Why Pregnancy Loss Should Be Covered Under Bereavement Leave
When I experienced a miscarriage during my third pregnancy in early 2017, asking for time off from work didn’t even cross my mind. I knew that pregnancy loss wasn’t covered under bereavement, and I technically wasn’t sick, so it seemed ridiculous to waste one of the five sick days I received each year on something that, on the surface, wasn’t any more problematic than a heavy period. So, I pushed through the emotional pain and went to work.
Although my miscarriage ultimately led to severe complications related to the mental health conditions I live with, I never really gave much thought to the connection between the lack of bereavement time and the subsequent mental health crisis I experienced later that same year until my partner recently brought it up. After a conversation with an executive at her company about trauma-informed policy, he asked her if she’d be willing to help him rewrite the company’s bereavement policy to make it “more inclusive” of unique circumstances, especially in light of COVID-19.
As we discussed some of the changes she was going to recommend to the company, she asked, “I’m curious, were you allowed to use bereavement for your miscarriage a few years ago?” When I responded with “no,” she said, “Wow, I feel like that would be incredibly difficult. Losing a child is hard on parents, regardless of when and how it happens.”
While some companies have started offering bereavement leave for pregnancy loss in recent years, many still do not. This means that parents have to work through their loss while continuing to “keep up appearances” at work, especially if they want to avoid the stigma and shame that often accompanies this type of loss. This also means that everyday stress continues to pile on top of the painful emotions that come with a loss of this type, which can either compound the problem or push individuals to “stuff down” their feelings until everything bursts.
Looking back on the situation, I realize just how much I would have benefitted from a week of rest, relaxation, and grieving.
If I had received bereavement leave for even just a few days, I would have had the space to wrap my head around the loss instead of returning to work while I remained in shock. While I would have still needed time to completely process the grief, I likely would have been better prepared to handle the emotions as they came up as I did return to work.
Furthermore, having time at home to begin processing my grief would have helped me avoid many of the awkward conversations I had to deal with during work on the days immediately following the miscarriage. Since I had to use my lunch break a couple of times to confirm the miscarriage and receive follow-up care, I had to disclose the situation to my team leader and boss. Unfortunately, news spreads like wildfire in the workplace, which meant most of my coworkers soon knew about the situation.
While some people simply offered a hug and a simple, “Let me know if you need anything,” others tried to dismiss my feelings or justify the loss with words like, “God has a way of taking care of these things,” or “This probably just means there was something wrong with the baby anyway.” These words were not only unhelpful, but essentially confirmed what I’d already decided in my head — the miscarriage was my fault.
I think, had I received some time off to work through my loss, these words may not have impacted me the same way, or I could have avoided these awkward conversations completely. Most importantly, though, I think offering bereavement for pregnancy loss would help break down many of the stigmas our society has built around this type of loss. Because we don’t currently treat pregnancy loss the same way we treat other types of deaths, we essentially dismiss the grief many women (and their partners) experience in the aftermath of the loss. If we included pregnancy loss in the same umbrella as other types of bereavement, though, this would hopefully break down that misnomer and help parents see their emotions and justified and normal parts of the situation. This, in turn, may help them decide to seek professional help from a grief counselor or other professional, and remind them that they’re allowed to feel however they do during this difficult time.
Pregnancy loss is incredibly painful, no matter when or how it happens. By allowing grieving parents the time and space to process this devastating loss with bereavement leave, I have no doubt that countless men and women would feel comforted and supported much more than they do now.
Getty image by Maskot.