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Should I tell my boss about my miscarriage?
January 5, 2014 1:20 PM   Subscribe

I was planning to tell my boss I was pregnant after the holidays. Unfortunately I underwent a delayed miscarriage at 13 weeks. I chose to go through the miscarriage naturally and it ended up happening over the Christmas holidays. I am physically almost completely better. I work for a startup and my boss is the CEO. Do I tell him what I have gone through when I return to work on Monday?

Why I feel like I should tell him:
- I have upcoming doctors appointments related to this and it would be good if he understood why.
- I am still a bit emotionally fragile about this. My husband and I have been trying for 2 years and for this to happen, especially so late in the pregnancy, has been quite a blow and I'm still recovering emotionally. It might be good to have my boss' sympathy and understanding at this time.
- If the miscarriage had happened just a week earlier or two weeks later I would most certainly have (had) to tell him. It's only because of the timing over the holidays means that there is an opportunity (?) to act as if nothing happened.

Why I hesitate:
- As a woman in a small company and in an upper management position I don't know if this is "professionally" a good idea to tell him.
- I didn't want the boss to even know we were "trying" and I still don't as I fear it will change his perception of me and think I have a ticking expiration date. I am 34 so it's not like it would be unexpected but I purposefully try to build a persona at work that is "baby neutral."
- I have been with the company for a year and a half and have reason to believe my boss thinks highly of me - good reviews and a generous raise recently. It's not that I think telling him will make him think less of me, but it could change how he sees me and I don't know how and if it would be in a good way.

Other possibly pertinent information:
- I have two coworkers who know of my situation and they have been wonderful and I know will continue to be so I have some support at work for like a coffee break if I need one
- Husband is beyond amazing (along with good friends and family) so the support in my personal life is completely covered.
- My boss is a good guy.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (37 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sorry for your loss.

This is not information your boss needs to know. It is likely information that he does not want to know. It has less to do with your work persona and/or being a woman in a small company and more to do with the fact that your boss is your boss, not your friend. Not to mention that if he reacts in a way that you don't expect, you don't need that extra emotional stress right now.
posted by sm1tten at 1:25 PM on January 5 [34 favorites]

First off all, I'm so sorry you went through this.

Second, I don't think telling him this is compatible with I purposefully try to build a persona at work that is "baby neutral." If you want sympathy from him, that's surely understandable, but it'll be at the cost of baby-neutrality and it is asking more of him than is really his job as a boss.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:26 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

I would not tell him in these circumstances (or many others, honestly). This is not information he or the company is entitled to, and it is only likely to harm not help. Get emotional support from non-work sources, and take the time you need for the remaining couple of medical appointments without elaboration. He may be a good guy but he is first your boss and if the interests of the company were ever to diverge from yours as an employee, he would have to put the company's first.
posted by Pomo at 1:26 PM on January 5 [4 favorites]

I'm very sorry to hear about this.

If it were me, I would not tell my boss unless I felt particularly close to them.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:26 PM on January 5

I don't think you have any obligation to tell him why you have doctor appointments or share this incredibly personal thing with him. If you have hesitations then don't do it. You stated you have support from other people, so you don't need it from your boss. You are still recovering emotionally. If I were in your shoes I would not tell my boss, probably never, but at least not until I was in a better place mentally and emotionally .

So sorry for your loss.
posted by Tiye at 1:29 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

I would let your boss know that you had a medical issue over the holiday and will likely be a bit under the weather and will have a few doctors appointments in the upcoming weeks. You do not have to tell him specifically what happened.
posted by sciencegeek at 1:29 PM on January 5 [110 favorites]

I wouldn't tell him for anything, for the reasons people have said. If you have to say something, say a medical problem came up over the holidays and you'll need to have a few appointments here and there to keep on top of it/resolve it/take care of it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:30 PM on January 5

You have no obligation to tell him, and it's probably better not to make this part of your work relationship. You can, if you like, say something like, "I've got a medical issue happening and I'll be having a few doctor's appointments in the next weeks. I'm fine, but I just wanted to let you know."
posted by ourobouros at 1:31 PM on January 5 [3 favorites]

Yeah, even good bosses often don't deal with such issues very well. I personally wouldn't mention it so as to save yourself having to deal with his potential response on top of everything else.
posted by heyjude at 1:31 PM on January 5

Don't say anything. It's not his business. Use your sick leave accordingly. See a psychiatrist for emotional fragility to deal with the sadness.

