Like many women, I worked through my miscarriages.
With the help of misoprostol (a prescription drug to help remove a pregnancy), my body labored and attempted to dispel my pregnancy for nine days. I ran to the bathroom between Zoom calls, screaming in agony while I bled. I sobbed into my laptop with immense grief. I answered emails from my doctor’s waiting room. I took calls on the commutes to the hospital awaiting surgery. The bleeding trickled off over the next few weeks, but the grief remained.
After turning to friends for support, one confided in me that she had been informed that her baby’s heart had stopped the day before a new business pitch. She flew across the country to present, still carrying a 13-week old baby, praying her body didn't start the natural miscarriage process before she could make it home.
Even knowing we would have been supported, neither of us were prepared to ask for time off work.
If you are shocked by any of this, don’t be. Miscarriage is incredibly common; 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, and 29% of women who miscarry will experience some form of PTSD, according to recent research. For too long individuals experiencing miscarriage have had to suffer in silence due to cultural stigma and a huge lack of awareness. As common as miscarriage is, strong workplace policies that support employees and their partners when they experience this loss are unfortunately not. I consider myself lucky, given I was working from home with access to healthcare.
The silence and feelings of shame around pregnancy loss prevents women from reaching out and asking for help. It’s ultimately what prevented me, and so many others, from asking for what I needed from my workplace. Asking for time to grieve a miscarriage also reveals family planning intentions to your employer — potentially before you’re prepared to share that information. We’ve all heard stories of the women that were kept out of major projects and passed over for promotions because they might be trying to get pregnant.
The vast majority of companies have only recently started to discuss pregnancy loss policies. This is concerning not only for the individual suffering loss, but also for the perception of (potential) parents and, in particular, women, across our industry.
Employees have different levels of comfort approaching their managers. A woman may feel more comfortable approaching her female manager as opposed to a male manager. Therefore, it is vital for miscarriage leave policies to be partnered with empathetic management training that accounts for the spectrum of stages in an employee’s life. This creates a productive, positive workplace where individuals feel safe and comfortable using such policies.
Here are some thought starters to ensure your agency has strong pregnancy loss policies:
- Build a culture where people feel supported to have a child and a career.
- Provide pregnancy loss support; offer time off at full pay, and be ready and open to give more if needed.
- If an employee does not wish to disclose why they are taking bereavement leave, don’t ask them to do so.
- Bereavement leave communicates higher empathy than sick leave. No one should need to question whether they are physically suffering enough to qualify for medical leave, and employees shouldn't need to use sick leave to grieve. Departing from language like “sick” also helps dispel the notion there is something “wrong” with her body for losing a pregnancy.
- Ensure policies are easily accessible without needing to "ask around.”
- Keep in mind policies are guidance; it’s the attitude and intent with which they are implemented that makes the difference.
I don’t believe that company policies should live in a vacuum with the HR team. After going through my miscarriages, I had open conversations with managers and HR leads at my agency about ways we could successfully introduce pregnancy loss policies to ensure no employee would feel obligated to work through their loss.
Individuals need to step up and advocate for themselves and other employees, creating lasting, meaningful impact. Ask your people team, policymakers or HR about implementing pregnancy loss policies and ensuring that management about why this is so important. I’m so thrilled we were able to change our policy to allow for miscarriage leave, helping remove the stigma and further normalise conversations and the experience for women and men going through them.
Pregnancy loss is incredibly personal, and it’s certainly close to my heart. But from a business perspective, introducing accessible pregnancy loss policies, along with education and awareness, is the human thing to do. It sets the tone for what your company believes in.
Miscarriage, like other losses, can also impact job performance. More progressive parental leave policies will be critical to attract and retain the best talent. Until more agencies endeavor to support employees throughout every stage of parenthood — including unexpected loss — the fight is far from over.
Jacquie van der Veur is a senior communications manager at VMLY&R and co-chair of the agency’s women’s employee resource group.