For Women Who Work, Suffering a Miscarriage Can Mean Losing a Pregnancy and Safety Net

Unsplash | Daiga Ellaby

Along with the trauma of losing a pregnancy, women in the workforce often find themselves facing an uncomfortable reality if and when they return to their jobs. Assuming your position is still there for you after taking much-needed time away, you might now find yourself surrounded by well-meaning people who knew you were expecting a child, or at the very least are wondering why you've been gone. Deciding how or whether to explain such an absence at all adds a whole new layer of difficulty to an already distressing time. Beyond the emotional and interpersonal aspects to consider, there's also the complicated issue of whether you'll be paid, or even if you can be fired, for taking time off work to heal.

Under federal law, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees that some people are safe from losing their job if they need to take up to 12 weeks off from work for a qualifying medical condition. That condition could be physical or emotional, but unfortunately, this protection doesn't apply to everyone. Generally, people need a doctor to confirm that they need to take leave. However, if you haven't worked at least 1,250 hours at your job within the past 12 months (which averages out to just over 24 hours each week), FMLA doesn't apply to you. And even if you have put in the hours, if your employer doesn't employ at least 50 people within a 75-mile radius, that employer is exempt from the law.

There is potentially another way to get protected time off from work. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a person who needs accommodation for a disability, like having had a miscarriage, can't be fired, have their hours cut, or have their schedule changed, either for asking for time off or taking leave. Employers with at least 15 employees have to abide by these rules, so long as it won't create an undue hardship on the employer.

But when it comes to wage protection, there are no federal protections. While some companies offer full wage replacement as a benefit for people while they're out on medical leave, they don't have to. Some states, like California, New York, and a few others on the East and West Coasts, have laws that are more protective of employees, but in Middle America, additional employee protections are harder to come by.

In reality, managing a miscarriage and the demands of a job can play out in a lot of different ways for different women. POPSUGAR talked with four women across the country, in a variety of financial and workplace situations, to learn what challenges they faced while dealing with their own individual pregnancy losses.

Wendy, medical assistant, Milwaukee, WI, $35,000 salary
Courtesy of Wendy

Wendy, medical assistant, Milwaukee, WI, $35,000 salary

Wendy, 36, of Milwaukee, WI, was at work on May 3 when her water broke at just 19 weeks into her pregnancy.

As a medical assistant in a specialty clinic, Wendy (who asked to keep her last name private) didn't have far to go to receive care that day. She was immediately taken to the emergency room of the facility, in the same building where she works.

"My pregnancy wasn't planned," Wendy told POPSUGAR. "It was honestly pretty shocking at first, and I was just starting to warm up to the idea of having a baby." Wendy said she was on edge about the pregnancy because she previously had a miscarriage on April 30, 2014, with a boy she planned to name Ayden Joseph. This time, she planned to name her son Eric Myles.

"I couldn't believe this was happening to me again," she said. "I knew they were gonna say there was nothing they could do for me."

Wendy's water broke at noon on a Thursday, and she went into labor the next morning on her own. She had to stay in the hospital a total of two nights because she had to get an epidural, she said.

The support Wendy received from her boss and coworkers was surprising, she told POPSUGAR: "My boss came to visit me that day in the ER."

Wendy was able to take two weeks off of work thanks to FMLA coverage and was paid at a rate of about 60 percent of her usual earnings. Wendy said on average she makes about $35,000 each year, which breaks down to about $673 each week. At 60 percent, Wendy was only paid about $404 each week for the time she had to take off to recover.

While Wendy's job was protected and she was able to get at least some wage replacement, she said she really could've used more time to cope with her pregnancy loss but had to go back to work because she couldn't make ends meet on such a limited amount of money.

"Not even close," Wendy told POPSUGAR.

After her two weeks off, it was tough for Wendy to return to face her coworkers, because some of them were pregnant, too. "I know I shouldn't have felt this way, but I was embarrassed and hurt. It was hard to work with them," she said. "I'm mostly a private person, so having it out there that I had lost my pregnancy because it happened while I was at work was hard. But my coworkers were all really nice and tried to respect my privacy. They were great."