I'm sorry this happened.
posted by discopolo at 1:33 PM on January 5

I can't think why you would tell him. Doctors appointments are doctors appointments and none of his business.

Very sorry you're going through this.
posted by trip and a half at 1:35 PM on January 5

I am so sorry for your loss.

I would not tell him, if I were in your position. The pros are very short-term (sympathy, understanding, ability to take off time easily if needed). The cons are long-term and will have a much greater impact on you over time.

Although you don't explicitly say this, reading between the lines you seem to have some sense that at your company being focused on children is not going to help your career. (It sucks that we live in a world where this is still the case, but for the purpose of this answer, let's deal with your reality rather than politics of it.) If that is true, then telling your boss may result in him thinking of you as someone who is about to have a kid, which could put you in that same box. Even if that's not the case, you might still be worried that it is - which would lead to additional stress that you don't need.

In short, I would rely on friends, family and the coworkers that you trust for support.
posted by leitmotif at 1:37 PM on January 5 [4 favorites]

Ditto what everyone has said. I would add that if you decide to mention something about medical issues, express it in an easy way that clearly conveys "no big whoop". Reason being that the image that most works in your favor is sturdy, reliable, etc. as opposed to fragile, etc.

If your condition requires taking a little more time off down the road, deal with it similarly as necessary.
posted by elf27 at 1:38 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

I understand the desire to share with others that your head and heart are in a different place than they were before the holidays. Sadly, my experience has borne out that this typically does not provide the relief I seek. You should trust the instincts and life that normal-you (ie not mourning-you) created-- one of personal/professional balance. Normal-you would probably tell mourning-you that this is too personal to share unless you need specific accommodations to handle it. As right now you do not need special accommodations, please keep this to your personal circle.

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by samthemander at 1:40 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]

If you do want to tell them the goal is to tell them a minimal amount regarding the type of event - no need to spook a start-up that you were trying for kids. I think I would let your boss know that you had a personal medical emergency over the holidays, but that you have recovered and it should not significantly impact your work. It i possible that you may need to take some unexpected personal days in regards to it, but you currently don't anticipate it.
posted by Nanukthedog at 1:55 PM on January 5

I would let your boss know that you had a medical issue over the holiday and will likely be a bit under the weather and will have a few doctors appointments in the upcoming weeks. You do not have to tell him specifically what happened.

You can be remarkably vague about medical issues at most workplaces, because most bosses worry about disability claims or other issues if they know too much. If you think your doctor appointments/etc. aren't a huge problem with your work schedule, then you are not obligated to tell him anything definite.

The one time I did let a boss in on my issues was when I needed to get therapy for depression and the only way I could do so was to leave an hour early once a week, for six months. I didn't see any way around that since it was a disruption of my schedule, and thankfully, he did not think less of me for it.

I do want to say, for the record, that one of the worst things about the way we set up workplaces is that we have to worry about normal human activities, like reproduction or family troubles, being used against us. You deserve a workplace where you could be open about what you are going through. There are very few of those at the moment, and I am so sorry that you feel afraid to grieve openly and be forthcoming about such a common life event, as though it were a crime to want a family and try for one, or suffer medical complications in the process.

I hope you are getting all the support you need otherwise.
posted by emjaybee at 2:08 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]

I am so sorry you're going through this.

Losing a pregnancy is never easy. You don't need to tell your boss anything. Especially if you don't want him to know you were trying. The sympathy you would like might not be forthcoming, and would probably not outweigh the negative reactions.
posted by RainyJay at 2:12 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

If he'd already known, that would be one thing - but since he doesn't, I'm with everyone else, especially given the concern you have that it may change the way he sees your future with the company. Unfortunately, that's a reality that a lot of women have to face.

