We need to talk about pregnancy at work sooner–even when it ends in miscarriage

Waiting the customary 12 weeks to announce a pregnancy conceals the reality of women's health and their lived experiences.
Ute Grabowsky—Getty Images

Content warning: This article discusses the details of a miscarriage

After my first son Luca was born, I wasn’t sure if I wanted another child.

I grappled with a lot of the postpartum demons that no one talks about: the loneliness, the isolation of adult thoughts when my closest day-to-day confidant was an infant, the days that blended with nights, in addition to the instant and insatiable love I felt for my son.

I went back to work early–earlier than I probably should have in hindsight. I was craving connection with my colleagues who were like family, a different kind of brain stimulation, my career that I’d built for years before Luca. I resolved that my parenting would be one of quality over quantity. While I was at work, he was loved and cared for by his caregivers. When I was with him, I made every second count.

It was hard, but I got into a new routine, and my return to work nourished parts of life that felt like they were on pause. As my husband and I navigated our partnership with our careers and our baby, we didn’t really talk about growing our family. But a few months after Luca’s first birthday, I found out I was pregnant. The decision was made, we were having another child. I made another decision then, too: I was going to be open about this pregnancy from the start to break the stigma of hiding early pregnancy at work.

Forgetting the ’12-week rule

Rather than wait the requisite 12 weeks–the socially palatable timing, most-likely-to-have-a-viable-pregnancy marker–I told my close colleagues, regardless of gender, about my pregnancy right away. I didn’t make a full company announcement, but I wasn’t going to hide in the shadows of my womanness at work. Oftentimes, women still try to put themselves into a box to level out with men. This desire to get to equal footing was perpetuated during the pandemic, as many women choose to hide their pregnancies from colleagues (and could do so more easily via Zoom) in order to reach a semblance of equality.

But we’re not equal. We’re different, and we should celebrate that rather than be treated unfairly or diminished for our inherently female traits. Women are a powerful group in the workforce. According to a recent Bloomberg report, more women in the workforce could add a $20 trillion dollar boost to our global GDP by 2050. We should feel allowed and comfortable to speak up about the unique plights we go through as women and normalize the conversations too long considered taboo.

At a time when our reproductive rights and access to abortion are under attack yet again, it’s even more important to be more vocal, not less. For example, you might not know that one in four women has an abortion by age 45 because you hear few personal accounts. However, more women are sharing their stories in the face of Texas’ anti-abortion law (which the Supreme Court recently allowed to remain in place) and increasingly calling on men to stand with them.

By sharing the news with my team about my second child early on, I hoped my younger colleagues could see that talking about something related to women’s health–being pregnant, having a miscarriage, going through menopause, having PCOS, or getting an abortion–isn’t a ding on your work ethic or a sign of not being good enough.

I knew that telling my colleagues about my pregnancy before 12 weeks could mean that I’d also have to tell them about a miscarriage, and even when I went to my first ultrasound and my doctor told me the heartbeat was low, I didn’t regret the decision. Not only could we celebrate together, but I could also tell my partners I was having a tough day, that I needed a minute. And they got it. In fact, one of them reached out to let me know that his sister had experienced something similar and offered an introduction if I needed a sounding board.

Even though one in four pregnancies (or maybe more) end in miscarriage, these experiences are all too often hidden in the shadows. Of course, a pregnancy loss is deeply personal. But the effect of keeping the news insular for so long is that there are many pregnant people who have suffered a loss without appropriate support because they were relying on “the 12-week rule.”

Moving through loss

As my pregnancy progressed into the eighth week, the heartbeat went from faint to nonexistent at my next ultrasound. I was scheduled to go on a business trip to Europe the next day. I decided to go even as I waited to physically miscarry. The time between learning our baby hadn’t survived and when I miscarried was excruciating, but I knew I wanted to keep busy. My husband took the trip with me, and, after a day of meetings, we joined my business partner and his wife (who had earlier shared their pregnancy complications and ultimate loss with me) at their home for dinner. We were all vulnerable and sad together, but we felt less alone.

A few days later, while still on my trip, I physically miscarried. It was much harsher than I expected–physically and emotionally. It felt a lot like labor, but with a devastating outcome and a lot of blood. There were moments when I was unsure if I would need medical intervention, and again, my male partners offered support. One let me know he and his wife would translate for me if I needed to go to a Swiss hospital.

We didn’t have to take them up on the offer and made it back home safely–without the baby we’d left with. I hugged my other colleagues close when I got back and revealed the news. I shared my experience with a moms group I’d started two years prior—the SFBabyMamas, a group of women brought together by our duality of being both professional high performers (partners at venture firms, lawyers, CXOs, and surgeons among others) and present, informed moms. I was a bit afraid that I’d be sharing something heavy, hard, and new. But more than a quarter of the 50 or so moms in the group sprang into response: “Me too” they all said in some form or fashion. But no one knew. Because no one had talked about their experience at the time—and we had shared almost every other facet of our motherhood journeys with no detail spared. 10-15 of every 100 known pregnancies end in miscarriage.

Challenging norms

In March, New Zealand unanimously passed a law that requires companies to offer paid bereavement leave for miscarriage. I may be stating the obvious here: A miscarriage is a death, yet we treat it, socially and in the workplace, as a women’s health issue, a personal issue. My challenge is to broaden our thinking, to accept that maybe it’s all three. I’m glad to see some U.S. companies following New Zealand’s lead, but that support can only be granted if we make talking about early pregnancy a norm instead of a nuisance. One friend of mine who experienced a miscarriage shared that she told her boss she had to be out for a few days for a dental procedure to take time to grieve. This shouldn’t be the norm, but it is.

The more dialogue that’s taking place between working women—and men—on these topics, the better. Be it miscarriage, postpartum depression, abortion, fertility challenges, or another unique challenge women face, we need to get stories out in the open to create a better workplace, and society, for everyone.

I am forever grateful for the women who lifted me up in the early days and for my colleagues who encouraged me to take the time I needed to grieve. I know I’m lucky to have had such a strong support system during and after this loss.

Upon reflection in the early days after my miscarriage, I was positive that our uncertainty that we wanted another child had been solidified by the outcome. One kid it was. But my husband was resolute. If the experience gave him anything—it was the clarity that he wanted to be a dad again. I was thrown by his resolve, but then I realized, I felt exactly the same. We welcomed our second child 9 months ago, and our family now feels complete.

 Lauren Lyon is an operating partner at the global VC firm Headline.

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