benjamin Artz, Amanda Goodall, and Andrew J. Oswald


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MT & Associates | Sign Language Interpreting Practice BBB Business Review