Imagine this: You are happily expecting a child and are halfway through your pregnancy. One morning, you awake to cramps and pain, then bleeding. After a hurried call to your OB and a trip to the ER, you receive the worst possible news: There’s no heartbeat, and you need to make plans to deliver the baby to preserve your own personal health. You’re simultaneously grieving your loss and preparing yourself for induced labor, all while facing the dread of telling your family and friends the news.
Now, imagine taking five一only five!一days off to deliver your stillborn child, share the tragic news, begin the physical and emotional recovery from this trauma, and then going back to work. That’s what women have done and continue to do across the country.
A 2020 study found that one in six women who have a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy suffer from long-term post-traumatic stress. When you consider that anywhere from 10-20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, that’s a lot of people who likely end up suffering privately at work, unable to take time off to recuperate.
There are no laws in the United States that require employers to provide any type of leave, paid or unpaid, after a stillbirth or pregnancy loss. The UK, New Zealand, and other countries have enacted these practices, but in the States, pregnancy loss leave is fully at the discretion of businesses. (That could soon change, however. This week, Senator Tammy Duckworth and Representative Ayanna Pressley’s introduced legislation that would require employers to provide at least three days of paid leave for women following a pregnancy loss.) But currently, many employees who suffer from pregnancy loss have to use sick days, take unpaid leave, or simply “power through” while physically healing and silently grieving.
This isn’t an isolated issue. It starts with inadequate paid parental leave policies, which only 40% of U.S. companies offer to new parents. What’s more, many of these policies leave a lot to be desired and don’t adequately support parents during the first months of their child’s life.
How We’re Creating Change
At The Pill Club, we’ve rebuilt our PTO policy to ensure that our parental leave policies offer support for new parents, as well as for those who experience the loss of a pregnancy. Pregnancy loss leave policies should be as commonplace as traditional parental leave policies and should extend to all of those impacted, including partners.
Through this policy, if an employee experiences a loss within the first 11 weeks of the pregnancy, they’re eligible to take up to 10 days paid leave. For a loss during 12-19 weeks of pregnancy, they are eligible to take up to eight weeks paid leave; and, for those who experience a loss in the 20th week of pregnancy or beyond, they’re eligible to participate under Paid Parental Leave, allowing 16 weeks paid leave. We also offer three days of leave in the event of a non-medically advised pregnancy termination. This paid time away is important for the employee to heal physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Leading with Empathy
In addition to managing the bottom line, leaders need to take an empathetic approach to managing staff. How you account for the spectrum of stages in an employee’s life is what creates a productive, positive workplace.
When we rolled out this policy, we received an outpouring of support from many across the team, some of whom had experienced pregnancy loss firsthand, or supported a loved one following a lost pregnancy. A core tenet of implementing a first-of-its-kind policy at any organization is education and empowerment, which for us came in a few forms:
- Teach the basics: The unfortunate reality is that unless someone has experienced pregnancy loss firsthand, they likely know very little about the various types of pregnancy loss and the emotional toll it can take on that person and their spouse. We tackled this by providing clear definitions in our policy so that employees can better understand and support their colleagues or loved ones when the time calls for it. When leaders arm their teams with the information and resources they need to navigate life-changing events amongst their colleagues, you build a culture of trust and empathy that extends beyond the team and into the business.
- Know your “why,” then explain it to the team: Pregnancy loss is incredibly personal, and while it’s close to my heart, I always want to ensure that we start from a place of “why” when implementing company-wide policies. In this particular instance, our reason for introducing this policy is simple: It’s the right, human thing to do for the team. Knowing and being able to explain your “why” as part of a larger policy roll-out is crucial to employee buy-in, adoption, and sets the tone for what your company believes in.
- Employee policies are not one-size-fits-all: When we started drafting this policy, it was important that we lead with heart, while leveraging research and data where appropriate. Creating this policy required that our leaders be introspective to employee needs, even if they couldn’t relate to their individual experiences. That’s why we took a hard look at how our leave policy should be adjusted for the stage of pregnancy loss, and how to equip managers with the resources they need to support their employees at whatever stage they find themselves in.
Organizational policies should not live in a vacuum on the HR team. We need leaders to step up and advocate for their employees, especially during times of loss. Implementing policies in support of employees is where employers can make a meaningful impact. Until more brands join us in our quest to support employees throughout every stage of parenthood—even an unexpected loss—the fight is far from over. I’m hopeful for a future where every employee is able to take the time they need for their mental and physical health, without fear of consequence.
Correction: The Pill Club’s leave policy after termination has been clarified.
Liz Meyerdirk is a proud mother of three kids and the CEO of The Pill Club, a digital-first women’s healthcare company that’s on a mission to empower women to live their healthiest lives. Prior to joining the company at the end of 2020, Liz was a founding member of Uber Eats, where she spent nearly six years leading strategy, business, and partnership functions.