Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Pregnancy loss = disability?

I saw this article online yesterday: Miscarriage is a disability, Ontario Human Rights Tribunal says. Here, FYI, is the actual interim decision of the tribunal. (It's not a long read, and the miscarriage is only part of it.) 

Not everyone is going to agree with this ruling (I've tried to avoid the comments...!).  Even women who have had miscarriages might not think of them as a disability, or view themselves as disabled. And yet, they certainly can be disabling experiences for some people. There is no one-size-fits-all description, or prescription -- some women will need a longer time frame to cope with the physical, mental and emotional effects of pregnancy loss. And when they're compounded by other issues, as was the case with this woman (a previous physical injury, the death of her mother-in-law, pressures at work to produce "billable" hours, knowing that you've already used up your five allotted sick days for the year...!), the situation becomes much more complex. Who wouldn't want to just crawl under the covers and hide, dealing with all that within less than six months??

But I think it's a step in the right direction that we are finally talking about pregnancy loss and recognizing the impact that it has on all aspects of our lives, including work -- and that workplaces and managers and coworkers don't always deal with loss (any loss, let alone the loss of a baby) in a caring and compassionate way.

I've written about my own back-to-work story and subsequent workplace experiences on this blog. Going back to work was one of the hardest parts of my experience.  Overall, I think I was treated fairly and compassionately by my managers. The company's policies, however, were not entirely clear and trying to figure out what sort of a leave I was "entitled" to at the worst possible moment of my life made a bad situation worse.  And of course, going back to work is never easy, no matter how long you've been away & how kind your coworkers are. There's a lot of discomfort to deal with -- yours AND theirs. People told me "take it easy" -- but of course, consciously or sub-consciously, back to work equals back to normal in most people's eyes.  It was the busiest, most stressful time of year at our office when I returned to work, and it didn't take long for my in basket to start filling up again. It took a long, long time for me to feel anywhere close to normal or productive or truly engaged in my work -- and in some respects, I don't think I ever felt quite the same way about my job, or about work in general.  One of the social workers I spoke with advised me to take all the leave time I was entitled to: "You'll be sitting there while people run around yelling, 'This is important!!' and all you'll be able to think is, 'No, it's not.' "  She was right. My loss changed me forever.

What do you think of this ruling?


  1. Related story with more commentary:


  2. This is an interesting question and one that doesn't have a clear or easy answer. Per the definition of disability outlined in the document that you attached as well as the American's with Disabilities Act (ADA), while the miscarriage itself may not clearly be a disability, the depression caused as a result of it most definitely is a disability. Further complicating things is that the nature of grief is so individual. What one person may recover from in a couple of weeks, it might take years (or never) for another person.

    In short, I think it's good that people are talking about pregnancy loss. Hopefully it will lead to some important policy changes surrounding the issue.

  3. I agree with BentNotBroken. But I think you're also addressing a larger issue of defining rules for how to handle trauma. The need to allocate time to grieve and heal. Part of this comes with acknowledging the importance of mental health. Part of it comes also to pushing back on corporate mindsets of working all the time.

    That said, I wish I had had some time off following my miscarriages. It definitely impacted my work to be grieving (and hiding why I was grieving).

  4. http://globalnews.ca/news/2620352/ontario-human-rights-tribunal-rules-miscarriage-is-a-disability/?sf23821059=1