Grief. That word seems to have been made for the feeling of having an unexpected miscarriage.
We hope you never go through one, but the odds are that you know someone who has experienced a miscarriage. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, somewhere between 10-25% of all pregnancies will end in a miscarriage sometime during the first 20 weeks of gestation. Most occur within the first 13 weeks of pregnancy.
To spare themselves from going public with the great news, only to be followed by having to explain a miscarriage, many women decide to play it safe and keep everything under wraps until the 12-week mark of pregnancy, when the likelihood of miscarriage decreases. That said, the unexpected can still happen.
In addition to the mix of emotions you’ll be feeling, you’ll have to decide two things:
- Do you tell anyone at work (regardless of whether you had told them about your pregnancy)?
- Do you go to work right away, or do you take some time off to physically and emotionally recover?
Telling your workplace about your miscarriage:
If you’ve already been public about your pregnancy, you will have to explain at some point that you had a miscarriage. You may not need to do this right away, but we don’t think that just assuming your manager and close colleagues will “figure it out eventually” is the wisest course of action.
We understand that it’s not going to be easy to discuss, but at a minimum, you owe your boss the professional courtesy of explaining the change in your circumstances, since you will not be going on maternity leave. Explaining your situation to them may be enough if you’d like them to break the news to your other colleagues and don’t feel like reciting the news multiple times. Moreover, if you were planning on asking for a day or two off from work for any operation you needed to have due to your miscarriage, everything will now be cleared.
But what if you hadn’t already shared the news?
You are certainly under no obligation to tell anyone.
Depending on the type of miscarriage you have, you may not need to take any time off. However, you may also need to undergo a medical procedure. Recent guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that doctors ensure there is complete evacuation of pregnancy tissue and offer different courses of treatment to their patients.
If you have medical complications or require a procedure such as a D&C, you may need to take time off from work and request it from your employer. However, in many cases procedures are completed on an outpatient basis and you may be functioning at a high level within 24 hours. While you may continue to experience bleeding and cramping, many women find that after taking some pain medication such as Ibuprofen, you can be relatively private about what you are experiencing.
Jacques Moritz, an OB-GYN at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, told Self magazine that “usually it’s a few hours of what I call hell — this really heavy bleeding, really heavy cramping, and generally feeling really beaten up.” However, these symptoms can last for days or even weeks.
Taking time off due to miscarriage:
Federal law, FMLA, protects women who need to take time off due to medical conditions related to pregnancy, including miscarriage. However, this time off is unpaid and you must meet certain eligibility criteria (e.g. working for an employer with at least 50 employees within 75 miles of your worksite and for at least 1 year). If you need to take off any extended period of time, you will have to tell your employer and find out if you are eligible for FMLA leave.
Also: nothing requires you to tell your employer why you need time off. You can simply explain that you are ill and take a few days off. Your doctor may even be willing to provide a generic note excusing you from work.
If you are physically able to work, some women may nevertheless choose to stay at home with their emotions and take time to grieve. For others, getting back into the swing of things at work can help take their mind off things. One executive VP in Philadelphia told us she took the morning off for her D&C procedure (which her obstetrician had recommended), and after having a teary lunch with her husband, she decided to go into the office for the rest of the afternoon.
She hadn’t explained why she had needed the morning off (except that she had a doctor’s appointment), but she felt that for her, getting back to work was going to be most helpful in coming to terms with what had happened.
“If I stayed home, I knew I was just going to be crying and feeling awful," she said. "I hadn’t even told my parents or close friends so I didn’t have anyone to really share my thoughts with. I decided that going back to work that afternoon and working through it would help me most.”
Most of us aren’t as extreme as the singer Halsey, who performed on tour a few hours after she realized she was having a miscarriage. She explained to Rolling Stone magazine that “she sent her assistant to the drugstore to buy adult diapers. She put one on, took two Percoset and went to the venue to do her job.”
The fact that physical symptoms can disappear much faster than emotional ones means that sometimes you will have to come to terms with your loss while keeping up a brave face at work. While there’s no right answer to how private you choose to be about your loss, realize that you’re far from alone. Most women we know have friends or acquaintances who’ve had a miscarriage. Hearing them talk about their stories can help you feel less isolated, especially if you choose to stay private about your loss at work.