To put the bottom line first, I'm grateful for the recent decision made by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to treat one woman's miscarriage as a case of disability. If the ensuing shift in disability law which CBC alludes to will indeed occur, then going on a disability leave when you miscarry could become a reality. This will allow women going through some of the most difficult times in their lives to honour their loss and to grieve .
It's the healing part that I'm wondering about.
In August 2011 after one year of failed fertility treatments, I learned that I was pregnant. I was a full-time working mother of one at the time. Seven weeks later, in October, I learned that being pregnant doesn't always mean you get to have your baby. As someone who didn't always have first-hand experience at miscarriage herself, I realize that some of you might be thinking that losing a pregnancy at seven weeks "before you become attached to them" is lucky. Let me set the scene for you. One year of fertility treatments means a whole bunch of hormones, a whole bunch of physical and emotional discomfort but most importantly a whole bunch of hope developing with every developing egg and then being repurposed as the treatment fails and recycled to be used again in the next round. Every one of the five IUI cycles I went through meant two weeks of not knowing if the procedure took or not. You'd spend those two weeks behaving like you're pregnant to protect your baby while convincing yourself that you're not to protect your heart. You ARE attached, like it or not, and you've been attached to this baby and the promise of an extended family that it carries long before conceiving it. Becoming pregnant with it is just a mere technicality and if you don't believe me just look at that photo of me that my mom took a few days after I found out that I'm without him again. This is what losing a promise looks like.
The blow was delivered in three takes, the last one of them being a surgical procedure which was scheduled for a Friday. I went back to work on Monday on the last week of October having missed a few days at work throughout that month. Had a disability leave been available to me I would have probably taken it. Would this have been the right decision for me? In hindsight I can say no, with certainty.
Healing from miscarriage is achieved through trial and error. None of us are prepared for it and we don't know in advance what's going to work for us and what isn't. I found out that despite my initial retreat and desire to shut myself off as I go into hiding what ended up helping me most was actually involving other people in my healing process.
Please don't get me wrong. I do not intend to advocate for immediate return to work after miscarriage here. Again, I would support any type of law designed to promote healing after an experience that can be so scarring. My intention is to simply point out the advantages of socialization and bring awareness to another "method" of healing - one that we may miss out on if we elect to go on disability leave.
I had an extremely understanding and supportive boss at the time of my pregnancy loss and I was able to take off the days that I needed and wanted without having to negotiate. At the same time, however, for a variety of professional and personality-related reasons I felt compelled to return to work. As I was still processing, grieving, hoping and learning to come to terms, I was taking sporadic dives into my work life and the social life engulfing it. Gradually returning to work and immersing myself in the support of my colleagues was not a calculated decision (I wasn't capable of calculation) but rather a wonderful discovery. That controlled, intermittent and gradual exposure to work turned out to be of immense importance.
Despite my initial inclination to shut myself off there were many unforeseen advantages to forcing myself to be around people:
Sometimes stepping away is not really a choice but rather a necessity. There were moments when I couldn't face the world. I am not urging anyone in that state to ignore it and embrace my advice to put themselves out there. The problem starts when due to inertia and by force of habit and comfort staying secluded becomes the only thing we know how to do and we end up depriving ourselves of the compassion that others may be capable and willing to offer. When you lose a loved one no one expects you to grief alone. People will offer their condolences. Some will listen to you talk about your loss, or even encourage you to open up by asking you questions. Some will act similarly upon learning about your pregnancy loss. Others might find it harder to relate to miscarriage due to lack of experience and may feel unable to think of the right thing to say but you'll see them trying and sometimes failing but you'll be able to read the message between the lines: I care.
Exposure is a two-way street. Based on my experience, having learned about what you've been through co-workers who have gone through the same will be more likely to share their stories with you. You'll feel supported and less alone. Pregnancy is very visible, miscarriage isn't. You may have spent an entire year, like me, noticing pregnant bellies around you, You've seen no miscarriages. Miscarriages are usually only "aired out" by other miscarriages. Opening up will not only encourage others to open up to you but could ultimately lead to a normalization of public discourse about miscarriages. THAT shift in public opinion whereby we will no longer treat the subject as awkward, if you ask me, would be no less significant than any type of relevant legislation.
I came back to work to attend a client event with my colleagues. I was wearing the scarf you see in the picture and was at my most vulnerable. I felt that I could burst into tears any minute. Instead I received a hug from a friend who knew and whose wife was going through the same, a "you're so cute" from another colleague who had no idea and another hug and a "we're here for you" from a client who was also oblivious but came to express their professional gratitude. Not everyone will be coming back to a situation offering such condense support, but your colleagues will find other ways to express it. Talking with others in the days following my breakage and seeing myself reflected in their eyes helped rebuild my confidence and restore my sense of self worth. Working intermittently and immersing myself in my job — while perhaps unrealistic in certain industries and professions — allowed me to observe the results of my efforts manifested in professional successes and further contributed to the same.
I realize that by supporting legislation allowing women to go on disability after a miscarriage, on one hand, and suggesting that they return to work, on the other, it may seem like I'm trying to have my cake and eat it too. What is the proposed alternative then? Flexibility. I would still like to see greater involvement of the party who suffered the miscarriage in the development of a return to work plan than is customary these days for employees returning from a disability leave and for the plan to allow for flexibility - as mentioned, nobody is prepared for this in advance or knows what it will take for them to heal properly. Most of all I would like to treat the "sickness" so to speak rather than the symptoms (the sickness being the silence that surrounds the topic of miscarriage) and to identify channels for opening up the discussion about pregnancy loss and to continue de-tabooing it and not just on the internet . I'm afraid that in the current status quo a potential legislation, well-intentioned as it may be, confining a woman to her home makes me wonder if we're indeed protecting her via isolation or rather shielding her co-workers from the awkwardness of dealing with it?