My husband often describes himself as a “toes in the sand” kind of person. He means that he doesn’t get pre-excited for vacations because it’s not real for him yet. It’s not until his toes are literally in the sand that it feels real and he starts to get excited about the fun that lies ahead.
I’m the opposite. Half of the enjoyment for me is in the anticipation and planning. I get excited thinking about the experience, researching things I want to do and places I want to eat. It feels real for me from the second I say out loud that we’re going.
These roles hold true for us during pregnancy and are exacerbated by the fact that I’m the one who is physically feeling how real it is. From the second I think I might be pregnant, my brain races. I’m envisioning this person. I’m planning their room. I’m planning our lives. Throughout the entire day, as I feel all the changes in my body, the reality of this future life vision gets solidified. It makes the let down of pregnancy loss that much more challenging. I’m not just losing this person I’ve grown for a few days or weeks or months, I’m losing an entire life I’ve built with them in my mind. And the grief that comes with that is very real.
The all-consuming nature of this experience can make focusing on work challenging. You’re physically there, but your mind is elsewhere. You’re often grieving something without most people around you even knowing about it. Coping with pregnancy loss at work can feel like bottling up the emotions that come with deep loss because it’s taboo to discuss or it feels like the expectation is you should be able to carry on like normal.
If you’re anything like me and you’ve experienced a miscarriage, you will say, “I’m fine.” And you will feel mostly fine. And you will keep things moving mostly fine. And you are mostly fine. Until you’re not. Until it bubbles over and you break down. Until you’re forced to realize that maybe you weren’t as fine all along as you thought you were.
Now having gone through two pregnancy losses, I’ve learned a bit about what helps me cope when returning to work. These steps help me grieve in a healthy way and not get to the point where things boil over.
- Determine if taking some time off would be helpful (If it is feasible for your situation).
With my most recent pregnancy, I learned that it wasn’t viable at my first prenatal appointment at about 8.5 weeks. I was supposed to come into the office that day, and my team knew I was headed to this appointment first. After receiving the news that I was experiencing a Molar Pregnancy, I just couldn’t bring myself to go to the office that day. I gave myself the rest of the day off to be sad.
For me, I just needed an afternoon and then looked forward to getting back to work. I knew that I couldn’t be productive that day or have regular conversations without crying and also that I like to stay busy when I’m going through something tough. For you, this might look different. You may wish to take a few days to yourself – if that is feasible for you, do it. Taking time to acknowledge your feelings can give you the space to grieve without forcing yourself to get right back to it and act like nothing happened.
- Share as much as you feel comfortable.
You may not feel comfortable sharing what you’re experiencing if you are newer to a role, don’t have trusting relationships with colleagues, or were very early on in your pregnancy. That’s okay. You have to trust your gut in terms of what you feel comfortable sharing and with whom.
For me, sharing my experience was a key part of my recovery and a way I allowed my colleagues to have a glimpse into my headspace and behavior. Days when I seemed short, sad, or distracted, I probably was. And this sharing allowed them to fully consider what might be on my mind and not internalize it as a reflection of them.
The outpouring of support I received when I shared very openly about my loss (via a blog post) was truly heartwarming and helped me to connect with others and feel less alone. Even the experience of writing my feeling down was cathartic. If you’re not up for sharing it, journaling what you’re going through might be helpful in and of itself.
I asked a colleague, Shelby Davis, what helped her after having a late-stage pregnancy loss. “I think feeling open to talk about it is what helped me the most so I didn’t feel like I had to stuff it all down and act like everything was fine and nothing happened. I had conversations with my direct boss and his boss to let them know what had happened and that it would take me some time to be back to my normal bubbly self. They told me to take the time I needed and if I needed anything throughout the process to let them know. They were very understanding, and my team that I managed was so thoughtful.”
While opening up can be extremely scary and uncomfortable, you might be surprised at the support you receive and who provides it. Pregnancy loss and infertility are so pervasive that many people, even those you don’t suspect, have had their own journey with these experiences and are incredibly empathetic.
- Lean on people who “get it.”
People’s reactions will vary widely when they learn of your news, and some people won’t have the capacity or awareness to support you how you’d like. This can be very disappointing. At the same time as I mentioned above, others may show up for you in ways you never expected.
Many of my closest friends responded with “Oh so sorry” and not a whole lot else because they didn’t know what to say or probably didn’t think much about it after the initial news. That’s okay! Not everyone can relate, and not everyone will understand what this experience is like for you.
Others, people I was less close to but who had some relationship with this experience, shared about their own experiences, regularly checked in on me, and sent me incredibly thoughtful gifts. There will be people at work and at home who, even if they haven’t experienced exactly what you’re going through, will connect with what you’re feeling emotionally. Allow them to support you and tell them how much it means to you.
- Give yourself grace.
Not only are you emotionally going through something difficult, but your body is having very real hormonal changes. It’s a lot! Grief of any kind is not linear. You may have good days and bad days or moments where something triggers you even when you feel like you’re in a good headspace. Try not to be too hard on yourself or impose arbitrary deadlines for when you should bounce back.
- Seek support from professionals.
Talking with a therapist is always a good idea when you experience a significant loss. This can be a wise investment following a miscarriage, particularly if your grief is impacting your well-being and ability to function over a period of time.
A career coach is also an invaluable resource to support you through this, especially if you are struggling with how to communicate your needs to your boss or team. They can help you strategize how to navigate this situation from a professional perspective.
Pregnancy loss can mean a broad spectrum of experiences, and all of them can be extremely difficult. Even if you were only pregnant for a short time, your feelings of grief are valid. As with any loss, there is no “right” way to behave. Be kind to yourself and allow those around you to support you. You will get through this.