Hajek: Pregnancy loss bereavement leave can help workers heal


Samantha Hajek is employed by Delaware Department of State and resides in Frederica.

My husband, Jason, and I have been struggling with infertility for some time, but for the past two years, we have been in the emotionally and financially exhausting process of in vitro fertilization.

After two failed attempts, we learned we were finally pregnant in September 2022. We went to weekly ultrasound appointments and watched our baby grow and develop until we graduated from our fertility clinic at 11.5 weeks.

Less than a week later, on Nov. 11, I began to hemorrhage. We rushed to the emergency room and were told that the baby was strong and healthy and, once again, saw her kicking and moving around on the ultrasound screen. But the doctors were concerned about the bleeding and explained that things could go either way. I had a 7-centimeter fibroid that was pushing against my placenta. They discharged us late that night and, on the way home, I went into labor. In the early-morning hours of Nov. 12, I gave birth to our daughter at home at just 12 weeks.

The following days were filled with grief, doctors’ visits, a hospital stay and a trip to the funeral home. My supervisor at my state job proactively reached out to Human Resources to find out how much bereavement time I was entitled to in this situation. Much surprise to both of us, pregnancy loss did not qualify for any bereavement leave.

I had plenty of sick time to cover the 75-plus hours I took to recover from the emotional and physical trauma of the loss, but hearing that my loss didn’t qualify for even a day felt like someone kicked me while I was down. It felt like her life didn’t matter.

After many discussions with my department, HR and state legislators, Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Bellefonte, and Sen. Nicole Poore, D-New Castle, introduced House Bill 65 — named the “Sloane Hajek Act of 2023” after our daughter — which adds pregnancy loss to bereavement leave for state employees.

Through these important discussions, I learned that legislators and other state employees were equally shocked that bereavement for pregnancy loss did not already exist. Sadly, I believe the reason for this is that most women don’t talk about miscarriage. In fact, many women feel shame associated with miscarriage, as if the loss is their fault. I know this because I felt these feelings of shame and failure.

I am still grieving the loss of my daughter and searching for the courage to try again, but the past several months have also been spent advocating for other women who have experienced loss. On June 30, Gov. John Carney signed HB 65 into law. I am grateful that none of my fellow state employees will ever have to wonder if their loss qualifies for leave or if they have enough leave to cover them, as they process the emotional and physical trauma of pregnancy loss. Sharing our story in such a public way, over and over, was painful, but it brought meaningful change and helped me to grieve when I needed it the most.

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