The American Pregnancy Association reports that up to 25 percent of all clinically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage, the loss of a pregnancy during the first 20 weeks of gestation. The majority of miscarriages (about three in every four) happen within the first trimester, mostly caused by chromosomal abnormalities in the baby.
There is a myriad of factors that play into an increased risk of miscarriages — such as a woman’s BMI and age. In women with a BMI over 30, for example, the risk is one in four. In women under 30 years old, just one in 10 pregnancies will end in miscarriage but, in women over 45, however, more than half of all pregnancies will end in miscarriage. But the fact of the matter is: Miscarriages just happen, and women can do little to avoid them.
Nonetheless, the loss of a pregnancy can be devastating for expecting parents. Researchers at the Imperial College London published a study in BMJ Open that suggests that four in 10 women who miscarry report experiencing symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) three months after miscarrying. These symptoms include moderate to severe anxiety, depression and distress. Women also reported regularly re-experiencing the feelings associated with losing their pregnancies, being plagued by “intrusive or unwanted thoughts” and suffering from nightmares or flashbacks. Many women, therefore, reported avoiding any triggers that could remind them of their miscarriages and induce their PTSD.
The amalgamation of symptoms could make going back to work following the loss of a pregnancy particularly difficult for a lot of women. In fact, nearly a third of women said that their symptoms indeed impacted their work life.
So we asked women who’ve gone back to work after miscarrying about their experiences and how they coped while still being productive. Here’s what they had to say…
1. Work from Home
"I was working at a radio station and there were three of us trying to get pregnant at the same time — as the oldest of the three women (and who had been trying the longest), I fully expected the other two to get pregnant and for me to watch them have their babies since that had been my path so far," says Jen Peterson. "However, in the fall of 2010, I found out that I was pregnant the same week as one of the women! We were thrilled, but I didn't tell anyone other than her and the other woman who was trying to get pregnant. At week 10.5, I had a miscarriage. My boss at the time was my boss at a previous job and we were friends. I called him and told him what was up and he told me to take whatever time I needed. I also called the other pregnant woman and asked her to share her news while I was out so that the excitement would die down by the time I came back (and it did).
"It was incredibly difficult to watch that other woman progress with her pregnancy and know that my baby would have been due at the same time. My kind boss let me work from home as the other woman came closer to delivery time so that I didn't have to be there when announcements happened. I was genuinely excited and happy for her, but it was a stab in my heart as her pregnancy progressed. She was truly wonderful and sensitive to my feelings and we are still friends to this day. I ended up getting pregnant again in early 2011 and now have a healthy six-year-old son. That said, I still get a little pang when I see her celebrate her daughter's birthday on Facebook."
2. Just Keep on Keeping On
"Going back to work after a miscarriage was one of the most difficult things I've had to do," says JF Garrard, president of Dark Helix Press. "As a society, miscarriages are never discussed and I was devastated, but not sure what the right reaction is to coping with this situation. At the time I was working at a different organization and was a manager. It happened in the first trimester and I only told one or two people at work. Upon my return, when they asked about planning baby showers, etc. I had to tell them that the baby was gone. They retreated from me and didn't even tell me when they got pregnant later on because they thought I would 'act funny.' It was an isolating time at work and maybe people sensed I wasn't quite 'normal.'
"Things were extra difficult because I didn't get any surgery or wasn't given any pills by the doctors because I had a lot of other issues in my reproductive system. I was told I would have a 'natural miscarriage' and had to wait for things to happen on their own. Every day for about 40 days I thought about when the baby was going to come out.
"I coped by burying myself into my work and keeping busy. I planned movie nights with friends and a trip to a conference. Nothing felt certain because I wasn't sure if I would be in the middle of something and something would come out of my body. I prepared the best I could, by bringing lots of maxi pads, a hot water bottle and extra tissue boxes to work in case something happened while I was working. Being allowed to listen to music at work helped a lot, because I could tune out and focus on my work. Generally, I am a doer, so I just kept going as best as I could."
"In 2010, I experienced a miscarriage at nearly 11 weeks during my first pregnancy — I took over a week off from work while my body rested and recovered from the physical pain," says Amie Lands, a teacher, an author and certified grief recovery specialist. "It did not feel like enough time emotionally. Upon returning to work, it was hard to concentrate, it was hard to connect with others and I felt on the verge of tears at any moment. It also felt like, because my pregnancy was not real to others that I was not given the same permission to grieve that are offered to other types of losses. At the time, it was the most devastating experience of my life and caused a lot of fear as I entered into my three subsequent pregnancies.
"I was not productive when I returned to work, but I did complete my tasks to the best of my ability. When I felt distracted, I would remind myself to be present in what I was accomplishing and would promise to allow myself to 'break down' when I returned home for the evening. Somehow that promise of an emotional release later, allowed me to complete my day — even if there were private bathroom breakdown moments at work."
