After spending months trying to conceive, my husband and I had not even realized how much we had accepted the idea that perhaps parenthood was not for us. At least, it wasn’t evident to me until I saw my husband frozen and staring stupidly at me for a whole 2 minutes as I came rushing out of the bathroom to deliver the news of our “success.” The faint red marks on the strip had finally twinned and I spontaneously felt my soul prancing at this wonderful, empowering feeling of impending motherhood.

My joy didn’t last long, I am afraid. It was just another workday in the office when I felt a familiar dampness trickle slowly down my legs- only that, the familiarity didn’t give me any comfort. I rushed to the ladies’ room and felt completely ambushed by the sudden redness all around me. Hoping against hope that it didn’t actually mean the dreadful ‘M’ word, I sat at my gynecologist’s- desperately praying for a miracle that would make her say- “It’s nothing to worry about”. 

Of course, I didn’t hear those words. In fact, I stopped hearing anything as soon as I saw the doctor’s face. I heard sobs and cries, but I didn’t know they were coming from me for a long, long time. It must have been a few hours before I called in sick at work, to finally allow myself to grieve my unborn child. 

The Loss, Stigma, and Isolation of a Miscarriage

Heart-wrenching as it is, my story is not a unique one. According to the World Health Organization, 15-25% of all pregnancies end in miscarriages. Over 2.6 million babies are stillborn and an estimated 85 percent of miscarriages happen before the 12th week of pregnancy every year.

With a failed pregnancy comes guilt, shame, and a pile of self-blame. In fact, women report that the term ‘fetus’ used by those involved during her period of loss, strips her of the entitlement to even mourn the loss of her baby. In several cultures, there’s taboo related to women’s bodies and bleeding, in particular. The imminent self-blame leads to severe isolation, building a culture where the woman is left to bear the cross of her loss all by herself. Her physical and emotional distress is amplified by the intense isolation that follows. 

New Zealand Approves Paid Leave After Miscarriage

On 24 March, New Zealand’s parliament passed legislation giving mothers and their partners the right to 3 days paid leave following a miscarriage or stillbirth. Up until now, women tapped into sick leave as they endured the loss of their child. The leave provisions apply to mothers, their partners as well as parents planning to have a child through adoption or surrogacy. 

This miscarriage bereavement leave aims to give women and their partners time to come to terms with their loss without having to utilize sick leave. This trauma is not a sickness, it is a loss. And recuperating from a loss takes time because it involves lifestyle adjustments. 

India Was The First Country To Legalise Miscarriage Leave

Interestingly, India is among the few countries that already have a legal mandate for the past 60 years to offer miscarriage leave. Yes, it beat Newzealand to the law by 6 decades! Here is the full maternity benefits policy document drafted in 1961, of which the miscarriage leave policy is an important part. It was amended in 2017. Here is the link to the full maternity benefits act 2017 document. 

So, why are we hearing about India’s miscarriage leave laws only after another country has passed them?

That’s because many of us are not even aware of the laws existing. Many corporate organizations do not include the miscarriage leave policy in their employee care scheme, and if they do, the employees are not aware of it.  And if they are aware of it, they are too embarrassed/guilty/ashamed to avail of the benefit. 

A HR business partner of a large semiconductor company (who has requested anonymity) says: 

While the corporates make an array of benefits available, there always is a probability of employees not being aware of it. In our organization, we provide the statutory leave in case of miscarriage but also consider leave until 6 months basis the requirement of the case inline with our organization’s maternity guidelines . There is extensive communication through weekly newsletters, manager sensitization and training and availability of resources for employees to ensure higher awareness quotient. Employees have designated helplines to seek more information and ask clarifying questions on guidelines.

What you should know about miscarriage leave rules in India?

India has a very comprehensive miscarriage leave policy for government employees and private companies.

Here are some FAQs answered:

In case of miscarriage or medical termination of pregnancy, an employee is entitled to six weeks of paid miscarriage leave from work under the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act 2017, immediately following the day of her miscarriage or, as the case may be, her medical termination of pregnancy. Compare it to the 3 days of bereavement period that New Zealand gives. 

How many times can the miscarriage leave be availed?

There is no limit on the number of times women are allowed miscarriage leave. This law is not gender-neutral, which means miscarriage leave for the husband does not apply.

Also Read: Shreehi on preparing for pregnancy: How the 9 months in the womb shape our children more than we know

How to submit the miscarriage leave application?

The Human Resource department does require a medical certificate stating that you have miscarried. These documents need to be submitted to the HR department and not the immediate boss or reporting manager. 

What are the benefits that accompany miscarriage leave?

Besides six weeks of paid miscarriage leave, there are additional paid leave policies in case of sickness arising out of miscarriage, which extend up to a month. This benefit extends to ailments resulting from pregnancy, delivery, and premature birth of a child. Wilful termination of pregnancy (abortion) is excluded under this law.

What do I need for the approval of miscarriage leave?

In terms of documents required for miscarriage leave, the HR department will look into the medical proof that testifies that the fetus has been miscarried. Once this formality is completed, the paid leave from work will be granted. 

How long do I need to be employed to be entitled to miscarriage leave benefits?

To be eligible to avail of miscarriage leave, a woman must have worked at least 80 days in her current organizations before she reports a miscarriage.

Should I tell my boss about my miscarriage?

Telling your boss directly is your choice(it depends on the relationship you have built with him/her), but you should definitely approach HR and let them know that you would like to avail of this benefit. 

Is miscarriage leave policy gender-neutral?

In the current form of the law, men can’t avail of its benefits yet. 

Final Thoughts: Raising awareness about the miscarriage leave policy

Women have to carry the baton of this conversation and break the taboo and shame of miscarriage. Miscarriage is emotional trauma and a huge loss that a couple is likely to carry for long. We have seen unthinkable changes happen by making room for dialogue, by sharing experiences. Let’s keep the conversation going. Nobody deserves to go it alone! 

Also Read: Miscarriage or losing a baby involves many emotions: Grief Recovery Expert Tamsen Taylor

Photo by jens holm on Unsplash