Miscarriages, Fertility Troubles, and the Office

miscarriage-at-workHow do you deal with a miscarriage at work?  Reader K wonders…

I don’t think you have done a post on having fertility issues while working (please point me in the right direction if I am wrong!). I am an associate attorney and have been trying to start a family with my husband for about a year. Last month, I had an early miscarriage during a busy time at the office, which was, frankly, horrible. I have since recovered from my miscarriage and work has slowed down, but I am wondering if you (or your readers’) have any thoughts on how to deal with fertility issues while working full-time when no one at the office knows what I am going through. I have thought about sharing with a close partner/friend, but worry about putting “baby=leaving” into her head before I am even able to get pregnant.

I am so, so sorry for your loss, K.  We’ve talked about how to survive the first trimester while keeping it on the down-low, and when to tell your boss you’re pregnant, but we haven’t talked about how to deal with a miscarriage.  Poking around a bit online I found some forum threads on Babycenter with other women talking about whether one could actually work through a miscarriage (the consensus: no), and a WSJ Juggle article wondering whether you should tell coworkers about the miscarriage.  Miscarriages are different from almost every other health thing — both emotionally as well as the fact that they will put “baby and maternity leave” on your boss’s radar, unfortunately well before you need them to be, considering that doctors often advise a waiting period before you can try again.  That said, I can see not only miscarriages but fertility treatments (such as freezing your eggs) or some other illness that you’d prefer to keep on the down-low to be a Major Life Thing to deal with, and difficult to keep it out of your working life.  (Pictured: dawn of a new day, originally uploaded to Flickr by jmtimages.)

I’m really curious to hear what the readers say.  For my own $.02, I would probably say:

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– Generally, don’t tell your coworkers about the miscarriage unless you have specific reasons to, or in the context of the relationship it really makes sense. (In other words: I would err on the side of “no,” but every context is different, and you know best here.)

– But: do consider sharing that you’re having some health issues, particularly if you frequently need to reschedule meetings because you have doctor’s appointments.

– Lean on friends and family to help deal with the isolation you may be feeling.  For my own pregnancy I told close friends and family that we were pregnant almost as soon as I knew, because I knew that if things went poorly I wasn’t going to hide something like a miscarriage from my mother or my best friends… but I do think it’s important to keep your “real friendships” separate from those “circumstantial friends” (such as most work friendships, IMHO), where you may feel close to the person because you see them daily, but with whom you are ultimately still colleagues first.

Readers, what are your thoughts?  Have you seen someone “mommy tracked” because she shared that she miscarried with her boss or coworkers? 

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  1. I had this happen, too. I didn’t tell my boss, but it’s because he was VERY reserved and uptight, and telling him would have made him very uncomfortable. (It was more about that than about the fact that he’d worry about me becoming pregnant again.) I did tell a coworker who was on a project with me to explain why I’d be out and to ask if he could help me out. We were work friends, and I knew he’d do whatever he could. So, I think it depends on the situation, but if you can’t say anything, just get a vague doctor’s note and keep it to the fact that you have a medical situation. It is very rare that anyone would ask more, and then you just say you don’t want to talk about it.

  2. Need to Improve :

    Sorry for your loss.

    I went through something similar during exams in law school, and it was awful. I had to tell a professor because there was no way I could have finished my paper in time. I told him that I needed to have an emergency medical procedure and asked for a two-day extension, and he said absoutely. No questions asked. I would do the same at work–not share the details, but say you have a surgery or medical procedure.

  3. I have had two miscarriages and I wrote my advice on how to handle personal issues like this at work in a Forbes article here:

    For me having a miscarriage is a death in the family which is why I needed at least a week off work to grieve and get back to normal. My first miscarriage I jumped right back into work and was depressed for the next 7 months. My second miscarriage I took more time off work and was able to deal with it much better. Both times I told my boss and co-workers and clients so I wasn’t expected to work and perform at my best. They TOTALLY understood and I am so glad I was honest. Other co-workers got pregnant around the same time as well so I was really happy that I was honest because they knew not to talk about many of the things that were happening with their pregnancy around me.

    My advice would be to tell your boss and co-workers so they know why you need to take time off so that you can deal with the emotions and sadness. If you don’t deal with it right away, a few months down the road it will be much harder to deal with.

