And first, we need to destigmatize it.
Like so many women, my journey to motherhood wasn't all that simple. After marrying my college sweetheart, planning our lives together, and jumping into our careers, we decided to start trying for a baby in our mid-twenties. After trying naturally for around a year with no success, we decided to talk to my OB-GYN. Eventually we were referred to a reproductive endocrinologist to help us figure out how to conceive. We thought, 'great—we'll see a specialist, and everything will fall into place.'
When people would ask me as a kid, "what do you want to be when you grow up?" the answer would always be the same: a mom. I thought that would be easy to achieve, even if it wasn't going to happen right away, and even if we needed help from a specialist. After all, about 140 million babies are born worldwide every year—one of those would have to be mine. But even with the best doctors and care possible, we weren't expecting to still experience devastating loss.
Here's my story, and why we need to have more conversations about the need for pregnancy loss leave.
After years of treatment, in my third round of IVF, my husband and I were ecstatic to find out that we were finally pregnant. It felt like our fertility journey—which, up to this point, had been tumultuous with failed IVF rounds, an endometriosis diagnosis, and a chemical pregnancy—was resulting in some amazing news.
Now, we know my answer to "what do you want to be when you grow up" wasn't initially "Vice President of Business Development," but at that point in my life, that's where I was, and it was going well! I was climbing the corporate ladder, and at five weeks pregnant, I had to take a business trip to Cincinnati. The morning of my meeting, I woke up in excruciating pain. I called my reproductive endocrinologist, and the next thing I knew, I was rushed to the emergency room. So, there I was, in an unfamiliar city, hospital, and alone without my husband, all while I was supposed to be working.
It turned out I had an ectopic pregnancy, where the embryo was implanted in my abdominal cavity instead of my uterus. This is extremely rare and can be fatal. Later that afternoon, I underwent emergency surgery, and that was the end of my pregnancy: a devastating miscarriage. And of all days for this to happen, it was Mother's Day. I'm still baffled as to why it had to happen on that day. The pain and grief still linger in the air, and I suffer from PTSD because of it.
My story of miscarriage is, unfortunately, not all that unique. One in four pregnancies will end in a miscarriage, and that number might be higher since women don't always report when it happens or even realize that they're pregnant.
But why, in 2021, are miscarriages still so stigmatized? When my miscarriage occurred, it was during work. Luckily, I had a fantastic manager at the time who gave me a safe space to share my story with him and my team. But still, for a significant traumatic medical event, I had to use my own earned paid time off to recover emotionally and physically. For other types of loss, most companies offer bereavement leave, and there's some sort of medical leave in place for major medical events. Around the world, the way businesses handle pregnancy loss is changing. Just this spring, New Zealand instated a national paid miscarriage policy that gives parents three days of time off, and it's a common practice at private companies in the U.K. Then why—for something as traumatic as pregnancy loss—don't more companies in the U.S. offer a paid pregnancy loss leave? Here, it's still such a rare benefit that only a handful of companies openly offer.
I now work at a fertility and family building benefit company, Progyny, which offers a specific leave policy for pregnancy loss. As a company that focuses on building families and supporting all paths to parenthood, we are proud to have a policy like this in place. This leave not only covers a pregnancy loss but also failed adoption attempts and surrogacy arrangements that fall through.
Most expectant parents who experience pregnancy loss deal with the physical recovery and the severe mental health impact. According to a recent study from the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, nearly a third of women who have a miscarriage will deal with post-traumatic stress, and one in four will deal with anxiety. I am one of those women, and it's more than likely that you know someone who suffers from this too. It is extremely difficult to deal with the pain, grief, stress, and anxiety that comes with a pregnancy loss all while still trying to power through a workday. And being forced to either push those feelings down or take earned time off for a traumatic event seems unfair and cruel.
At the end of the day, putting compassionate paid pregnancy loss leave policies in place is simply doing right by your employees, and more companies should offer it. If you are thinking about advocating for your own company to implement this type of leave, here are some key tips.
- First, ask around among a trusted group of coworkers to see if they agree with the need for a paid pregnancy loss leave policy. There is strength in numbers, so going to your company's leadership team or H.R. department with more than just one voice advocating for a big policy shift like this may have a more significant impact. As I mentioned before, so many people have likely experienced a loss, so you are not going to be alone in this endeavor.
- Once you have the attention of the decision makers at your company, work with them to build out a plan that is comprehensive, inclusive, and sensitive to individual people's triggers. This means avoiding the words "miscarriage" or even "pregnancy loss" when asking for time off. This is a highly emotional event and should be handled delicately. One way to go about it is to create an email template specific to taking this leave and the employee only needs to put in their name and the dates they would like to take. Or if you're close to your manager, talk to them directly and have them advocate on your behalf with the H.R. team.
- Lastly, for your fellow coworkers who make their miscarriages public knowledge, you should make sure that they are being provided with emotional support as much as they need it. Some people would prefer to grieve on their own, while others need support from their community, including their work families. By providing a space where your coworkers and friends can share as little or as much as they want to is extremely helpful. Also, if your company offers mental health benefits like mine does, give a reminder about it.
While it had its fair share of ups and downs, my story ultimately ended with the best possible outcome: we welcomed our rainbow baby girl Drew just last fall after nearly eight years of trying. Through everything—the miscarriage, the PTSD, and all of the tough times in between—I genuinely feel so grateful to have worked for companies that supported me through the entire journey. I hope that more companies will soon put forward compassionate workplace policies like a paid pregnancy loss leave to help their employees through one of the most challenging parts of their lives.