Why We Need To Have Miscarriage Leave
Jennifer Hawkins spoke glowingly to 'Stellar' magazine over the weekend about her pregnancy, which was wonderful to read about.
But it occurred to me: we get a lot of information on pregnancy and on parenthood, but very little on the journey to get there.
Jen also shared the news that she and partner Jake Wall had a tough time leading into this pregnancy, including a miscarriage.
She told Stellar:
Last year was such a tough year for Jake and me. It was the toughest year of our lives. I felt like I almost broke and, in fact, it's still really raw. But Jake was amazing. He let me sit with the pain, feel it and not be OK.
She said no one knew, not even close family or friends, about the pregnancy until after the safe zone (generally the 12 week mark).
After experiencing a very similar loss to Jen's, I know only too well what this road entails. And it is often not until we have the good news -- like a pregnancy announcement -- that we find ourselves well-equipped and emotionally ready to talk about it, or feel safe enough that society and our communities -- including our loved ones -- can handle the truth of our journeys to falling pregnant.
While I, like Jen, have a fortunate lifestyle (I work mostly freelance, or work for myself), I often wonder how difficult this time must be for people answering to an employer.
Many who become pregnant will trek down a harrowing road to get there -- some experiencing the loss of a baby -- and if you are like me, also incorporating fertility appointments, injections, sometimes surgeries into your day-to-day life. All the while your employer and often your colleagues are totally unaware of your medical procedures and/or invasive, often painful and emotional moments.
While you can claim bereavement leave at your workplace if you were to suffer from the loss of a miscarriage, many of us feel like it is not a conversation without repercussions. There is also no paid leave for covering the time off for your medical procedures and healing of associated surgeries when it comes to miscarriage, other than standard sick leave. (You can claim unpaid leave, which falls under the maternity leave structure.)
The bigger underlying issue is that we just don't talk about this “trying to conceive” road. This disables us from addressing the issue of how women and couples can gain better support at such a time. I feel like I have had more conversations with colleagues about the passing of pets than I have the loss of a baby or the struggle of IVF.
Employers are more and more aware that we must ensure women have equal rights when it comes to their jobs, promotions, and capabilities when having a family. But often this attitude is adopted once the baby is fully formed and on its way into the world. Trying for a baby is not a medical illness. And trying to fall pregnant does not fall under the maternity leave structure within the workforce.
It's this silent, awkward middle part that not many people know how to deal with.
I'd love to think that we could turn to our employers in hard times, and share how difficult and taxing these private matters are. But the reality is that women, myself included, fear being treated differently. Even worse, we fear we may have our employment opportunities affected, particularly when things aren't yet "set in stone" with a viable pregnancy.
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I believe we still have a very long way to go before people like Jen and myself don't feel like we must go into "hiding" to grieve and cope through this time. This starts at a community level, understanding that couples and women are really struggling with an issue that has been put in the dark for far too long.
Family and parenthood are so readily celebrated once the baby comes. So they should be. And there are certainly still considerable challenges in terms of underlying discrimination against mothers in the workplace. But the road to getting to that family place should also be an area of concern -- it shouldn’t be something people feel ashamed of if it doesn’t happen to be a perfect picture.
READ MORE: 'I Spent $50,000 On IVF... And It Failed'
We need to shape up and face the fact that the process of starting a family begins a lot earlier than many of us would like to admit. One in six couples will struggle to conceive naturally and one in six will lose their baby in the first 12 weeks. These aren’t small numbers. So how have we so irresponsibly forgotten about these people in pain?
If you are a business looking for resources on how to better deal with miscarriage and infertility head to https://miscarriagesupport.org.au/.