    I am really sorry to hear about your miscarriage and praying for a healthy baby for you soon!

  4. I agree with Kat that no one at work needs to know the details and all they DO need to know is that you have medical issues that may require attention during business hours. I’ve been dealing with fertility issues for over 1.5 years now and I spent a good amount of time going to doctors’ appointments last year. However, I continued to exceed expectations in terms of performance, and my manager didn’t even notice that I wasn’t in the office as much. In fact, I earned a promotion and a raise. I also agree that you need your strong network for friends and family, especially female friends. Not just to support you through the tough fertility struggle, but in life. It helps keep you sane and balanced. Although I kicked ass at work, the infertility made me feel like a failure. My wonderful network of girl friends and family really gave me perspective and that it’s ok not to excel in everything – including fertility!

  5. I had two miscarriages while working with my previous practice group. The first time, I was early enough along that I just called in sick for a couple of days and kept my head down when I got back. The second time, unfortunately, I was far enough along had just announced to my boss (who I also consider a true friend rather than a “circumstantial” type) on the Friday that I was expecting only to find out at an appointment the Monday morning following that I’d lost the baby. I’ve also juggled early morning fertility treatments (what a shock, to see me in the office at 7:30!), and two successful pregnancies.

    The second time, I needed to take a week off of work. I chose to share very little with my colleagues and clients — the official word was that I’d had “emergency surgery” and while some of my closer work friends may have seen right through that, they were kind enough to let it rest.

    Getting back to the original question, I don’t know that I was “mommy tracked” for sharing that I’d had a miscarriage — I don’t believe I’ve had a promotion or work opportunity lost to me because of it, but I was close enough to my then-boss that he knew just what a devastating event it was for me, and he’s a mensch who never would use that information against someone.

  6. I agree–keep it vague. If people press for more information, tell the truth or lie–your call. I wouldn’t say “it’s none of your business” because, while true, it’s rude. Most people will let it go if you just change the topic. When people press for information they don’t need, I do not hesitate to lie or obfuscate. Conditions that don’t affect work and are on-going include: sports injury, ulcers, carpal tunnel (pick up a cheap wrist brace if you are facing Sherlock Holmes), bunions/foot issues, dental problems, or insomnia/headaches.

    FWIW, I have worked with men whose respective wives had miscarriages. They kept it to “my wife is sick.” or “I need to leave early to take care of my wife.”

    • funkybroad :

      My go-to for when I need to cover my ass for something I don’t want to have to explain is to say “minor surgery” — no one ever presses further because they think it’s probably something gross and they’d rather not know gross stuff about you.

  7. Afraid to Google :

    So, I’ve never been pregnant and the books I’ve read about considering conception haven’t really talked about miscarriage. I know one person in real life who shared that she had a miscarriage but I felt it would be really insensitive to inquire about the details. So, what I’d really like to know if someone would care to share is – – – do you actually, pass something? If so, those of you who say you miscarried at work, do you mean like literally had something come out? What do you do with it? I’m so ashamed of my ignorance here but this is the only place I feel comfortable asking. My only other knowledge comes from the book “The Help” and that book described it pretty graphically as something that couldn’t be flushed. I’m so sorry if my question brings up bad memories for anyone but I think the answer to it will greatly impact the realty of trying to “work through” something like this – the literal and physical aspect, not just the grief.

    • LLM in BsAs :

      In my experience (my one single experience), I miscarried very early on (around 7 weeks, but the ultrasound was showing 5 weeks), I experienced something like a very heavy period and a large number of small[ish]-medium clots. I did not have cramps and I did not have to have any procedure done, but that may vary.
      There was no way emotionally that I could have worked through it.

    • For many people, the first sign of a miscarriage is spotting. So, you see some spotting and call the doctor and then find out from the doctor what is going on. At that point, for me, I chose to a D&C, which is a sugical procedure where everything is removed from your uterus (I was further along than the first 8 weeks or so). So I didn’t have to worry about what was being passed.

      As for anecdata, I know some women choose to pass naturally and they had very heavy bleeding with some clots and most had significant cramping. Generally, not something that you could feasibly work through.