Wendy's boss was adamant that she consider counseling, but she wasn't ready for it right away. "It wasn't until July that I decided to see a therapist," Wendy said. "But once I did, it helped me with starting to cope."

Wendy had a lot to deal with, even beyond the loss of her child.

"I had employer-provided health care, but it didn't take care of much of the cost of my hospital stay," Wendy said.

Wendy recently had to file for bankruptcy due in part to the medical bills.

"It was a combination of things," she said. 'The birth was the tip of the iceberg. It doesn't seem fair, but I guess that's just life."

Colleen, social worker, northern Virginia, $170,000 household income
Courtesy of Colleen

Colleen, social worker, northern Virginia, $170,000 household income

Colleen (who asked to be identified by her first name only), now 40, had just stepped down from a full-time position into a part-time role when she was surprised with a pregnancy at the age of 38.

She had been working for about a year as a social worker for a small woman-owned business in northern Virginia when she lost her pregnancy. Colleen, a mother of three boys, was just entering the fifth month of pregnancy with what would have been her only baby girl, whom she planned to name Nora, in April 2017.

"It was absolutely devastating when I got the news that I had lost her during a routine appointment," Colleen said. She said she had no reason to think there was any issue with her pregnancy and had even told her husband he didn't have to come for this checkup, but luckily for some reason, he did.

"I knew that when they didn't point the screen toward me during the ultrasound that there was something wrong," she said.

It was a workday for Colleen, who was part of a team of geriatric care managers. She had told them very early on that she was expecting, because in that role, there would sometimes be environmental hazards that she could come in contact with, and those would have to be avoided.

"When I got the news, I called my supervisor and told her what I had scheduled, and that I just couldn't [come into work]," Colleen said. "They just said, 'OK, we'll take care of it.'"

That evening, Colleen called the owner of the work group and told her she wouldn't be in for the next week, despite her worry about time off without pay.

"I was working very part time, and it was great because it was very flexible with great work-life balance, but I had absolutely no paid leave," she said. "I was lucky to work for a company that I knew would be supportive — I got flowers the next day from management — but my biggest concern was whether I could afford to take this time off."

Colleen was part of a group of eight to 10 other women who worked in the same role she did, and while she wasn't worried about losing her job, she had no wage replacement option for time away.

"I would've liked a second week off," she said. "The week I did take off was centered around procedures that needed to be done, and was very logistical, so I didn't get to deal with the emotional piece right away. But for my family at the time, it was better that I go back."

She didn't have medical benefits, but her husband did, and together they had a total household income of about $170,000 at the time.

"I would have stayed in my previous position if we knew we might be having more kids," Colleen said. "A day of sick leave here and there would have been helpful following the initial week. But I will say, as difficult and life changing as this loss was, I found it to be much more bearable because of the company I worked for at the time."

Colleen's oldest son is 9. She also has a 7-year-old, and her youngest son just turned 4. Based on her due date, her daughter would have turned 2 on Sept. 27.

Brittany Patterson, title loan company representative, Wichita Falls, TX, $21,000 salary
Courtesy of Brittany Patterson

Brittany Patterson, title loan company representative, Wichita Falls, TX, $21,000 salary

At 20 years old, Brittany Patterson, who is now 28 with a 6-year-old daughter and a 6-week-old son, experienced her third miscarriage. She was working in the small town of Wichita Falls, TX, at the time as a customer service representative at a title loan company, making about $21,000 a year.

Patterson, who had two very early miscarriages as a teen, was nine weeks into her pregnancy when she went in for a checkup and was told the baby only measured at six-and-a-half weeks. "That loss was the worst emotionally and physically. It was the only time I had seen my baby on the ultrasound monitor screen and was told there was no heartbeat," Patterson said.

"It was a work day for me, but I had taken the day off. There was no cramping or bleeding or anything to indicate it had ended. Not until the ultrasound technician came back with a radiologist who confirmed there was no heartbeat."

Knowing that she had carried the baby after it had stopped growing was traumatizing for Patterson. "I had a complete breakdown," she said. "To know I had carried it for so long and there was no life there was devastating."

Patterson was given the option of a dilation and curettage (D&C) procedure or waiting for the tissue to pass from her body on its own, and she opted to try to let things take place naturally because she was worried about missing work.

