It’s been a while since we visited the difficult topic of loss here on the Mindful Return blog. A number of years ago, Dr. Julie Bindeman, Psy-D. shared with us a piece called Returning to Work After a Pregnancy Loss. But we are overdue to revisit this subject, which affects so many members of our community.
I also want to note that, thankfully, more and more state legislatures and employers are offering leave specifically for miscarriage. A helpful trend for those experiencing this particular type of loss. (If your employer doesn’t yet offer leave for miscarriage, consider the advocacy strategies in this post to work toward making change.)
Today, I’m honored – and deeply grateful – that Dr. Melissa Tiessen, a mom, clinical psychologist, and Mindful Return alum, has joined us on the blog to share her very personal story with us. The intersection of loss and our jobs is an important one to talk about. And Melissa offers some important advice for all of us – whether we have experienced loss ourselves, or we’re supporting a friend or colleague who has.
Thank you, Melissa, both for being an engaged and treasured member of the Mindful Return community, and for being so open and honest with us here.
My first pregnancy ended at 13 weeks, due to miscarriage.
One of the things that I think is hardest about losing a pregnancy is the fact that it’s a loss that we tend not to talk openly about.
As a result:
We don’t know how common the experience is. (I only found out that one of my dearest friends had had two miscarriages after I shared about my own. And for the record – it is estimated that up to 1 in 4 pregnancies will end in miscarriage.)
We don’t know what to realistically expect – both physically and emotionally – if it happens to us.
We don’t make space for the range of emotions that will show up.
We can too easily internalize so many ‘shoulds’ about the experience.
I should be happy it happened earlier vs later.
I shouldn’t feel too upset, because I never ‘met’ the baby.
I shouldn’t feel too upset, because this is just something that happens to women.
I should be happy I can try again.
I shouldn’t let it impact me for too long.
I should get over it.
I shouldn’t talk too much about this personal experience.
I should keep this to myself.
I was incredibly lucky that at my workplace, when I discovered I was likely having a miscarriage, (yep, discovered it at work) and realized I had to share this difficult news, my employer was very supportive.
Sadly, I had colleagues who had also experienced the painful loss of pregnancies. So there was great empathy and understanding.
I am actually forever grateful to one of my colleagues who let me know that it was possible that the miscarriage process could be quite physically painful. (It was.) My own doctor had not let me in on this possibility. Certainly, a miscarriage is not always physically demanding, but it can be.
Given the ‘no one talks about this’ nature of the topic, no one had discussed with me the statistics around miscarriage or the range of what it can look like. And, honestly, until that point in my pregnancy, a miscarriage hadn’t even registered as something that could happen to me. (Yes, despite the fact that I did actually know people who had recently experienced various pregnancy losses. But again, not something that anyone really talked about openly.)
My employer was also thankfully very accommodating in the days following my miscarriage, as I had multiple medical appointments and follow-ups. And I am sure they would have had no problem with me taking additional time off simply to grieve.
This is the one thing I didn’t do enough of, however. It happened to be a particularly busy time of year. And I didn’t feel like I (self-imposed) should let my colleagues down. So I took just a few afternoons and mornings off. And there was some normalcy that came from staying occupied. But, unfortunately, there was also an unintended reinforcement of the ‘shoulds’: I should just gloss over this really challenging time and get back to normal.
Don’t get me wrong – I did give myself space to feel sad. At times, very sad. But it was always too easy to succumb to the perceived pressure to pick myself up. Dust myself off. And ‘keep calm and carry on,’ not fully acknowledging, and certainly not talking about, the experience.
It’s now almost 10 years later.
In the intervening years, my husband and I were lucky enough to eventually have a beautiful son. That process, unfortunately, wasn’t without further losses, frustration, confusion, fear and a myriad of other emotions and even more ‘shoulds’.
So, ‘shoulds’ still have a way of showing up when something reminds me of miscarriage.
I should be over this by now.
I shouldn’t still feel sad about it.
Other people experience worse things.
But thankfully there are other ‘shoulds’ that show up now as well:
Yes I should still have feelings about it. I lost a pregnancy. (Actually two.) Discovering a pregnancy is – hopefully – an incredibly exciting and joyful experience. Losing a pregnancy should be a very sad experience.
I shouldn’t have to ignore or invalidate my feelings, because society doesn’t like taking about things that are real but make us feel uncomfortable.
All women should have the opportunity to know that the messy mix of physical and emotional reactions they are having or might have in response to their own pregnancy loss (and unfortunately perhaps losses) are normal, and they are not alone.
I should talk about this.
I know that these days, there are a number of great miscarriage and pregnancy loss resources available. The reality is that most of us are probably not going to seek these out (if at all) until the worst has already happened.
While hopefully most readers won’t need this heads up, unfortunately some will. And for those of you who have already had this personal experience, I am so sorry for all of our losses.
Even if you aren’t directly affected by miscarriage, you almost certainly know someone, both personally and professionally, who has been. If you are in a position of influence in an organization, you can be an incredible support to any employee (male or female) experiencing pregnancy loss, by making room for whatever supports and accommodations they may need. This includes the opportunity to talk about their unique experience, time to adapt both physically and emotionally, time to grieve fully, and maybe even assistance with gently letting go of the ‘shoulds’.
I hope that by sharing my story with this wonderful Mindful Return community there will be the opportunity for others to experience fewer ‘shoulds’ and a whole lot more self-compassion and connection. Coincidentally, that is what Mindful Return has always represented for me.
Dr. Melissa Tiessen is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, a Mindful Return alum, and mom to a sweet and energetic 6 year old boy. She is also the co-founder of Intentional Therapist and co-host of the podcast Thrivival 101: A Fresh Take on Self-Care for Female Mental Health Clinicians. 2
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave