Jennifer Lycette was nine weeks pregnant when she started bleeding at work. She arranged to see her obstetrician after hours so she could finish the workday.
She didn't tell anyone or take time off because “it felt very much like the norm," Lycette said. "Like work culture."
Lycette is far from alone in working amid pregnancy loss. Ten percent to 15% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, but there is no federal requirement to provide sick time after pregnancy loss. New legislation seeks to change that – and supporters hope doing so will destigmatize a common experience.
The Support Through Loss Act would ensure workplaces provide three days paid leave to employees who have experienced pregnancy loss. If the bill becomes law, the United States would join countries including India, New Zealand and South Korea in offering some form of paid leave for pregnancy bereavement.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who introduced the bill, also proposed a $45 million annual investment in pregnancy-loss research and outlined a federal campaign to disseminate information on the topic.
"Pregnancy loss should be met with care, compassion and support," Pressley said in a press release. "It is a common experience, but many struggle in silence due to the lack of awareness and cultural stigma. Our bill sends a message to families that they are not alone, and would support those experiencing the loss of a pregnancy by providing them with the resources, workforce supports, and care necessary to recover and heal."
The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, the first stage of legislation.
Dana Sussman, deputy executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, believes the legislation is an important step toward understanding and destigmatizing pregnancy loss.
The causes of miscarriage and stillbirth are not widely understood. Problems with the uterus or cervix and chromosome abnormalities often play a role. Structural factors such as poverty, lack of prenatal care, and medical discrimination are also factors.
The lack of clear answers about around pregnancy loss has led to stigma and blame, Sussman said.
Kelly Symons, president of Helping After Neonatal Death, was 38 weeks along when she lost her pregnancy. The change in her body was noticeable, and she worried how her colleagues would react. Because pregnancy loss was so taboo and seemingly uncommon at the time, Symons internalized blame. She remembers feeling like a failure.
"Society has deemed these issues to be private," Sussman said. "But when we create a shroud of silence around it, it's hard to get resources and support."
Part of the reason Lycette didn't take time off work or tell her colleagues about her miscarriage was because she hadn't shared she was pregnant yet.
“Many women don’t disclose early pregnancy because there is a concern about how you’ll be perceived in the workplace and you want to be sure you’re carrying your fair load," she said.
Liz Meyerdirk, CEO of the birth control distribution company The Pill Club, hopes that her company can lead the way for other workplaces to transform that culture.
Along with its parental leave policies, The Pill Club offers its employees up to 16 weeks of paid leave for pregnancy loss depending on the stage it occurs.
"I don’t think that anyone should have to silently suffer and power through it at work, and putting policies in place that put people first at work is hugely important," Meyerdirk said.
Pregnancy loss can result in serious physical side effects such as painful cramping, ongoing bleeding and disruptive hormone imbalances. But there are also heavy mental and emotional consequences. Many women experience long-term traumatic stress when deprived of the time to cope with their pregnancy loss.
“People need time to process and grieve," Lycette said. When workplaces don't provide that time, "it really invalidates the loss.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Paid time off for pregnancy loss part of Support Through Loss Act