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What Keeps Parents From Taking Miscarriage Leave
Drawing on your answers to analyze New Zealand's miscarriage law
I have a new essay up for Capita on the way doulas fill a gap in medicine. More than just praising doulas, I want to ask, “Where else are patients missing out on care that is undervalued because it isn’t easily quantified, or because it is too tender, slow, and personalized to look like what we expect of medicine?”
New Zealand now mandates a three-day, paid bereavement leave for parents who lose a child through miscarriage or stillbirth. In contrast, the United States offers no guaranteed bereavement leave to anyone. I drew on your responses to my survey to write about bereavement leave and child loss for the Institute for Family Studies.
Offering bereavement leave communicates something different than offering sick days. Some miscarriages involve medical complexities that make women eligible for sick leave, but when a child dies, the parents shouldn’t need to use up sick leave to grieve. A mother shouldn’t need to question whether her bodily suffering is enough to interfere with her work and qualify for medical leave. Bereavement leave is more unconditional. Bereavement leave also makes it clear that fathers also deserve time off after a death.
I’m grateful to have you as a community of readers and commenters to draw on. Your answers helped shape my reporting, especially when you told me about what made you more or less likely to trust a supervisor enough to disclose a loss.
Here are a few of your comments that I really valued but didn’t get to use in the article.
Catherine, 45, had mixed feeling about how she approached her work in the middle of her losses:
My first response was that I navigated it badly! But being kinder to myself, I did the best I could in the horrible depths of recurrent miscarriage. I pretty much pretended it wasn’t happening to everyone except my husband and doctor. I didn’t want to talk about it, or think about it. I was struggling with the hormonal freefall and physical devastation of losing the pregnancies alongside the inevitable emotions of sorrow, hope, fear, failure, jealousy. I did not feel in a position to reveal any of that to my managers during those years (across several jobs). What if I never had a baby but affected my career progress by revealing that I was trying? In reality one or two of those bosses would probably have been great, but I was a mess and the best I could do at the time was keep it together and carry on. I applaud the legislation in New Zealand. Normalising the experience of grief and increasing recognition of the effects of miscarriage can only be a good thing. I wonder how different my experiences might have been if I’d been given 3 days space after each miscarriage?
Benjamin was one of several men to fill out the survey. He had taken time off after he and his wife lost a baby so he could take care of his wife and their two-year-old son. He said there was nothing that his boss did that specifically made him feel comfortable about taking leave, but “I just am comfortable with making my own space where I think it's right. Gotta break the stigma somehow.”
Coleen explained how little room her employer (a university) left for any kind of need:
I was dismayed during my first loss to learn that the University where I was adjuncting (and was a doctoral student) had no accommodations for finding substitutes for teachers for short-term absences and I found myself required to simply cancel class. At the time, the university did not even have family leave for grad students following the birth of a child, and when I gave birth to my first two children several years later, I was required to relinquish my fellowship for one semester each time in order to accommodate my maternity leave. Since that time (2011 and 2013) my former university has instituted a leave policy for graduate student parents of either gender following the birth or adoption of a child.
Colleen’s story speaks to what was most frustrating for me in researching this policy. Unlike in New Zealand, where the new law expanded existing bereavement leave policy, in the United States, there is so little room left for any kind of out-of-work emergency.
And thus, so little room left for employees to be people, even off the clock.