Zwambag: Time to grieve must be given

The Motherload

Pregnancy loss. It’s not something we talk much about. In fact, unless you’re looking at it rather directly, I don’t think we really ever talk about it. It’s just this strange elephant lurking in the room; no one dares ask or bring it up for fear of a potentially uncomfortable conversation.  

I still remember sitting in my bed in the maternity ward while awaiting my son’s birth when another woman moved in to the bed next to mine. As I rubbed my belly, still wiggling with kicks and hiccups, I asked her when she was due and how she ended up in hospital like me.

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“I’m here for a D&C.”

You want to know how little we talk about pregnancy loss? I was on my second pregnancy and I had no idea what that was. I had to ASK this poor woman who was tearing up as she spoke those few words so I could understand.

“I lost my baby last week and they need to remove the fetus.”

I spoke with her quite a bit over the next couple of days and cried a bit with her, too. She had been 13 weeks along. They had struggled to get pregnant and this baby was so wanted and already so incredibly loved. They had announced it on Facebook just a week before they were in and the doctor couldn’t find the heartbeat—having to go back and tell the World that the bassinet in their announcement would be empty was just one of the many things weighing on her heart. She was grieving the loss of a child that she had already dreamed up an entire future with—snuggles in the middle of the night, first smiles, first words, first day of school, first loves and more—while also combatting an onslaught of pregnancy hormones, the physical pain and discomfort of pregnancy loss, and the strain on her marriage after losing a child they had tried for years to conceive.

And she was expected back at work after the one week recovery time she had a doctor’s note for.

Because pregnancy loss isn’t something we really acknowledge.

However, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario took a giant leap forward in combatting this by making a precedent-setting ruling in a case of a mother who lost her job after experiencing a miscarriage (and a loss of another family member) that resulted in ‘debilitating depression and time away from her job’. In this mother’s case, the Tribunal ruled in her favour and determined that her pregnancy loss was in fact a short-term disability, allowing her to file a complaint against her employer and start a hearing process.

Thinking back to that experience on the maternity ward, I can only imagine the weight that would have been lifted from this mother with no fear of losing her job. She would have had some time to grieve, to heal and to just not be normal. When your world has just completely shattered, having to put on your suit and go to work and pretend like everything is okay just furthers the pain because you’re being told that it’s not okay to feel how you feel. You’re being handed the broom to sweep it under the rug with.

I’ve been fortunate not to experience pregnancy loss, but I know many who have. I have friends whose “I’m pregnant” moment was fleeting, friends who said goodbye at the first ultrasound, friends who made it halfway and had to birth a child who would never come home with them and friends who have tragically lost a child in childbirth.

Not a single one of these was the same. Not a single emotion that fired through these moms matched one another. But they all had to grieve. They all had to heal. They all needed the same thing—Time.

When I lost my father, no one tip-toed around me. They expressed their condolences. If I cried, they patted my shoulder and said it was okay. When I was depressed, I was given the help I needed. I was offered time, help and love.

Yet, when one of my friends lost a baby over halfway through her pregnancy, she had a different experience. She was offered the initial condolences, but I remember her saying how uncomfortable it was for her to be at the office (where she had to return immediately because there is no leave for miscarriages) because everyone just avoided her. No one even dared speak to her outside work duties for fear that she might burst in to tears or talk about what happened. So, not only did she not want to be there while she grieved, she was also made uncomfortable by being there simply because the topic is so taboo.

Sure, she was getting paid to be there. But she wasn’t productive. She wasn’t happy. And the dynamic was completely shifted.

This is why this ruling from the HRTO is so important.

Miscarriage isn’t just losing something you never really had. Pregnancy loss isn’t just something that you can shuffle to the dark places of your mind and act like it never happened. It is a physical event that is debilitating for most women. It is an emotional event that changes the person who experiences it to the very core. Debilitating depression, even PTSD, is very normal after such an event.

Being able to recognize it as a short-term disability would open the conversation and give not only time to women experiencing it (whether paid or unpaid, but simply without worry of termination), but also incentive to get the help they truly need.  And maybe, just maybe, it will be the start of a new kind of conversation on pregnancy and infant loss.

Brianne Zwambag is a full-time boo-boo healer, snack artist, janitor, referee, master storyteller and child stylist in Fort St. John, who sometimes gets a chance to sit down and write about life, mommyhood and the issues that surround it.

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