    • I had a very early miscarriage (5 weeks) and like LLM, the experience was like a very heavy, painful period. When you are further along, you might pass tissue, but you would certainly know it was coming. There would be spotting / bleeding and very painful cramps. In that situation, you could certainly leave work saying you were suddenly very sick and go home (or the doctor’s office) and deal with it in private.

      A lot of cemetaries offer cremation/burial services for miscarried fetuses, so if you were to go through the pain of suffering a later loss, that is something you could look into.

    • This may be TMI :

      I had four miscarriages, all at around 12-13 weeks. In two of them it was like a VERY heavy and painful period with lots of big clots of blood (up to about the size of a quarter, so certainly flushable). There were likely “products of conception” (as they called it at the time) in those clots, but you couldn’t tell what was what. In one of them my doctor asked me to bring in anything that I thought might be tissue so that they could see if they could tell why I was miscarrying, but it turned out that the stuff that I thought might be tissue was just large blood clots. In the other two the fetus died but nothing happened spontaneously right away so I never saw anything and just had a D&C.

    • I had an early miscarriage at 8.5 weeks, but the fetus had stopped growing around 4-5 weeks. For me, it was just like a heavy period. I was in the middle of a massive deadline rush at work and didn’t feel like I could take any time off without telling people why, so I did work through it and I was fine. For me, it wasn’t bad physically, but emotionally it took a huge toll. I think it took me much longer to recover emotionally because I didn’t take any time off and didn’t give myself a chance to grieve until deadlines had passed a couple weeks later. I was an emotional wreck for a while.

    • I had a horrible miscarriage at 8 weeks, passed a VERY easily discernible fetus. Since part of the placenta remained attached, though, I started hemorrhaging severely and had to go to the hospital. My husband actually fished the fetus out of the toilet in a tupperware container to take to the hospital (and I’m glad he did, as the ER ObGyns made it pretty clear at first they thought I’d tried to get an illegal induced abortion and being able to show them the fetus made it obvious that this was a natural abortion).

      I had to stay out of work for a week. My husband called work while I was still in the hospital, told the office manager that I was in the hospital for “hemorrhaging,” and apparently that was enough for all my female co-workers to realize what had happened even though I hadn’t told anyone I was pregnant. Ugh. They were supportive, though.

  8. LLM in BsAs :

    [coming out of lurking]
    I had a miscarriage in 2011, after already having a child, so it was not a mystery that having children was in my mind.
    My boss (and we are friends out of work) asked me one day at lunch when I was having a second child. I had gotten a positive pregnancy test the day before. So, since we are friends, I told him. A week later after a disappointing ultrasound he brought my upcoming maternity leave at lunch with other colleagues, where I prompty busrt into tears. I cried in his office again later that day, while excusing myself from going to a meeting with clients.
    That night I started spotting, called my OB in the morning and was told to stay in bed. I called our HR department and said boss to let them know what was what. That night it was clear I was losing the pregnancy. Early the next morning (this was a Wednesday) I called the office and told them I’d be out the rest of the week. I explained why, and no one called me, asked for my input, or bothered me.
    That really helped me heal and move on.
    During my year-end review, that same boss mentioned that I had performed a little below my usual standard following the miscarriage, but it was to be expected and nobody was complaining.
    I got pregnant later that year and have a 7-month old.
    Just as a clarification, my local labor laws grant me 3-months paid maternity leave, and I can take an additional 6 months without pay where my employer is obligated to keep my work for me (I did not take the unpaid leave with either of my children).

  9. TO Lawyer :

    I’m sorry for your loss. I can’t comment on the being pregnant/miscarrying point of view but I would definitely be quiet about what happened at work, especially with your superiors and if you’re at a smaller shop. I have the sense that partners at my firm are loathe to hire more female associates because they keep getting pregnant and taking maternity leave – it may not be a great career move to let your bosses know you’re thinking about babies and mat leave. (I’m being matter of fact about this but I genuinely think there are problems with this mentality)

  10. Timely topic for me. I had a miscarriage in January, of what would have been my second child. I took the “chin up, buttercup” approach and plowed right through (took off the day of the procedure, back to work the next day for a half day but ended up on the phone that night for a client emergency so billed a full day) and right back to my regular routine afterwards. In hindsight it was not the best approach as I am still dealing with the somewhat unexpected emotional fall-out.

