Having a miscarriage is awful in and of itself, but an extra layer of difficulty can be added if you’re working outside the home. Pregnancy can be tricky to deal with in the workplace, especially if you’re in an unsupportive environment, and navigating a miscarriage can be a thousand times worse (especially if you didn’t want anyone, including your boss, to know that you’re pregnant).
Sadly, I had to deal with this situation last week, when I miscarried my eighth child, whom we named Francis, at 12 weeks. My situation was made slightly less awful due to a few factors:
- My boss already knew I was pregnant. I had told my boss about my pregnancy very early on, at about 5 weeks, because my pregnancy nausea was so severe that I had to leave work early – only a few hours after arriving for the day – due to a bad vomiting episode. I was comfortable doing this because I knew my boss would be both congratulatory and supportive. I also knew he’d keep the news confidential until I announced it myself. (This was my third pregnancy with him as my supervisor.)
- I was working from home at the time. I work from home (WFH) three days per week, and that particular day (June 1) was one of my regular WFH days. I used my lunch break to go to a prenatal appointment, and while at that appointment it was discovered that my baby had passed away. I texted my boss to tell him the situation and told him I’d need the rest of the day off. He offered immediate condolences and told me to take off as much time as I needed. (Thankfully, my husband’s boss, who also knew about my pregnancy, was similarly understanding.)
My situation was slightly more awful due to the fact that I had already told my co-workers about the baby. Just four weeks earlier, an ultrasound had showed a baby with a heartbeat, measuring spot-on and presumptively healthy, so I told my coworkers about my pregnancy at about 10 weeks.
After the miscarriage, it was very hard knowing I was going to have to “un-tell” everyone. I took three days off and arranged to work from home for an additional week; on my first day of work after the miscarriage I sent out an e-mail to my team (five co-workers, plus my boss). It was easier than telling everyone in person.
I kept the e-mail short and simple: “I have sad news. I lost the baby to miscarriage on Monday. I’ll be working from home the next 5 business days and will be back in the office on Thursday.”
Here are some additional tips for navigating an early pregnancy loss situation in the workplace:
1. If you’re in an unsupportive environment, you don’t have to tell your boss that you were pregnant or that you’re miscarrying or have miscarried; you can simply tell him/her that you are undergoing health complications. You can also tell this to HR if needed. However, if practicable, I do recommend telling your immediate supervisor and/or HR, if relevant, the nature of your health issues. It’s easier to explain your exact needs, and it will also give him/her a head’s up that while your physical healing may only take a few days, your emotional healing will likely take longer.
2. Similarly, I recommend telling your co-workers the nature of your health issues, or at least telling the co-workers you work most intimately with; I’ve found that co-workers may be less resentful and/or more willing to help pick up some slack if they understand why you’ve had to take such sudden time off, and why you may have trouble concentrating once you do return to work. It may also help stem any nosy questions about when you and your husband plan to have kids/more kids.
3. If you’re in a client-facing situation, that’s a bit trickier. If your clients already knew you were pregnant, then a brief e-mail (similar to what I sent my co-workers, above) is likely the easiest way to let them know. If not, it’s probably best just to let them know you’ll be out of the office or working a modified schedule due to sudden health issues.
4. If you’ve been struggling with infertility, you may want to consider being honest about it with your boss/co-workers. You don’t have to go into any great detail, but a simple, “We’re dealing with infertility,” when asked about plans for children can make people stop and reconsider asking those personal questions. I’ve never had to bear that particular cross, but I have had co-workers in that situation, and their honesty with others helped prevent some (but not all) nosy questions as mentioned above.
5. Take as much time off as you can. I can’t emphasize this enough. You are grieving the loss of a child, even if our society doesn’t recognize it that way. If your company has bereavement leave policies, inquire about using that leave in lieu of paid time off. If you have available PTO, take as much time as you can afford. If your loss is later in pregnancy or if you experience complications, you should also investigate FMLA or short-term disability leave, if offered. Sometimes working can help as a distraction, but if you don’t give yourself adequate time and space to grieve your loss, as well as recover physically, it can just get worse in the long run.
On a related note, I’ve written a blog post for Catholic Stand about the logistics of burying your baby after a miscarriage, which I hope will be helpful for others in similar situations.