How should I talk to my boss or coworkers about my miscarriage?
The unthinkable has happened: you miscarried. As you grieve, life marches on. How do you navigate your professional life as you cope with your loss?
Here, we'll discuss the intersection of fertility trauma and water cooler culture.
Is your miscarriage anyone's business? First, decide whether you need to disclose anything
Pregnancy is a deeply personal experience, and perhaps no outcome feels more private than miscarriage. Figuring out whether or not to talk about this emotionally fraught and physically challenging experience can feel like one more burning hoop to jump through during the hardest time of your life.
Many people keep early pregnancies private, particularly at work—and the standard practice of waiting until after the first trimester to share the news can be a particularly important choice for parents who have struggled to get pregnant in the first place. Waiting to "make sure it sticks" can save folks from a host of painful conversations, but it can also make sharing the fact of an early miscarriage feel even more daunting.
If you haven’t announced your pregnancy at work and weren’t yet showing, you have the very real option of never speaking of your miscarriage at work. No one will ever ask, and you don’t ever have to grit your teeth through well-intentioned but painful conversations between client meetings.
"There is such a culture of silence around miscarriage/infant loss," C., a Brooklyn therapist in private practice, explains. "Part of the reason this silence exists is because many feel the need to grieve in private. Grief turns you inward."
Consider the following questions when deciding if and how much to share:
- Is my ability to effectively do my job compromised right now?
- Do I need accommodations or time off at work?
- Can my boss or coworkers be a source of support?
Thoughtfully curating who you share your experience with may help you cope. Identify the people you'll need (or want) to talk to, and then think about how much information you need to share.
What, exactly, should you say about your miscarriage?
There are a range of approaches here, from saying nothing at all to explaining exactly what happened, and the choice of where to fall within that range will depend on your individual circumstances, personality, and workplace culture. Most folks are likely to feel the most comfortable somewhere in the middle of those options, and "I’m going through a difficult health situation" is a phrase that may serve you well.
If your workplace is warm, friendly, and community oriented, the choice of whether and what to say becomes a different one. If your inclination is to avoid speaking about what you’ve been through at work, try this on for size, in the face of unwanted questions: "I lost my pregnancy, but I’d prefer not to talk about it. Thanks in advance for your understanding." Boundaries are your best friends in this situation, in which everyone means well but colleagues may not know how to respond and blundering is par for the course.
"Give yourself permission to grieve however feels right for you."
On the other hand, if you’d appreciate some support in the form of talking, (HR-approved and consensual) hugs, and other small kindnesses, communicate those needs to your close colleagues. The most important thing to remember is that you are going through a very difficult thing, and people may not know how to best support you—the only way to get what you need is to ask for it.
You should also consider whether you need time off of work to tend to your mental and/or physical health. Your grieving and recovery may be supported by some mental health days, but the momentum of tasks, schedule, and human interaction can also be a powerful antidote to depression.
If you still feel unsure of how to navigate all this, enlisting the help of a therapist can be valuable to defining your needs, and these needs may not be as black and white as they appear. Some accommodations—like letting your boss know that you might need to leave unexpectedly in the middle of the day, want to work from home, or need to limit client-facing work for the time being—can bridge the gap between leave of absence and full steam ahead.
C. stresses the unpredictability of grieving, and suggests making advance plans to accommodate how you may feel.
"Give yourself permission to grieve however feels right for you. Know that this may change from day to day or even hour to hour. Before you go back to work, identify a place in or around your office where you can retreat if you are feeling overwhelmed. Locating that safe space ahead of time will give you the comfort of knowing you can break down if you need to, even if you are at work. If you feel safe and comfortable enough, let a co-worker or superior know that you are grieving and that you may need to excuse yourself when you need a break to cry, talk, or just be alone," C. says.
Grieving a private loss, in public
Navigating your work life through a miscarriage can feel like a wild, lonely experience, one without a template or best practices, one which you maybe have never witnessed anyone else going through. In the swirl of grief, the desire for external direction and a sense of what to expect can be strong.
Here, we can look to other experiences of grief: while we may never have had a colleague who has lost a pregnancy, perhaps we have known someone at work who has lost a parent, relative, or friend. Recalling—or, if you are comfortable, asking—how they managed this experience can provide insight for how we might be simultaneously at work and in mourning.
Above all, please remember to be gentle with your expectations of yourself during this sad and often baffling time. Avail yourself of resources: lean on friends and allow them to help with tasks like cooking and errands (which can feel immobilizing during acute grief), explore social media communities that can connect you to networks of peer-to-peer support (check out the Instagram hashtags #miscarriagesupport, #miscarriagesurvivor, and #pregnancyloss, and the Miscarriage & Pregnancy Loss group on Facebook, for starters), and consider face-to-face community groups like the University of Chicago's Miscarriage & Infant Loss Support Group.