    When it happened, I told my boss and secretary that I had to take the day off to have an “emergency procedure to deal with a minor health issue” or something like that. I told them the truth about the nature of the health issue later on. I would not have wanted anyone else to know and I didn’t think there was any reason for anyone else to know anything beyond “She’s sick/under the weather/etc.” Should I have to go through this again, I will again keep it general for most people but tell my boss & secretary, with whom I have excellent relationships, what is happening.

  11. Wow, how timely, unfortunately. I just heard this morning that a very close friend of mine had a miscarriage last night. I will send a card right away, but any suggestions on what else I could send or do so she knows I’m thinking of her? Flowers don’t seem appropriate, but I didn’t know what else to do.

    • With my first pregnancy, I started telling people after 8 weeks. By the time I learned that I had had a missed miscarriage during a routine appointment at 12.5 weeks, pretty much all of my colleagues (including the judges I am in front of regularly) knew, so there was no hiding what had happened.

      Although I am sure things would have been different had I had a very early miscarriage, I can honestly say that it was a relief to have it so out in the open because I (obviously) had a lot of grief to work through and every single person in my professional life was extremely supportive and understanding during that time. I was very pleasantly surprised, in particular, by how many male attorneys and judges went out of their way to tell me that their wives had been through similar experiences and that they could sympathize.

      From a practical standpoint, I learned about the miscarriage on a Friday morning, so obviously I didn’t come back to work that day and was grateful to have the weekend before I had to face anyone. I had to have a D&C, which was scheduled for a Wednesday afternoon, so I worked Monday and Tuesday and then took the rest of the week off.

    • I received a plant basket from a not-so-close relative when I miscarried and I thought it was very thoughtful. Everyone else was awkward or tried to avoid the subject, and I appreciated that someone recognized it as a real loss.

      I also sent flowers to my SIL when she miscarried. Just a simple bunch of white tulips. I definitely didn’t want a huge colorful mixed bouquet. I think a plant, simple bouquet or a meal is appropriate. But really, even just the card shows that you care.

  12. I have not experienced a miscarriage, but my husband and I recently started fertility treatments, which have necessarily resulted in a lot of doctors’ appointments during work hours. I am an associate attorney at a relatively large law firm, and a lot of scheduling of client meetings, depositions, etc. is out of my hands.

    My husband and I have chosen to tell a few close friends about what we are going through and sought their advice on what we should do with respect to work. We have decided that everyone is on a “need to know” basis. As a result, I have only brought it up to one female partner (with whom I am friends out of work) when one of my doctor’s appointments was likely going to conflict with something she had asked me to attend. For most everyone else, if the need does arise, I simply plan to say that I have a doctor’s appointment or minor medical procedure scheduled then.

    Also, I think we tend to think that people pay a lot of attention to who is or is not in the office. Except for my secretary and the handful of people I work with, I really don’t think anyone cares or has really noticed when I’ve been out . Fortunately, my firm doesn’t require a lot of face time (at least for attorneys), so the fact that I’m not there really doesn’t raise many eyebrows.

    In short, I’d confide in a few close girlfriends, keep it on a “need to know” basis for everyone else, including co-workers and bosses, and use vague excuses when necessary.

    • Same situation here – I’ve never had a miscarriage, but my husband and I have been working with a fertility specialist. It has required a ton of doctor’s visits (4 last week!). I’ve been able to schedule some for early mornings and weekends, but not all. And several of the appointments have been quite long. After I was out for a four-hour (!!) appointment, my boss asked me what was going on. Since we’re friendly and I felt like she would start to hold my absences against me if I didn’t come clean, I told her about the situation. She was very sweet about it and super supportive. Since then, though, she’s regularly asked for updates. I appreciate that she cares, but with such an emotional and stressful medical issue, I’m not thrilled about giving frequent updates. And I worry about what and when to tell her when I do manage to get pregnant (knock on wood).

      If I had had the choice, I wouldn’t have told her. But since questions were being asked and I anticipate this going on for some time, I felt like I didn’t have a choice. I did ask her not to share with anyone else and my husband and I have been extremely selective about who we have told. Only a few members of our immediate family and three friends know. Support is good, but people who haven’t suffered from infertility often say/ask insensitive things, even if they mean well.

