Paid leave after miscarriage for moms
A time-off law in New Zealand supports women who lose pregnancies
Nicole Lowery was seven weeks pregnant and in the bathroom at a friend’s house when she noticed she was bleeding. Her guess turned out to be right: She was miscarrying. Lowery still went to work the next morning, continuing her job as a staff accountant at a small holding corporation in New York state. When the bleeding continued, she took the rest of the day and the next day off without telling her boss she was losing a pregnancy.
The next month, Lowery got pregnant again. She was feeling hopeful five weeks in when she noticed more blood. She was miscarrying again, so she took another day off. It wasn’t until her third pregnancy several weeks later that Lowery told her boss what had happened. She was worried she would lose that pregnancy, too, and found herself making mistakes and struggling to focus at work.
“But this is something that’s going on in my body, and I can’t leave it at home completely,” she remembers explaining. Her supervisor expressed sympathy but insisted that Lowery keep her mind on her job. “There wasn’t a whole lot of understanding,” Lowery said.
Dealing with miscarriage in the workplace has become a topic of international discussion in recent weeks following the passage of a law in New Zealand that requires employers to give women three days paid leave after a miscarriage. The country joins only a handful of nations with similar laws. Since the 1960s, India has given women who miscarry six weeks of paid leave, while the Philippines offers 60 days.
Most other countries, including the United States, do not require the benefit as a matter of law, although some countries mandate leave for miscarriages and stillbirths later in pregnancy. Women like Lowery with a history of pregnancy loss said such legislation offers women needed help and affirms early unborn life. But it also exposes an inconsistency in the Western mindset regarding the sacredness of life.
Emily Carrington, now a mother of two, had her first miscarriage in the spring of 2014 while living in Texas. She was about 11 weeks pregnant. She and her husband planned to announce their pregnancy to friends, but they found out the baby had no heartbeat. Even though she took a week off from work, she returned only three days after medical staff removed the baby’s body from her uterus using vacuum aspiration. “Retrospectively, I don’t know what I was doing back in the office on Monday,” Carrington said.
Later that year, she had a second miscarriage and did not undergo the vacuum procedure. She compared that experience and the accompanying 12-plus hours of contractions to the early stages of labor. At that point, she was not working anymore, and the entire recovery process took about six weeks. She hadn’t realized what a huge physical toll the previous miscarriage took on her body. At times, she struggled to navigate the emotional repercussions of losing a baby.
“While individuals might recognize it as a life and grieve it as a life, there is still not—either in the life-affirming, the pro-life, or the Christian community or in the greater community at large—a life-affirming process for grieving and navigating a miscarriage,” said Carrington. She recognized that a policy of offering paid leave after miscarriage could help change that.
Adam Carrington, Emily’s husband and a politics professor at Hillsdale College, agreed that the New Zealand law makes the work environment more pro-family. He thinks having automatic time off would have helped his wife feel like it was normal to stay home and recover.
In the United States, some state laws about sick leave or pregnancy disability leave could allow women to take paid time off after a miscarriage. But, according to the Family Research Council, no state laws require leave for pregnancy loss. Lawmakers in New York presented a similar bill earlier this month requiring miscarriage bereavement benefits. It’s currently in a Senate committee.
“From a pro-life perspective, it is a way of marking and helping to at least give some moral status to the loss that those mothers have suffered,” Adam Carrington added, pointing out the irony of the legislation coming from New Zealand. Lawmakers there last spring passed a bill allowing women to get abortions for any reason during the first half of their pregnancies and even up to birth in certain circumstances. The state pays for the procedures through its publicly funded healthcare program.
The pro-abortion publication Vogue celebrated New Zealand’s miscarriage act as a step toward addressing an “urgent health issue.” The author pointed to a 2020 study that showed 1 in 6 women who have a miscarriage deal with post-traumatic stress long after losing the pregnancy. But just a few years earlier, a sister magazine, Teen Vogue, trumpeted a study purporting that abortion has a negligible effect on women’s mental health, dismissing that as a reason for women to avoid abortion. Other studies, however, have linked abortion with mental health issues including depression.
Lawmaker Ginny Anderson, the sponsor of New Zealand’s Bereavement Leave for Miscarriage, wanted to include in the bill an acknowledgment that abortion is also a pregnancy loss, according to New Zealand Right to Life. She left it out since it likely would have prevented the law from passing.
“A woman will have no closer relative than the unborn child that she carries in her womb,” New Zealand Right to Life said on its website. “In passing this bill, Parliament has given recognition to the unalterable truth that the unborn child is a human being from conception and is endowed with a right to life.”
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