Pregnancy Loss Bereavement Leave: What Are My Rights?
There’s nothing like the joy of seeing those two lines on a pregnancy test. Once the news has settled in, and if you currently work or have a job, it’s important to start planning for how that might change once you get pregnant and give birth. Whether you decide to take maternity leave, stay at home for the long term, or switch to a part-time work schedule, all of it needs to be discussed with your employer.
It’s generally a good idea to tell your boss about your pregnancy as soon as you feel comfortable. This conversation can sometimes be straightforward, but it can often feel more complicated, especially if you do not have a good relationship with your employer. In any case, your company should have clear leave policies that you should be made aware of through your employment contract.
In a tragic situation where one loses their baby before they carry to term, figuring out their rights in terms of bereavement leave can be an even more challenging conversation to have with an employer. Different companies have different bereavement leave policies and it’s important to get all the facts.
Pregnancy loss is devastating, but those who have not experienced it themselves do not always recognize it as so. Losing your baby after a miscarriage, stillbirth, or any other type of loss is not always deemed as a ‘real loss’ by society or isn’t always taken as seriously by employers. This is devastating and needs to change. Women who lose their babies before term have an abundance of both physical and emotional challenges to deal with that need attention and should be handled with care and professionalism.
There are currently some laws in place to support women and their families through the challenging time of losing a baby. Depending upon where you live and where you work, you should be able to take some time off. Unfortunately, in many cases, you might have to take unpaid leave or sick leave.
Types of Pregnancy Loss
There are several different types of pregnancy loss. Each experience comes with its own unique set of challenges when it comes to talking to your employer about requesting support or time off work, and the experience of doing so will be different for everyone.
Miscarriage occurs when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks gestation. Symptoms of a miscarriage include heavy bleeding and painful cramping.
Your body may pass all of the tissue naturally, or you may need to have a procedure called dilation and curettage (D&C) to remove any remaining tissue. This is done to prevent an infection, which could be dangerous. Going through a D&C can be physically and emotionally challenging.
Physical recovery after miscarriage may take between a few weeks to a few months. Emotional recovery can take longer. It is normal to go through certain stages of grief and those around you should take this seriously.
If your baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks gestation, it is known as a stillbirth. Your health care provider can usually identify stillbirth by checking your baby’s heartbeat.
You will need to birth your baby, either naturally or through induction. Either way, this process is nothing short of heartbreaking. Your health care provider may advise you to choose induction if you have preeclampsia or an infection, or if your water has broken.
Your doctor may also suggest having an induction because waiting for a natural birth can affect how the baby looks, if they begin to deteriorate in the womb. This can be emotionally difficult to hear, but if there is no pressing reason to be induced, the decision is personal.
Ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus, usually in the Fallopian tubes. This is a life-threatening emergency because the tube can burst and cause internal bleeding.
In the case of an ectopic pregnancy, a blood test performed by your healthcare provider will show as positive, and you may experience painful cramping or dizziness. The healthcare
provider can confirm ectopic pregnancy with an ultrasound. At this point, immediate treatment is necessary.
Medical abortion is often used to treat ectopic pregnancy. Taking the medication ends the fetus’s life. It will stop growing and resolve as a miscarriage.
If the tube has already burst, one will need emergency surgery. During surgery, the embryo, and sometimes the entire fallopian tube, will be removed.
Recovery from ectopic pregnancy may take several weeks or more. It can be a traumatic experience requiring a substantial emotional recovery as well, which your employer may not realize.
Surrogacy is when another woman carries someone else’s baby in their womb for them. People opt for a surrogacy for different reasons.
Surrogacy may fail because of miscarriage, stillbirth, or ectopic pregnancy. This can be emotionally traumatic both for the surrogate, and for the genetic mother. If you are suffering emotionally or physically because of a failed surrogacy, It is important to seek support and guidance from those around you, and to talk to your employer if you are struggling with the loss of the unborn child, whether it was your child or if you were the surrogate. It is a loss, and should be treated as so.
If an adoption does not go through, parents can experience this as a traumatic loss. Experiencing the joy of potentially gaining a child and then the disappointment of having this opportunity fall through can be overwhelming and distressing for anyone.
How Should One Take Time off Work after a Miscarriage?
If you lose a child in the womb, reach out to your employer and request sick days. Then, ask about your rights and protections. You might want to obtain outside legal advice about leave laws if you are concerned about how your employer will react.
In general, using your sick leave should be your first course of action. This gives you paid leave.
After you have exhausted your sick days, you may be able to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Under FMLA, you can take time off due to a serious pregnancy-related medical condition. However, this does not include most miscarriages.
Does Bereavement Leave Cover an Unborn Child?
At this point in time, bereavement leave in the United States does not cover the loss of an unborn child. There is no specific miscarriage leave. A bill called the Parental Bereavement Act was introduced into the Senate in 2019 to add pregnancy loss to paid family leave, but it failed to pass. It will likely be reintroduced soon.
Do You Need to Provide a Doctor's Note?
In most cases, you should get a written statement from your doctor confirming your pregnancy loss and any related complications. Depending upon your relationship with your employer, you may not be required to show it, but it is always best to be prepared to do so.
Talking to Your Employer About Taking Time Off
Losing a child is already emotionally taxing and traumatic, and it can be difficult to approach your boss to talk about what you are going through and discuss your leave. The fact that pregnancy loss is not always seen as ‘real loss’ can make it even harder to have these conversations.
If you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed, research your rights and make a plan before you actually talk with your boss. A family member or loved one can help you come up with a written statement to email or hold in your hand as you discuss your situation with your employer.
Remember, your loss is real and your feelings are valid. You deserve to take some time to heal, both physically and emotionally from this difficult experience. Hopefully, policies will continue to change to support women through pregnancy loss.
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Elisa is a well-known parenting writer who is passionate about providing research-based content to help parents make the best decisions for their families.