4. Listen to Your Spirit
"I started having a miscarriage while I was at my job as a mental health therapist — I had to rush out of my office, quickly scrawl a note 'sessions canceled due to health emergency' to tape to my door because I was in too much pain to call my clients who were on the way to see me," says Tave Hancock Hawn of Hawn Therapy and Consulting. "I had to drive 10 minutes to my house. I prayed the whole way I would make it because I was in so much pain. I took a few days off of work to grieve and complete the miscarriage.
"What was challenging is that only close friends knew. I didn't tell all my colleagues and didn't tell my clients because I was early enough along that they didn't know I was pregnant. I had to really up my self-care during that time. I listened to what my spirit wanted and needed. If I needed to be alone, I was. I asked friends to bring food because my spouse and I were too upset to grocery shop and cook. I read books, leaned into my spirituality and started seeing a therapist to process my grief. These things enabled me to go back to work and do my job. After some time, I shared with most who know me about the miscarriage and heard from many, many people who'd been through that, too."
"I did go back to work after each of my miscarriages — I had three plus ectopic pregnancies," says psychotherapist Amanda Fludd. "Some happened while I was at work. It was emotionally difficult and it was hard to be present, but I just don't think I thought about anywhere else that I could be that would make it any better. I think my own faith and my knowledge of just dealing with life made me want to sort of stay at work and work through it. Being at home and alone with my thoughts would be overwhelming. The hardest part really wasn't work; it was just knowing what was going on physically and going to the bathroom and seeing what was happening — that reminder. The process itself was more painful."
6. Allow Yourself to Cry
"I have three kids — one biological and two adopted," says Joey Kaufmann, hairstylist and lifestyle and family blogger. "I'm on my feet all day, so going back to work after having a miscarriage is hard because you are tired. I have experienced multiple miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy. I have had to go back to work after all of them.
"The hardest thing to go back after was the D & C I had. That wiped me out for a few days. I remember being scheduled for a huge event that I was doing hair and makeup for, and the morning of it I actually miscarried. I couldn't cancel, and I had to go, so I was actually at work, cramping and feeling like crap the whole day. I cried out in the parking lot with my coworker and then sucked it up and went to work. I had a few hard moments throughout that day where I needed to take a minute for myself, but being at the event actually helped me to stay distracted.
"The next day I slept a lot and tried to re-coup. It wasn't my first, (or second or third) so I pretty much knew the drill and was able to get back on my feet pretty quickly."
7. Give Yourself Time
"I experienced a pregnancy loss in 2016 — It was my first pregnancy and my husband and I were very excited," says Mahlet Endale of Crossroads Mental Wellness Services. "At our eight-week appointment they tried to find a heartbeat but couldn’t locate it. The midwife said the baby might just be hiding behind my pubic bone and not to worry about it. Two weeks later I was not feeling well (especially fatigued and worn) so I stayed home from work. Later that afternoon I went for a long walk and at one point felt a sharp pain. That night I noticed I was spotting. We called the midwife line and the midwife on call said it was probably nothing, but to come in for a check just for peace of mind. I went to the appointment alone because we really expected everything to be fine, and I learned the baby didn’t have a heartbeat. This was 10 weeks into the pregnancy, but from their examination they determined I’d lost the baby around six weeks. They gave me options of letting things progress naturally or to get a D&C, and I opted for the former not realizing the implications. I remember the midwife tried to explain what to expect and something about options for pain management, but I didn’t register anything she said. The midwife did something internally, still don’t know what it was to this day, and said that they couldn’t give me a timeline for how long it would take but that this procedure would hopefully move things along faster. I was devastated.
"The next morning I woke up alone at home (husband goes to work early) and immediately could feel something was happening. I tried to get up to get ready for work but was overcome with nausea and nearly passed out two steps from the bed. I crawled back to the bed, called my mother and let her know what was happening. She lives three hours away and said, 'I’m on my way.' I tried to get her not to, as I still wasn’t fully grasping the extent of what my body was about to go through, but she had been through this before and knew I didn’t need to be home alone. Long story short, this was Tuesday morning, I began having contractions Wednesday night and passed all the tissue Thursday night.
"I was back to work Monday
morning. To be honest, the physical process was difficult and painful but I found the emotional loss to be so much harder to deal with. Unfortunately, I dealt with the latter while back to work. I am a licensed psychologist and, at times, had great difficulty managing my work responsibilities. It was made worse by the fact that no one at work even knew I was pregnant. I dealt with triggers like a prospective client calling to work on infertility and multiple miscarriages, sitting through a diversity
training film that involved a graphic scene of a woman experiencing a miscarriage — things that never came up in my work world before all happening that first week back.
"I wish I could have had at least another week home to grieve in peace. The week of the physical loss process was so consuming I couldn’t attend to the emotional side until after I had returned to work. It took weeks before I wasn’t crying almost daily. Part of the issue also was that this happened mid-April. Less than a month later it was mother’s day and it felt like being at square one in dealing with the loss.
"Of course over time I healed. Turns out I got pregnant again in May and I have an amazing rainbow baby. A wonderful little boy who [just] turned two. However, I will never ever forget the one I never got to hold."
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.