More Workplaces Are Giving Employees Miscarriage Leave
It's a nightmare scenario that so many women have faced: miscarrying their pregnancy and not knowing how to handle the situation at work. Do you call in sick? Tell your boss what's happening? What about if you hadn't told anyone about your pregnancy in the first place? What if you prefer to keep everything private?
Dealing with a miscarriage and work obligations is an incredibly hard situation — many women know the pain of miscarrying while still at work, like this singer who literally miscarried onstage while performing, or this nanny who miscarried while caring for the three children she was employed to take care of — but it's not always talked about publicly.
When you're the one in that situation, it's difficult to know what to do. Because many women — either by choice or because our culture commonly dictates it — don't even announce their pregnancies until after 12 weeks, primarily because of the risk of miscarriage, going through a loss before your first trimester feels like something that you have to shoulder on your own. If your boss or co-workers have no idea that you are pregnant, how can you expect them to suddenly wrap their minds around a miscarriage?
With the idea that pregnancy should be “hidden” until 13 weeks, when the risk of miscarriage is less, already ingrained in our minds from the start, the idea that we can be open about miscarriage in the workplace is a difficult one to wrap our minds around. And that leads to many women suffering in silence, out of fear of letting others know they were pregnant, fear of being discriminated against at work, or fear of being perceived as somehow “unprofessional” for, you know, having a female body that can get pregnant and endure pregnancy loss?
It's an impossible situation that makes miscarriage even more difficult to deal with when it happens, but fortunately, more employers and employees are having conversations that are bringing pregnancy loss out in the open at work. In fact, more employers are even offering miscarriage leave to employees, a “benefit” that really should be a no-brainer but because it hasn't ever been offered in the mainstream workplace, is now being seen a revolution of the workplace.
For example, one start-up company in San Francisco run by Jack Altman decided to offer its employees 5 days of miscarriage leave, the same amount of time offered for bereavement leave. This decision was made after Altman's own pregnancy loss, when Jack's wife Julia was just over 7 weeks along. Her own employment as a nurse practitioner didn't offer anything formal for miscarriage leave, so she was forced to call in sick as she dealt with the physical loss and emotional recovery.
Other companies offer similar policies, which, considering our current treatment of pregnancy and loss, are almost shocking. For example, Reddit's policy, which gives 8.5 paid weeks to employees who experience pregnancy loss. The leave extends towards an employee or partner's own miscarriage, a surrogate loss, abortion, or a failed adoption.
Of course, every woman will experience miscarriage differently and have her own wishes about how she chooses to grieve and heal. Not all women would want to talk to their boss or HR department about their loss, and still others may have no desire for the pregnancy to be made known to anyone at all. That's entirely a personal decision, but at the very least, as more companies acknowledge the toll that miscarriage takes for their employees, more women can know that miscarriage is never something they should have to “hide” from a boss or coworkers. A miscarriage is a traumatic event for some women and it deserves acknowledgement in the workplace if a woman needs time off to heal, grieve, and recover.
I've had two miscarriages and I know how long they both took me to recover from, both physically and emotionally. I work from home and I was still a total wreck; I remember I wore sunglasses to school pick-up for weeks because I just couldn't seem to stop bursting into tears randomly and my eyes were so red and swollen. Just having to leave my house at all seemed cruel, like the sun and the noise and the hustle and bustle of people living their normal lives was like harsh sandpaper on my exposed skin.
I know that I needed a lot of time before I felt “normal” again. I could not have functioned in my workplace without taking some kind of time off, so miscarriage leave–whether or not a woman chooses to take it–is a step in the right direction for acknowledging the very real pain that a miscarriage can bring.
Would you use a miscarriage leave in your workplace? What do you think of the policies?