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Pregnancy loss changed my relationship with work
Suddenly, my job wasn't important.
When my oldest son was born in 2009, my priorities changed. I couldn’t give 110% at work before: I had neither the time, nor the energy.
But I was still immensely driven and ambitious. I found ways to juggle my life with a baby and the demands of my job. In 2014, I was given a significant promotion to a role I had been crafting for a year. I had another baby during that time, moved across state lines, and somehow “made it all work” with a spouse whose job was far less flexible than mine. I had my eye on continuing to grow within the company.
Then my daughter, Nelle, was stillborn on September 4, 2015.
And everything changed.
Grief was overpowering
I’m a writer and it’s difficult to explain the pain of losing a child. Except to say that if you’ve been through it, you know. And I’m so sorry that you know.
And if you haven’t been through it, it’s an indescribable pain. Pain that physically hurts your heart. Pain that yes, eases over time, but never fully heals.
Before my daughter died, I’d lost grandparents. Lost a few classmates to terrible accidents, but no one I knew well.
Losing Nelle was like nothing I could have imagined.
Sitting in a doctor’s office, silently screaming when the doctor told me she had no heartbeat.
My world divided into Before and After that day.
And less than six months later, I lost another baby. My daughter Iris. I nearly broke in half.
I was lucky: my boss gave me time off. There was no formal policy for this type of leave, but I took three weeks, both times. In addition to being a ghost of my former self, my body was physically healing from labor and delivery.
That type of grief isn’t contained to pregnancy loss. Maybe it’s another loved one. But as a society, we say, “Take your three days of bereavement leave, and then it’s back to work!” We’re expected to push aside whatever we’re feeling.
Loss can be traumatic. And we’re not given space to recover. We’re told that grief has a timeline, and it doesn’t.
I didn’t know what to expect. Or I expected it to be like my prior experiences with death, where I was sad for a bit and then gradually better.
Losing my babies was nothing like that. I’d be hit so hard weeks later. Months later. Out of the blue, I’d find myself sobbing in Target’s parking lot. Or be awakened by a nightmare. Or my heart racing, unable to focus in the moment and scared for the future.
Work didn’t matter
I remember how little I cared about work.
I couldn’t focus on anything, because work felt so trivial compared to what I was going through. Who cared about enterprise banking software when my daughters were dead?
I remember being copied on an email thread where two analysts at the company were arguing back and forth over a feature. One was being particularly combative, acting like the world would end if he didn’t get his way.
I emailed him directly and said, “This doesn’t matter. Just reach a decision and move on. You know what does matter? That I lost a baby. And I can’t deal with this right now.”
It wasn’t an email I sent on a whim. I was very intentional. I wanted to call out all the bullshit I saw.
I was angry at anyone at work who made my life harder instead of easier. But they had all moved on. They knew that my babies had died and they… forgot. Probably within a few days. Or they thought I should be “all better” within a few weeks.
It was the first time in my life that I truly pushed work to the back burner. Even when my living children were born, I was breastfeeding while on conference calls. Replying to emails while we were at the park.
But while carrying grief? I didn’t care about work. I set boundaries I’d never set before. I wasn’t going to let work claim a spot as “more important” in the hierarchy of my day. Grief came first.
I didn’t realize it then, but my ambitions changed as a result.
A few months after Iris died in 2016, I received a promotion to an executive role. It was something I’d wanted for a long time. Timing-wise, I thought I needed it, as a distraction from my grief.
But I was wrong.
Those feelings that “work doesn’t matter”? They never fully went away.
My reduced tolerance for bullshit? Also never went away.
I couldn’t understand how people could just go through their days, so wrapped up in things that ultimately didn’t matter.
In hindsight, it led me to quit that job in 2021. I thought I would be with the company for the rest of my career: I wanted that, once upon a time. I likely would have been promoted to COO upon the CEO’s retirement. And who knows, maybe even take over as CEO one day.
But once I saw “how the sausage was made” with my promotion, I was disgusted. Frustrated. Watched bullshit after bullshit, week after week.
And maybe, if my daughters hadn’t died, I would have been able to tolerate it. I would have kept playing the game, keeping my eyes on my ambitious goal of running the company.
But instead, I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t want to handle it. And then a global pandemic pushed me over the edge.
Honoring my daughters
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
Formalized in 1988, President Ronald Reagan issued the following proclamation:
"It offers us the opportunity to increase our understanding of the great tragedy involved in the deaths of unborn and newborn babies.
It also enables us to consider how, as individuals and communities, we can meet the needs of bereaved parents and family members."
Thirty-five years later, the topic is still taboo. Women feel isolated and alone after experiencing a loss. Workplaces don't have supportive bereavement policies.
And, societally, we are unequipped to support parents. Pregnancy loss makes people uncomfortable. It feels like it disrupts the order of the universe: babies aren't supposed to die.
During October, I honor my own daughters: Nelle (who died at 21 weeks of pregnancy) and Iris (who died at 16 weeks of pregnancy). Losing them created a permanent hole in my heart.
I talk very openly about pregnancy loss, because I know that it's such a difficult topic. People feel like they can't speak up, or the pain is still too raw.
If you haven't experienced loss yourself, I guarantee you know someone who has.
Reach out to that person today. Tell them that you're thinking about their sweet baby.
You're not "reminding them" of something painful. I promise not a day goes by that they're not thinking about their child.
And it will mean everything to them that their child hasn't been forgotten.
For more of my writing on grief and loss, check out my blog.
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