New Zealand’s Miscarriage Relief Bill Is Not Good Enough
Like many others, I cheered. I cheered because this marks one of the first times a country has declared that pregnancy loss is something that 1) happens and 2) requires a period of healing, physically and emotionally. Ginny Andersen, a member of Parliament who proposed the bill, said, “The bill will give women and their partners time to come to terms with their loss without having to tap into sick leave. Because their grief is not a sickness, it is a loss. And loss takes time.”
I know this all too well. I had four pregnancy losses and after each one, I returned to work after burning through my sick time, and well before I was ready.
It’s commonly reported that one in four pregnancies end in loss. With this rate, it’s safe to say that in a workplace like mine (with hundreds of people), at least one woman is going through pregnancy loss at any given time. For some, these losses are intense medical events. Two of my four losses were ectopic pregnancies, which posed a risk to my life—one required emergency surgery, the other required a shot of a drug regularly used for cancer (because it’s good at killing cells). I had a “missed miscarriage” (the embryo had passed without my knowing) that involved bleeding for weeks before I was deemed unpregnant. And I lost my son, Miles, in the second trimester, which involved yet another surgery (and an intense case of post-traumatic stress).
Even if a pregnancy loss does not have serious medical issues, there are emotional issues to consider. According to the largest-ever study to assess the psychological impact of early-stage pregnancy loss, 29% of women who had experienced a miscarriage before 12 weeks or an ectopic pregnancy had post-traumatic stress one month after their loss. Approximately one in four women had moderate to severe anxiety, and about one in ten had moderate to severe depression. According to a 2016 review of the psychological effects of stillbirth, bereaved parents had significantly higher rates of emotional disorders including depression, general anxiety disorder, social phobia, agoraphobia, and anger, as well as a sense of failure, long-term guilt, symptoms of PTSD, and suicidal ideation.
All of this goes to explain my problem with New Zealand’s legislation: Three days is not enough.
I understand that, like with so many women’s issues, we have to applaud every step toward progress, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. To me, granting three days of leave is a symbolic act. Practically speaking, three days is not enough.
Three days is not enough time to absorb the news that your baby has passed away in your womb.
Three days is not enough time to recover from emergency surgery.
Three days is not enough time to heal from delivering a dead baby.
Three days is not enough time to prepare a memorial service.
Three days is not enough time to decide what to do with the nursery.
Three days is not enough.
People will say, “It’s better than nothing,” just like six weeks of maternity leave is “better than nothing.” We need to do better than “better than nothing.” We need to stop having “nothing” be the comparator when it comes to women’s health.
There are a few Asian countries who have done better. India offers women six weeks of leave after a miscarriage or termination for medical reasons. Vietnam gives women between 10 and 50 days off, partially paid, depending on how far along the pregnancy was. Similarly, in Korea, leave time after a miscarriage or stillbirth is based on the number of weeks of pregnancy. The leave is paid, and an employer is not allowed to dismiss an employee during leave.
The fact that the U.S. does not already have a policy in place makes me question the common assertion that we are the greatest country in the world. U.S. legislators, if you’re listening, let’s do better. Let’s do better than New Zealand. Let’s do better for women and their partners in the face of the immense loss of not just a baby, but a dream.