Chloe Henri was stunned when her employer told her she did not qualify for bereavement leave after losing her first pregnancy.
The Auckland civil engineer is part of a growing movement calling for an amendment to the Holidays Act to include miscarriage as a cause for bereavement leave.
For Henri and her husband Travis, the foetus they lost at 11 weeks in December 2015 was "a real child". She says her employer's "lack of support" was hurtful.
"Giving me three days' leave was nothing to them – it wouldn't cost them much but it's a gesture to show 'we're here to support you'."
Henri no longer works for the firm, and only agreed to tell Stuff its name on the condition it was not published. When contacted, the firm's director said he was unable to comment on the case.
We get three days bereavement leave when a child, parent, or partner dies - and some employers offer the same for pets.
But when it comes to miscarriages, the New Zealand law is unclear as the Act does not define "child", leaving it to employers to decide if they want to grant leave or not.
Otago writer Kathryn van Beek noticed the gap after she suffered a miscarriage in 2016 and has since rallied support for an amendment to the Holidays Act.
Labour MP Ginny Andersen heard the plea and submitted a member's bill to parliament in March, proposing to amend the Act to include miscarriage as a cause for bereavement leave. The bill was drawn last week.
It was Henri's first pregnancy – she has since had another three miscarriages and is now 26 weeks pregnant.
She found out the foetus had no heartbeat at a routine scan and took medication to trigger labour.
The drugs did not work properly and some pregnancy tissue remained, causing her to lose a lot of blood, become anemic and contract infections.
She stayed in hospital five times the month after the miscarriage and used all her sick and annual leave.
Her manager refused her request for bereavement leave, she says.
"I sat there, dumbfounded, for a few seconds."
Her husband's employer, Fletcher Construction, was more supportive.
They gave him three days' bereavement leave and hired a car for Chloe to go to medical appointments.
About 20,000 women have a miscarriage every year in New Zealand, with one in four pregnancies ending that way.
Van Beek says she has spoken to dozens of women through miscarriage support groups and found many did not get support from their employers after suffering a miscarriage.
"No one expects to have a miscarriage. In our case we'd picked out names, we'd painted the nursery, we'd seen the little heartbeat – we were completely blindsided when we lost the baby," she says.
"I was well-supported by my employer, but I was shocked to discover that miscarriage is not explicitly covered by the Holidays Act."
"Good employers" provide miscarriage bereavement leave, "but unfortunately not all employers do, and this is what the proposed change to the Holidays Act seeks to address," she says.
She received 66 messages of support from members of miscarriage and baby loss groups before she contacted Anderson.
Comments included: "Grief is the only word to describe what my husband and I went through. A year later and it still hurts. It is bereavement, and it should be recognised as such." "I am disappointed how the system treats women who are going through a miscarriage. It just makes an already hard process harder."
Andersen says she hopes there is strong support for the amendment.
"I've talked to a lot of women who have felt traumatised and unsupported by their employers."
Employment lawyer Kathryn Dalziel says women suffering a late miscarriage or having a still birth after the start of their parental leave can get the full 22 Government leave paid in full despite losing the child.
"The Parental Leave Act recognises that women might need that time to deal with the grief and recover. The Holidays Act hasn't caught up with it."
She says it's in an employer's best interests to grant miscarriage bereavement leave to build a "productive relationship".
"I was grateful to my employer when they gave me more than the required three days' bereavement leave when I lost a parent. I have felt very loyal to this employer."
Women and their partners who are denied miscarriage bereavement leave can raise an employment relations problem and ask to go to mediation to discuss the matter with their employer.
They can also refer the matter to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to see if they might talk to the employer about the meaning of the word "child", Dalziel says.
Written by Cecile Meier. Republished with permission of Stuff.co.nz.