  13. I recently confided in my boss that I would be undergoing fertility treatments and would have a lot of doctor’s appointments coming up. I wrestled with telling her that or telling her I was having a medical issue. I’m glad I went with telling her the whole truth because, surprise!, she went through the same thing herself. This is a big relief to me because she’s completely supportive and knows what exactly I’m going through when I mention I’m going for this test or that test. We do, however, have a very friendly relationship and are friends outside of work as well.

  14. I hope this is not out of line to post here, but my nephew died in utero at 40 weeks last summer. It was devastating to the whole family, especially the parents-to-be (my sister and brother-in-law). They are participating in a fundraiser for an organization that provides free counseling services to families who have lost their babies (either miscarry, stillborn, or SIDS). If you feel compelled to make a small contribution to the cause it would be most appreciated: http://angelbabieswalkrun.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=1055939&lis=1&kntae1055939=5E6066ECC889417AB916F88A8669D5C6&supId=379474823

  15. So sorry for your loss, K. It’s such a hard time, and I wish good things for you in upcoming months!

    I went through this in December— with a surprise (but happy!) pregnancy, and a relatively new job. I ended up telling people that I would be out of the office for health-related reasons, and I emailed my female supervisor to tell her more specifically that I was having women’s-health-related issues. She kindly stopped by my office and didn’t press for details, but let me know that she was available to talk, and that she had had her share of women’s health issues herself. I appreciated this so much, and I mentally filed away this approach to use if I am ever in a similar supervisory position and similar circumstances arise!

    Here’s some practical advice I’d pass on— DO NOT, when you are pregnant, and especially if you are scared that something might be going wrong (I had some weird ultrasounds before my miscarriage was confirmed) Google or chat-board ANYTHING pregnancy-related at work. There is nothing more depressing and distracting, and I’m pretty sure that’s not the best way to get information about your own health issues! Easier said than done, but try to keep your head down at work, and then research on your own time outside of the office— you’ll feel a lot better for having done so, even if (and I hope this is not the case for any of you) something negative ultimately happens with respect to your pregnancy.

  16. I”ve gone through two cycles of IVF and a miscarriage while working. The IVF part was not hard because the appointments are early in the morning and I only had to take days off for the retrieval and transfer. For those, I told my office that I had a doctor’s appointment and would not be feeling well after it. I called in sick for one day when I miscarried because I was too much of a mess to go into the office. I could have taken more time off but wanted to stay busy. I did not tell anyone at work because I wanted to feel normal and felt it was easier for me to recover emotionally when I had a place where nobody knew. I did not get a D&C but chose the pills. They were horrible but I could do it on my schedule at home over the weekend.

  17. I did several rounds of IVF and had several miscarriages. I let the senior partner in my department know after my fertility treatment became more involved, but he is very family friendly. I also confided in two other partners in my department. In retrospect, I’m not sure if I would have said anything. I suffered a miscarriage at the end of last year, and I had a few very minor deadline issues as a result. I was an hour late on something the morning that I found out I would likely lose the baby, and I was late on a brief after I took a few days off for the emotional problems I was having after the miscarriage (I had promised to get the brief to the partner during that time and I got it to her the day after I returned). I received a very negative evaluation from that partner as a result of these things, and she knew the reasons why I was late. Even though I had no other timeliness issues from any other partner and I explained what happened during my review, I now have to go to a seminar on time management to address my “timeliness” issue. This particular partner was present during my review, and she even argued with me on whether I was actually miscarrying when I was an hour late on her one project.

    I guess what I’ve learned from this experience is twofold: (1) Don’t expect anyone to be sympathetic to you due to your fertility and/or miscarriage problems. I think these issues are taken much less seriously than other health issues. Keep your specific issues to yourself. (2) There’s never a good enough excuse for turning something in late, so if you are pursuing fertility treatments, you have to get everything done way in advance whenever possible in case something comes up.

    I have discontinued treatments partially because of the way that I was treated about this. I can’t afford them without my job, and if my performance continues to be affected by my attempts to get pregnant, then I won’t have a job.

