Miscarriage and pregnancy loss can be isolating and sorrowful experiences — and are more common than you might realize. About 10-20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage; however, the actual number is probably higher since many occur so early in a pregnancy that a woman might not even realize it's happening.
For too long, the topic has been taboo in the workplace. "Talking about miscarriage is hard because when we do, we're actually talking about sex and bodies and people trying to get pregnant," explains Suzie Welsh, RN, a former women's health and fertility nurse who founded Binto, which creates customized vitamin supplement packages to support women through the pre- and post-natal phases and menopause. "And those are things we are uncomfortable talking about in general."
But that's changing. One catalyst: The pandemic of 2020, which blurred the boundaries between our home and work lives. Even Janet Yellin, the first female treasury secretary of the U.S., admitted in May 2021 during a White House press briefing that it's time for a new approach stating, "[the United States'] policymaking has not accounted for the fact that people's work lives and personal lives are inextricably linked." Social media is also driving the shift thanks to celebrities like Chrissy Teigen and influencers such as @OngSquad sharing their stories of loss with millions of followers.
Internationally, new laws granting "compassionate leave" for miscarriage are growing in countries including New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Australia and South Korea. But for now, there's no universal miscarriage policy in the U.S. Proposed legislation called the PAID Leave Act, which would permanently enact a program that would provide workers with 12 weeks of emergency paid family and medical leave, is gaining traction. Some companies (such as The Mom Project) are enacting miscarriage guidelines. Yet if you experience either a miscarriage or pregnancy loss, chances are it's going to be up to you to figure out how to talk about it and what benefits might exist at your workplace. Here's what to do:
Find out what you're entitled to
The Family Leave Medical Act (FLMA) provides some protection for women who experience "serious health conditions related to pregnancy, such as a miscarriage." It stipulates that women must be employed by a company of at least 50 employees and have worked for 1,250 hours over the previous year." Worth noting: The FMLA covers 12 weeks, so if you take time off because of a risk of miscarriage, that will be deducted from any maternity leave.
If you're not sure about your company's policies, check the employee portal on the website, or make an appointment with an HR representative. "Ask specifically if there's an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)," suggests Sue Campbell, co-author of "The Parental Leave Playbook." "You might have benefits you don't even know about that cover counseling services — and it's important to tap into all possible resources."
Decide when, how, and with whom to share your news
You're not required to disclose a miscarriage, but you might want to let your employer know if you require time off for medical appointments. However, how you share your news is up to you. If you're comfortable talking to your boss face-to-face, schedule a time to chat in private. If you'd rather put it in an email because it's difficult for you to talk about, then do that. Another option: Contact a representative in your HR department and let them relay your information to any appropriate managers or team members for you. But assume that word might get around. So, if you disclose to one person, there is a chance other people will find out.
If your pregnancy wasn't common knowledge because you weren't showing, you might choose not to share any details. "You can say something generic, such as: 'I'm going through a medical challenge right now, so please understand if I am a bit distracted,'" says Kathy Nickerson, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in Orange County, California. However, if people knew, Nickerson suggests something short and factual like, "Sadly, I lost my baby, and I would rather not talk about it now. I'd very much appreciate your patience with me while I do my best to recover."
Figure out what you want
Maybe you're OK with your experience being known around the workplace so that you don't have to repeat the details every time you get up to refill your coffee. Or maybe you'd simply rather focus on work while at work. Both are fine. Just keep your workplace culture in mind while deciding. Because while sharing can be comforting, "the culture in some companies could cause your career to take a hit if you reveal this kind of information," cautions Campbell.
The plain truth is that since many companies don't even have a miscarriage policy in place, you might end up spearheading the creation of one — or at least some guidelines — whether you want to or not. "Ideally, as a society, we'd already have a way of offering support and handling this," says Campbell. "But we're not there yet. So, each individual has to figure out what's right for them."