It was a typical Tuesday, or maybe it was a Thursday. I remember the details in a blur, the way you do when something traumatic happens. But I do remember sitting at my desk. And I do remember feeling that “over the moon” feeling that can overcome you when you’ve been trying to get pregnant and that test finally shows positive. After two years and multiple miscarriages, I was finally pregnant. Two months pregnant, to be exact. My son was going to have a sibling. I was going to grow my family. Everything was finally going to plan.
And then the cramping started. And I started feeling nauseous. And then I went to the bathroom and saw the blood.
I was miscarrying again — at work.
My experience, of course, was not unique. A reported one in four women will experience a miscarriage during their lifetime, most often in the early months of pregnancy. While pregnancy loss is common, it is still most often discussed in hush tones by those who experience it due to prevailing stigma and shame. In one 2016 study, 47% of respondents who had endured a pregnancy loss said they felt guilty, 41% blamed themselves, 41% felt alone, and 28% felt ashamed.
Last week, in keeping with her radically open online presence, Chrissy Teigen shared that she and husband John Legend had lost their baby, a son they named Jack, after pregnancy complications, including placental bleeding. “We are shocked and in the kind of deep pain you only hear about, the kind of pain we’ve never felt before,” Teigen wrote on Instagram. “We were never able to stop the bleeding and give our baby the fluids he needed, despite bags and bags of blood transfusions. It just wasn’t enough.”
The post included black-and-white photos of Teigen and Legend — of Teigen crying; of her preparing for labor; of both holding the remains of their son. And while the couple was immediately inundated by messages of sympathy and solidarity from friends and fans, they were also chastised for sharing intimate, heartbreaking pictures that encapsulated their loss and pain.
Photo credit: @chrissyteigen
But putting not just words, but pictures, to pregnancy and infant loss is what all of us, and especially working moms, need. Does that mean every pregnant person who loses a pregnancy or experiences stillbirth needs to document their pain and share it with the world? No. But when a person does make that decision, they are reminding those of us who do know this feeling that we’re not alone. That this does happen, and not just to us. That we’re not defective when our bodies are unable to carry a pregnancy to term or birth a healthy baby. And most importantly, that we deserve the time and space to heal, in whichever way we choose.
In a country that refuses to mandate paid family leave, there are no protections for working women who experience pregnancy or infant loss — no federal law that requires employers to offer paid time off so women can heal, physically and mentally, from miscarriage. And since women continue to endure pregnancy discrimination at work, the pressure to return to work regardless of a pregnancy outcome — be it a live birth or a loss — is overwhelming. We’re made to feel like we should “get over it”; “move on”’; get back to work and back to being productive.
I left work and went to the emergency room, where my miscarriage was confirmed. I was given a painful internal ultrasound, a prescription for pain medication, and a note from the attending physician recommending my employer give me a few days off.
But I felt like I couldn’t take that time off, even with my doctor’s recommendation, a feeling that was reinforced by what can only be described as a toxic work environment. Again, I’m not even remotely unique in this feeling that if I wasn’t chained to my desk, my computer, and my inbox, I was failing. If I wasn’t willing to work at 3:00 am, or 11:30 pm, and on weekends, I wasn’t dedicated enough to my job to merit keeping that job. I was terrified I’d be fired and therefore lose my health insurance. I was worried I’d be perceived as weak; unable to handle difficult situations; someone my manager and coworkers couldn’t trust with large work projects or unforgiving deadlines. And so, like so many moms after (or during) a pregnancy loss, I worked.
And it’s not like I didn’t need the time off to recover physically and emotionally. Studies have shown that pregnancy loss can cause depression, anxiety, sleeping disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The fact that miscarrying is so common does not diminish the mental, emotional, and physical impact of miscarriage. It is a traumatic event — one that can change the mind and the body. By showing how devastating miscarriage can be, publicly and without shame, it gives everyone who has experienced it, including working moms, silent permission to acknowledge that devastation for themselves. It reminds us all that those who have lost a pregnancy or a baby need time to process and grieve and heal. And that includes time off work.
There is no “right” or “wrong” way to grieve a pregnancy loss. There is no designated time frame in which a person should “get over” the realization that a future they had envisioned in their mind is gone. No benchmark for mourning. But when people like Teigen do make the personal decision to be so candid and transparent about the pain of miscarriage and infant loss, they are, little by little, wittling away at the shame and stigma that convinces women to stay silent, work through the pain, and navigate the aftermath of this loss alone.
Eventually, the bleeding and the cramping and the nausea stopped. And, after a few more attempts, eventually I got pregnant again and, after 40 or so weeks of fear and anxiety, gave birth to a healthy baby boy. But the feelings that followed the day I miscarried at work have remained, as has the anger that overwhelms me every time I think about the pressure to return to work as if nothing happened. Because something did happen. I lost a pregnancy. And I deserved time to acknowledge that loss for what it was.
And if you are one of the one in four women who’ve had a miscarriage, so do you.