  18. I agree with Kat’s advice. Say what you need to say to the people who need to hear it when you have to take time off of work. In other words, just tell your boss and your assistant that you are ill and nothing else. It’s a mistake to share the same information with your co-workers that you share with your friends or think you can lean on your co-workers in the same way as you can with your friends. If one of my co-workers put out that she had a miscarriage, it would be way TMI.

    • Just curious, would it be way TMI if she told you she had breast cancer?

      • Yes. I think the same rules would apply- share what you need to share with whom you need to share it to explain your absences and your unavailability and to get your medical and disability benefits.

      • It would probably be TMI but it’s not an apt analogy. Breast cancer is ongoing; miscarriage is a one off event. I honestly think most one off surgeries unless they have some rehabilitative public element are between you and your boss/assistant.

        Officewide disclosure (to me) is unprofessional.

        • Miscarriage is often not a one-off event. Many people have repeated miscarriages, and sometimes a miscarriage is weeks in the making. On the otherhand, my sister recently had a mastectomy for her breast cancer, and as a result she required no other treatment. From diagnosis to being cancer-free, it was about a 1-2 month period.

          Pest wasn’t saying that she wouldn’t just make an office-wide disclosure. She said that she would consider even telling her boss or assistant because it’s TMI. I just wondered if she would think the same for something else, or miscarriages are considered particularly shameful. Maybe breast cancer isn’t the perfect analogy, but is it TMI to tell someone you have to get surgery for an ACL tear?

          • No, in my opinion there is nothing shameful about a miscarriage, but really any discussion of medical procedures and conditions beyond what is necessary and to whom it is necessary to discuss it is TMI in an office. An ACL surgery is also not analogous, because your co-workers are likely to see you walking around in a brace afterward and may ask questions. If people ask, you can answer to the extent that you are comfortable, but again your work colleagues are not your friends and you should not treat them the same way. The note the original poster wrote to Kat suggests that she feels lonely in her situation where she says no one knows what she is going through. I agreed with Kat that she may be feeling isolated, but should lean on her friends and family, not her co-workers.

  19. This is not at all the same but a few months ago, my sister had preterm labor and had to deliver her twins at 24 weeks. She went to the hospital on a Saturday night so Sunday I knew things weren’t looking good. I went to the office on Monday but it was nearly impossible for me to work – my family was gathering around her and I felt horrible that I wasn’t there. It was a busy time at the office and I kept looking up NICUs near my sister.

    I ended up buying a flight there for Tuesday morning and stayed for three days. The twins died before I got there but I’m kind of okay with that. I emailed my manager and director before going to the airport and said that my sister was in the hospital and we had a family emergency. No one gave me a problem.

    I ended up telling a work friend but I had told her that my sister was expecting and how excited I was. And it was nice just having someone else in the office who knew. I also ended up telling HR because they were going to take vacation days from me for leaving. I explained what happened and they let me use bereavement leave.

  20. Happened to me :

    This is a timely topic for me, as I had a miscarriage around this time last spring (after one successful pregnancy). I found out about the loss before the 12-week mark, when I had already shared the news with my assistant and one close work friend. (We were in the midst of getting ready for trial, and I needed them to be able to cover for me as I dealt with morning sickness, etc.) I found out about the loss on a Monday, did not return to work for the rest of the day, and took that Friday off for a D&C. I told my assistant and friend what had really happened, and I told everyone else that I was having outpatient surgery on Friday and left it at that. I ended up telling the lead partner on the trial team the next week after she came into my office to find me working at my computer with sunglasses on (to unsuccessfully hide that I had been crying). She was incredibly supportive and told me to take as much time as I needed. I chose to keep working because (1) I wanted the distraction from my pain and (2) it would have been almost impossible for anyone else to take over the work I was doing. In retrospect, not taking more time to process the miscarriage when it happened prolonged the emotional distress I felt, but I still feel like I made the right choice. To my knowledge, my work wasn’t affected due to a combination of luck and the fact that my friend on the trial team helped me out a lot.

    Now that almost a year has passed, and I’m 28 weeks into a successful pregnancy, I am more open about my experience with close friends/colleagues, only because I want other women who may be going through the same issues to know that they’re not alone.