Road to Motherhood Crew Member Style: Empowerment of Women in the Cruise Workforce

Sep 19, 2019

In the last 12 years, the cruise industry has progressively shifted work-related mindsets related to crew members. This is quite apparent with the story of a girl who became pregnant with her partner while on board a cruise ship and made the decision mutually to continue her pregnancy while completing her contract. This would have been unheard of 12 years ago as the response was that it’s too risky for both mother and a child, not providing the member to make the decision or as long as the member is able to perform her duties to the full extent without any accommodations and adjustments. I remember many young women being sent home to go through their pregnancy in their home country whilst apart from their partner who stayed to complete the contract in order to provide for all. 

Well, this is obviously changing and this wonderful young woman who worked on board a cruise ship as a waitress, and we all know how taxing that work can be, with the support of her partner, crew, medical team, supervisors, HR, and the company managed to stay until her 6months of pregnancy. We at Crew Center were greatly intrigued and interesting to find out how this all occurred, lessons learned to pass on, as well as things to consider in the event that another woman decides to make the same decision. Thus we reached out to Joanna De Jesus from the Philippines to tell us her story. Joanna worked as a waitress on board P&O cruise ship with her loving partner when she experienced abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. When presented to the infirmary she was informed that she most likely has the stomach bug, which we're all aware that NORO virus happens frequently and waiting staff are some of the most susceptible on board a cruise ship. Joanna went on with her life as usual, but when the symptoms continued she was provided a pregnancy test which came back positive. She had the normal instant reaction of being nervous and feeling unprepared for the pregnancy. However, she at the same time welcomed it with a positive and mature attitude. 

Through a discussion with her partner, they made a mutual decision for Joanna to stay on board as long as it was well planned, appropriately addressed medically and work related, supported by the environment and safe for both mother and child. Were well aware that crew members form strong and supportive bonds that are hard to break as we become to each other the family that we’re missing back home. Thus, the expectation that the environment of crew members will be supportive for the most part is there. However, historically cruise companies have not been as supportive. This apparently has shifted as Joanna continued to give us more information about the progress of her pregnancy while continuing her duties as a waitress. Joanna reported that she had great support from HR, supervisors and the medical team. They often checked up on her and adjusted her workload accordingly to her medical needs and progression of pregnancy. Joanna informed that they provided her a stool to be able to sit down when having intense cramps and she was not allowed to carry heavy loads as she once did. However, she continued to perform her duties as a waitress even with those adjustments. She received frequent check-ups and follow-ups from the medical team, as well as performed frequent risk assessments. 

Cruise ship doctors with a pregnant crew member

A huge thank you from Joanna to the entire medical staff for their full support and care, especially to Dr. Gerry McCabe, and Dr. Luke Alexander McLennan.

HR and the supervisors followed the recommendations made by the medical team determined by the risk assessments and check-ups. Crew members frequently consulted with her regarding her well being and how she is feeling. However, Joanna appears to be a very strong and determined young woman who continued to carry her own workload with such poise. Joanna does not sugar code is either. She openly talks about feeling scared at moments, as well as emotional and still had a great understanding that this was part of pregnancy as she was carrying another human being inside of her for which she takes great responsibility. When it was time to head home at 6 months pregnant, she had 3 connecting flights. Clever as she is, Joanna informed the airline that she is pregnant and received support and help from airport staff. Joanna talked about some of the things that would have been even more helpful while pregnant and working onboard a cruise ship. She informed that she was fully responsible financially for the medical needs related to the pregnancy and that it can be costly. As the wonderful mother she has become, she informed that would have preferred to save the money for the baby when it comes as the cruise company does not pay for maternity leave or medical insurance once returned home. Furthermore, she informs that the crew mess food made her feel sick and she was not able to get the food she was craving as it normally happens with pregnancy. However, that her partner was amazing at assuring when docked on a port he takes her to a restaurant where she can fulfill that craving.

pregnant cruise ship crew member in her cabin on board

Joanna encourages women to continue working if that is what they are willing to do when pregnant on board a cruise ship, as well as work closely with the entire team to assure mother and child wellbeing. Her words of wisdom with this experience is to be mindful of one's own abilities of whether or not a woman is able to continue working on board a cruise ship as every woman is different and every pregnancy is different as well. She continues to show her well established maternal instincts by encouraging women to remember that they are growing a life inside of them and at the end of the day the wellbeing of the child and mother are the most important thing. Joanna is home presently and mutually with her partner made a decision for her to stay back for a year to care for the child, while he continues to work on board to provide for the family. Their plan is to reassess and most likely return together to work on cruise ships to support their child. We here at the Crew Center would like to warmly congratulate both of them on the bundle of joy and wish them all the best as a family.