"I took the next day off work, too, but didn't want to go through surgery to take even more time off," she said. "When I told my supervisor I needed the next day off, she wasn't happy about it, but she agreed, and when I went back to work, it was like nothing had happened. She didn't ask anything, and it never got brought up again. It was very cold, very emotionless."

She found out the pregnancy was not viable five days before Christmas, and on Dec. 27, her body passed the remaining tissue that was left in her uterus. Patterson was thankful she didn't end up having to have a medical procedure, because she was worried about losing her job.

"You lose enough when you have a miscarriage, and if I would've lost my job on top of it, I don't know what I would have done," Patterson said. "I couldn't take the chance. It was not an option."

She added: "The company I worked for was run by a corporate office, and my supervisor didn't come in to the office very often. It was a really small office, with just me and three to four others, max."

Even though her supervisor was a woman, Patterson said she felt like her boss was not sympathetic to what she was going through, and she didn't get the support and time to recover that she needed.

"I had no paid time off at the time. I would have taken more time off if I could," she said. "I did try to put on a brave face, because it could always be worse, but when you go through it in that moment, it feels like the worst possible thing, like it can't get any worse."

Rachel Kile, medical insurance coder, Wichita, KS, less than $40,000 salary
Courtesy of Rachel Kile

Rachel Kile, medical insurance coder, Wichita, KS, less than $40,000 salary

Rachel Kile, 29, of Wichita, KS, just gave birth to her third child six weeks ago. As a medical insurance coder, who also has a 9-year-old and a 2-year-old, Kile takes care of her family of four on a salary of less than $40,000.

It was three-and-a-half years ago when the single mother found out she had lost what would have then been her second child, 10 weeks into her pregnancy.

"I had spent the day at a block party being held by my church," Kile told POPSUGAR. "After I went to bed that night, I woke up at 2 or 3 in the morning and saw blood and immediately went to the ER."

Kile was forced to wait three to four hours, she said, before she could get in for an ultrasound that showed her baby had stopped growing at six weeks. To be completely sure, Kile said she was told to come back in two days to recheck her hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) levels, which is a hormone produced by the placenta in a pregnant woman. And on May 4, 2016, which also happens to be Kile's birthday, it was confirmed she'd had a miscarriage.

Kile had what's called an incomplete miscarriage, meaning not all of the tissue from her pregnancy was expelled from her body. When this happens, doctors can sometimes give the patient the option of waiting to see if it will happen on its own or having a D&C procedure to remove the remaining tissue from inside the uterus.

Kile decided to have the procedure, which cost about $700 out of pocket because she had just met her employer-provided insurance deductible, which she was thankful for. But she said there was no option for emotional support through her insurance.

"If there was, I didn't know about it," Kile said.

Kile had used up all of her five paid days off from work, so she had to have the procedure on a Thursday and be back at work the following Monday because she couldn't afford to take more than two days off without pay.

"Going back to work so fast, it kind of felt like nobody really cared and it was shoved under the rug, because no one wanted to talk about it," Kile said.

"It was hard when I would see women come in and ask for pregnancy tests. And I coded radiology for insurance claims, so that meant I had to read ultrasounds from expecting mothers. That was really hard."

There was no option to avoid those tasks because only two people knew how to code radiology procedures, Kile said, and those responsibilities had to be split between the two of them

"Everyone at work knew what I was going through, too, because I had just announced I was pregnant," Kile said. "I did feel like my coworkers understood my emotional pain, though."

Then, just four months later, Kile got pregnant again. That child — her rainbow baby — was born on April 21, 2017, just two weeks shy of the anniversary of her loss. (A rainbow baby is how people often refer to an infant born after a pregnancy loss.)

"It was all kind of a blur, and I didn't really get to process the loss or think about it much," Kile said. "I pushed it back in my mind and then tried to just focus on the new pregnancy. But I found I couldn't get attached until I was about 18 weeks along, when I found out [it] was a boy."

Kile said she's had more time to process things now, but that some days her miscarriage experience still doesn't feel real, because she got pregnant again so quickly.

"Some days I think a lot about who the baby would've been, whether I would have had my other two, and if that would have been my one girl."