You have my sympathy. I lost my first at the same number of weeks, twenty years ago next week. We hadn't told anyone yet, other than my parents and one of our close friends. There weren't the resources that there are now - and I could have used the help dealing with it. Take advantage of them.

Many hugs.
posted by stormyteal at 2:14 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]

I'm very sorry for your loss.

You don't need to tell him, and you don't need to warn him that you'll have doctor appointments. Simply alert him by whatever means are normal in your office for that kind of absence. He doesn't need to understand why; people (and maybe more frequently women) sometimes have to go to the doctor. Whether you've got a rash that won't go away, a persistent yeast infection, a deviated septum in need of repair, cancer, or a miscarriage, it's none of his business until you need to be gone more than the duration of a medical appointment or short procedure.

When devastating things happen to us, there's an inclination to feel as if you need to tell, because it's so enormous, it's all-encompassing, and it's hard to believe that it doesn't affect other people. But retaining your privacy in this situation is probably a far greater advantage to you than losing it. Yes, it's possible you might get more slack if your performance suffers in the short term, but it's probably not worth what it's going to cost you in the longer term. Even if he is a good guy, I'm not sure there's anything he can actually do to help you at this point, so I would leave him out of it.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:41 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

Nothing good can come from this. Your boss is not your friend as long as you work for him.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:58 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]

There is no good reason for you to tell him.

- I have upcoming doctors appointments related to this and it would be good if he understood why.

Why would that be good? All he needs to know is that you need to see your doctor. It's none of his business why.

- I am still a bit emotionally fragile about this. My husband and I have been trying for 2 years and for this to happen, especially so late in the pregnancy, has been quite a blow and I'm still recovering emotionally. It might be good to have my boss' sympathy and understanding at this time.

If this affects you to the point that you need to tell him, then you can do so then. No reason to do it now.

- If the miscarriage had happened just a week earlier or two weeks later I would most certainly have (had) to tell him. It's only because of the timing over the holidays means that there is an opportunity (?) to act as if nothing happened.

So what? Because of the timing, he doesn't need to know. So he doesn't need to know.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:05 PM on January 5

For your own sake, you might find it better not to bring it up with your boss or your co-workers. Everyone mourns at her own pace, and work is a great distraction. But do expect that your hormones will be fluctuating, and pace yourself accordingly.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:16 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

After many years of trying, I miscarried and told my (very sympathetic female) boss and totally regretted it. So I would truly advise you not to.

The possible outcomes:
A.) He's incredibly sympathetic and treats you with kid gloves which makes you think about it even when you're in work mode. This sucks.
B.) He finds out you're trying and, even if he's a nice guy, starts thinking about coverage and ramping down your responsibilities. This sucks.
C.) He doesn't care at all and doesn't understand why you told him. This also sucks.

If you really, really need to say anything: "I had a medical issue over the break. I'm fine to work and feeling fine now, but I just wanted to let you know I'll have a few follow up appointments. I'll try to schedule them where they don't impact work and I'm happy to get a doctor's note for them should you want that for my file."

Be gentle with yourself, please. This is a blow to plans, to hopes, to your hormones and to your body. I'm so sorry this happened to you.
posted by Gucky at 3:31 PM on January 5 [3 favorites]

I lost a pregnancy at three months just before Christmas one year ago. It landed me in the ER unexpectedly first thing on a Wednesday morning and I had to take the rest of the week off from work, so I had to tell my coworkers why I'd failed to show up that day. Even then, I only gave the barest of information, that I'd spent the day in the ER but would ultimately be fine, and that I'd see them on Monday. Like you, I was physically fine afterwards but "emotionally fragile" didn't even begin to cover it. I did eventually tell a female coworker in confidence what had happened and I don't regret it, but for a variety of reasons mentioned upthread, I don't think I could have or would have ever discussed it with my (male) boss. As for upcoming appointments, sciencegeek's wording is perfect and no one should or will question it.

