Last week, I dug up one of the most awkward emails I’ve ever sent. “I don’t think I can recap New Girl this week,” it reads. “I’m currently undergoing a miscarriage.” I remember pausing to wonder if undergoing was the right word. Experiencing? Then it goes on: “I think I’ll be fine by Thursday for 30 Rock.”
My miscarriage in the winter of 2012 was long, drawn-out, and baffling — a complete fluke, as the doctors kept telling me. Because of a polyp in my uterus, the amniotic sac never developed properly, and I bled on and off during the whole first trimester. Things calmed down around 12 weeks, which is traditionally when you tell people you’re pregnant, since the vast majority of miscarriages happen before then. But at 16 weeks, the bleeding started again, and this time it didn’t stop. Which meant that I had to start having some uncomfortable conversations.
At the time, I had a full-time job at a media start-up and I was freelancing as a TV recapper on the side. Explaining myself to my recap editor was actually not the worst part, since at least it was over email. Telling my primary place of work, on the other hand: whew. The start-up had a handful of founders, mostly men a few years older than me. We worked in an open-plan office, which we shared with another tech start-up, which was one flight of stairs above an incubator for yet more tech start-ups. The place was crawling with hoodie-wearing guys with whom I did not want to talk about vaginal bleeding.
The day before my water broke and my pregnancy ended for real, I was at work when I started to feel like something was wrong. I remember going out into the stairwell to call my doctor, who told me I needed to go home right away. But what I didn’t remember, until I reread my journal yesterday, is the lie I told my boss. He was obsessed with restaurants, and I suppose that’s why I picked food poisoning. The image it conjured up was humiliating, but at least it was something he’d presumably been through himself.
2011 was a long time ago. Since then, I’ve had two kids, switched jobs, and forgotten most of what happened on New Girl. But I started thinking about it again because on Wednesday, New Zealand’s Parliament approved legislation that would give couples three paid days off after a miscarriage or stillbirth.
New Zealand isn’t the first country to recognize the need for this kind of leave: India offers women six weeks after a miscarriage or termination for medical reasons, and Vietnam gives women between 10 and 50 days off, partially paid, depending on how long the pregnancy lasted. Three days also isn’t that long — especially if you’ve had a stillbirth; you might need a lot more than three days for medical reasons. And the law doesn’t account for abortions, which can feel like a pregnancy loss for some people. Still, this kind of codified compassion is fairly unusual. (In the U.S., if you want time off, you’re legally out of luck, just the way you would be if you wanted a guarantee of paid maternity leave or any paid leave after a death.)
And pregnancy loss remains very common. Up to 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, at least in America, with research indicating that Black women experience higher rates of loss than white women. Over the past decade, the topic has become more public thanks to celebrities like Meghan Markle speaking out, but it’s still not something that many people think about if they’re not actively trying to have a baby. Writing a script into law — “Hey managers, if this happens, here’s what you do” — is a way to normalize the experience for the whole working population. It makes thinking about miscarriage a requirement even for people who will never have one. And it might make those awkward conversations so much easier.
After my miscarriage, I admitted that it wasn’t salmonella. The company sent flowers, and my boss asked me how much time I needed, which was kind of him — not every manager would have. But once again, I felt like I was operating without a script. Given this country’s fraught discussions around reproductive rights, it was hard to even determine what words to use. Was I in mourning? “I guess I’ll take a day?” I said.
During that day, I watched Wayne’s World, thinking that a nostalgic movie might help (it did not). I bought some Italian ice and a sweater that I have never worn because it makes me too sad. And then, because I didn’t know what to do with myself, I went back to work, where I continued to feel out of sorts for months.
It’s not like that for everyone, of course. Some people aren’t especially sad after a miscarraige. Some are relieved, or even grateful. But others mourn, sometimes for years, and for them, everyone seems to recommend trying to get some kind of official closure. Which is the other nice thing about the New Zealand law — it acknowledges, on a state level, that some people need an ending.
Three days isn’t a ton of time, but at least it gives you space to do more than buy a sweater. Back in 2012, I didn’t understand that I needed that space. But I wish someone had offered it to me.