Taking time off work to deal with a pregnancy loss

When I first ended up in the hospital after my tube ruptured, I was like ummm how do I even start explaining this to my employer?

Here are some tips and advice I learned along the way following our ectopic pregnancy loss.

Contact your HR Representative

Your HR department should have the most up-to-date information on what benefits and leave options are available to you.

HR also has a level of confidentiality that they have to maintain for you. Going to them can help eliminate awkwardness or emotional conversations with your manager. I found that my HR rep was also more sympathetic and concerned about me fully recovering versus how many days I may miss and what work would be waiting for me upon my return.

Personally, I didn’t do this. I contacted my Director (who I directly report to) first. In the end, this was a lesson learned. I ended up liaising with my HR rep more than my boss.

My HR rep reminded me that you do not have to divulge your full medical history to your manager. The choice is yours as to how much you disclose. When I spoke with my boss, I focused more on the physical recovery than my emotional state.  I didn’t want him to think I was some hormonally-crazed woman – even though I really was. haha

Choose which leave is right for you

Sick Leave

For someone who can’t miss much time off work (especially if your loss is following a fresh IVF cycle where you have already taken time off), your best bet is sick leave. The amount of days you qualify for depends on your company’s benefits. Speak to your HR rep for more details.

Short-term Disability 

My HR rep recommended short-term disability immediately when I told her about my surgery. Short-term disability (STD) works well if you 1) don’t have a lot of sick time 2) plan on being off for more than a week.

Ensure you get the info to process your application ASAP. Depending on your plan, there can be a specific number of days post-surgery in which you have to apply.

If you chose STD (seriously who chooses these acronyms?), you will have to get your doctor to fill out a form disclosing certain details about your medical condition and the amount of time they recommend you take off work. Your employer will also have to complete a form.

Short-term disability usually has a waiting period before it kicks in. For me, it was 7 days. During this time, you can use your sick time.

Typically, you will wait 5 business days or longer from the date their receive your application until you receive confirmation of approval. It proved to be a pain in the ass trying to find out whether my claim was approved or not. I played phone tag for a few days before our benefits provider finally gave me the stamp of approval.

Typically, you are also looking at a decreased salary. I think mine was in the range of 66.7%; however, this is definitely better than an unpaid leave.

My time off was broken down like this:

  • 1st week: Waiting period of 7 days, used sick leave with full salary
  • 2nd-4th week: Short-term disability with pay of 66.7% of full salary

The catch with STD is if you need time off beyond the initial approved period, you will need to resubmit medical statements from your doctor and have your claim reassessed.

Bereavement Leave

During my extensive Google search, I learned that some, but not many, employers honour bereavement leave for a miscarriage. It’s worth it to ask if this is valid at your company as it saves your sick days and could be allotted towards your waiting period if you choose a disability leave.

Maternity Leave

If your loss occurred in the 3rd trimester, you may qualify for up to 17 weeks of maternity leave. Double check your provincial labour laws to ensure this applies in your area.

Vacation or unpaid leave

If your worst case scenario means that you do not have access to any of the above mentioned options, you could also consider taking vacation or an unpaid leave. I truly hope that no one is faced with having to choose this last resort option. Recovering from a miscarriage is anything but a vacation. However, an unpaid leave might be the best choice if you need more time to heal beyond your approved paid leaves.

Decide when to return to work

Recovering from a miscarriage – no matter how far along you were – is not an easy task.

If you had surgery, there is always a recommended recovery time. Obviously, this can change due to complications, infection or even just how fast your body personally heals. Following my laparoscopy to remove my rupture tube, my surgeon told me he recommends minimum 2 weeks off for an office job. I was starting to feel physically better at 2.5 weeks, but I was an emotional wreck. I chose to take just under 4 weeks to ensure I was headed back to work with a clear head. This was an easy choice for me because my doctor and short term disability approved me to be off for up to 4 weeks.

If the leave you selected meant you are approved for a specific amount of time, you can choose to return to work earlier or later. Speak with your HR rep about how to return to work sooner than anticipated. If you need more time off, speak with your doctor.

I do recommend that you consider taking the necessary time for self care. But ultimately, how much time you take following a pregnancy loss is a personal choice that only you can make.

I want to thank the women who encouraged me to take the time I needed over the past few weeks.

These options are based on my experience in Canada (sorry US and International folks). There is no guarantee that these options will be available to you. Double check your benefits plan and local legislation to see what you qualify for. 

If you stumble upon this post and are currently in the first few days following your loss, my heart breaks for you. I hope this helps ease some of the anxiety you may face around taking time off to deal with your pregnancy loss. XO