I'm so sorry this has happened. My heart goes out to you.
posted by anderjen at 3:38 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

Please don't tell your boss. It's none of his business and it may make him feel awkward about you. You have a right to medical privacy. I'm so sorry you are going through this.
posted by amanda at 4:19 PM on January 5

I did have a colleague at a job once who did have a miscarriage and did tell our (male) boss, and ultimately all of the staff did know. (in that case, we all knew because she had shared that she was pregnant).

In that case, I think that everyone was pretty supportive. Beyond sharing the fact that people were sorry for her loss, folks were just pretty understanding when at times the door to her office was closed, etc.

But that said, ours was a staff where people had experienced divorce, cancer, planning a wedding, adoption, and pregnancy/maternity leave, etc. and it wasn't so much that people were close, but that they were respectful of the fact that everyone was a strong worker, and that sometimes life oozed into work. I think in all of those cases (I was one of the people who had one of the situations listed above), people just appreciated the fact that there were moments where people just needed to take a few minutes, or were tired, or in the moment, snappy, etc.

So I just want to share that there are some offices where disclosure is met with support that feels, well, supportive. But I think it's one of the things where you already have to have a sense not only that the people on your team would handle it well, but have seen them handle it well. No point in managing your grief, and everyone else's inability to engage and support you constructively. I don't think you have that evidence, so I wouldn't talk specifically about miscarriage.

If you just need time or space, then saying that you had a health issue that you are dealing with should be sufficient.
posted by anitanita at 4:29 PM on January 5

I would not offer up, unless absolutely necessary, any information which forces your boss to think about you and your reproductive system.

I'm very sorry for your loss. This is a difficult time, and I think it's okay to tell him you have a few extra medical situations, but, if he is good and professional, he will know not to ask. Frankly, he probably would prefer not to know.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:32 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry this happened to you. And I agree with everyone who's been telling you not to tell your boss.

I'm a boss, and people who report to me have occasionally shared with me personal health-related information -- about miscarriages, difficulties getting pregnant, addictions, depression. I appreciated that they trusted me enough to tell me (and I took it as a sign that we had a healthy relationship) but honestly in most circumstances I wish they had not, because it did put me, sometimes, in an uncomfortable position.

If you will need an unusual amount of time away from the office for medical reasons, tell your boss that. If you are feeling emotionally fragile because of a family problem over the holiday and you want your boss to treat you a bit gently, tell him that. If I were your boss, that's all I'd want or need to know.
posted by Susan PG at 6:02 PM on January 5 [3 favorites]

If the miscarriage had happened just a week earlier or two weeks later I would most certainly have (had) to tell him. It's only because of the timing over the holidays means that there is an opportunity (?) to act as if nothing happened.

Not really... even at that point, you just as easily could have said "I'm having an urgent medical issue and will be out for X days. Here's my medical certificate. I'll be fine but will have a handful of follow up appointments in the new year."

I work in privacy legislation - health information is private and protected and no one (esp HR) wants to officially know. If you have a few co-workers who know and can be supportive and cover for you if need be, that's perfect.

I'm so sorry for your loss.
posted by jrobin276 at 6:02 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

Another vote for not telling. There is little to be gained at this stage and quite a lot, potentially, to lose. I think it is quite likely that, even unconciously, your boss will have this info in mind when he thinks about promotion etc. He will see you as someone who is 'trying'.

You will also be in the position, should you fall pregnant again, of your boss and potentially others (people think that they will keep this kind of thing secret but they often don't) knowing about your previous miscarriage, and treating you differently over the course of pregnancy as a result. This may not be a bad thing but it could be, and the point is that you cannot take it back. This kind of info is best kept private unless there are more urgent reasons for it to be shared.

I agree that if you do find that you need time off for emotional reasons or for doctor's appointments, then it is fine for you to share that info if your boss is not forthcoming. To be honest, if you are a married woman of a certain age I think that a number of people will think miscarriage/pregnancy as soon as they hear about any medical issues anyway. People, in my experience, are pretty obsessed with thinking that they can predict these things are so see pregnancies everywhere...

My condolences.
posted by jojobobo at 6:23 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

I am very sorry for your loss. I also vote not to tell your boss.

I have been in the position of running interference for someone I supervise who went through a similar health emergency, and needed me to let people know she wasn't going to be able to do some scheduled work-related travel. I was happy to do that, but was very careful to tell people the minimum they needed to know, in as neutral language as possible, so that my colleague could tell people what she chose when she wanted to.
posted by gingerbeer at 6:32 PM on January 5

I'm so sorry for your loss.

The main issue I see is that your boss doesn't know you're "trying," and this would clearly indicate that you are. Even though bosses know they aren't supposed to think like this, they do think about what would happen if there needed to be a leave, what if you didn't want to return, should they be trying to restructure your work now to prepare for that eventuality, should they give upcoming Big Project X to you or to Matthew who won't be getting pregnant, etc. I can't see any good reason to start that train moving. It will create a new kind of attention to you that you probably won't benefit from. Sorry to say that in this day and age, but it remains true - there are legal protections, but there are also ways to change people's employment that don't violate any of those protections even if there is an underlying reason. Just don't invite the issue into your employment at this time.
posted by Miko at 6:42 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

Even if your boss is a friend at work, and even if you feel like talking to someone about this, do not talk to the boss about this. If you find yourself having a low moment at work, just say you've had a setback in your homelife. The boss is not the person to go to about this, at all, and you can't unring the bell once you add this unfortunate event to your professional relationship.

The absolutely only reason you should tell this person anything is if you need something from the boss or from your job in general that you are not already entitled to get, such as extraordinary time off, worklife adjustment, what have you.

At most, tell the boss that you are going through a medical event that is nothing s/he needs to worry about, but that it'll mean some doctor's appointments in the near future, and then it'll go away. The last thing you want is your boss to start to consider your potential maternity in any future decisions about you, at least until you're going to need real leave. Good luck.

(All that said, I know that my dad told his commanding officer that he and mom were trying to conceive, and even got permission to leave midday several times to have sex with my mom. It's entirely possible I wouldn't exist without that CO, so I owe him some credit. If you have that kind of relationship with your boss, then forget all the stuff I said.)
posted by Sunburnt at 8:06 PM on January 5

posted by jander03 at 9:09 PM on January 5

When I had a miscarriage, someone in my office took it upon themselves to tell everyone ("Everyone sign this card" level of everyone). This decision may already be out of your hands.

If your coworkers are more discreet than mine, I don't think you need to share right now, though you can obviously change your mind about that at any time. Doctor's appointments can be kept vague, and I found GREAT comfort in having a space where I wasn't treated with kid gloves.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:31 AM on January 6

I think your hesitation reasons are sensible ones and I'd stick with "no." You don't say what you WANT to do, absent practical considerations, so maybe you wish to be open with this. However I'd say that's contrary to your past policy of keeping your efforts under your hat.

It's really near impossible to know what kinds of things are lurking in people's brains regarding parenting and becoming parents. Your boss could be great in deeds but shitty in subconscious biases about women and parenting, and sharing your situation and plans could result in subconscious actions.

Why risk it? The doctors appointments, if your boss or anyone else even asks, you can simply shrug off as "somehow all these checkups seem to end up stacking up together" and drop it. If they pursue you make a face and say you don't like talking about medical stuff. If they push you pull a serious face and say "my personal medical matters aren't something I discuss," unless you work somewhere that (insanely) has a policy about requiring doctor's notes. In which case you get your GP to write a generic "necessary appointment" letter.
posted by phearlez at 9:56 AM on January 6

As a currently pregnant person, I ran through all sorts of similar (and this exact) scenarios in my mind, and my answer would be a definite "don't tell." I ended up waiting until almost 22 weeks to tell my boss (I was lucky to not show until a little after that).

As a boss (and, coincidentally, an employee benefits attorney), while I am totally sympathetic (and empathetic) and totally supportive of pregnant employees and employees with kids, dogs with special needs, and all sorts of life situations, I'd rather not know for the reasons above (I might subconciously - and sometimes unnecessarily if a pregnancy never happens - plan around someone who is trying, etc).

I'm so sorry for your loss.
posted by Pax at 10:34 AM on January 6

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