Often when I receive Teacher Secrets, they contain heartbreaking information regarding pregnancy loss and infertility in the workplace. These teachers share their stories of miscarriage or loss while still having to teach full-time with little support.
In this post, Jackie Mancinelli shares her own story of loss while teaching and the creation of her organization, Start Healing Together,
Pregnancy and Loss while Teaching
I was a new hire at my school when I became pregnant for the first time. Feeling pure joy, I sipped ginger ale and discretely touched my belly, excited at the life growing inside of me. I dreamed of announcing the news to my high school students.
When I learned that I had a missed miscarriage, I returned to work the next day. I pretended that nothing had happened, and I was worried about what it would look like if I took a sick day so early in my tenure.
The following September, my dad died unexpectedly. I was finishing baking a batch of peanut butter cookies, preparing to leave for the gym when there was a knock at the door. The sweet smell of cookies wafted through the air as I collapsed on the floor.
My husband drove me to my parents’ house, and as he drove, I created lesson plans for the substitute I would need while I took bereavement leave.
Later that school year, I lost my newborn son, Richard, after an emergency delivery at 33 weeks along. As I sat in my hospital bed, recovering from surgery, I graded assignments on Google Classroom.
Nearly three years later, I sat in the NICU, watching my youngest daughter lay in her isolette. We were told that we were not allowed to hold her, but we could sit in her room. I took out my laptop and read one of my first emails: “Mrs. Mancinelli, congratulations on your baby! I have a question about my grade…”
I looked at my laptop and then at my newborn baby then thought, What am I doing?
Person First, Teacher Second
When I became a teacher, I had heard of “teacher burnout,” but I was sure that it would never happen to me. I was young and energetic, and I was willing to give everything to my work.
This meant money, sleep, weeknights, and weekends were all gone. It became part of my weekly routine to grade late into the evenings and lesson plan all day on Sunday.
When I struggled to build my family, my work became even more of my identity. I never wanted to think about my miscarriage, so I dove into my grading. As a high school English teacher, there were always papers to grade.
When my dad died, I was in complete shock. The only thing that felt normal was to create lesson plans. When I returned to work, I dove into my grading again. So when my son died, what else could I do? My arms were empty, and I felt numb. I went back again to the one thing that was always there﹣my work.
When I reflect back on these losses, I shake my head at that woman. I want to grab her by the shoulders and tell her that none of it matters﹣the lesson plans, the grading, the emails, the meetings. What mattered was her. But my identity was a teacher first and everything else second. I had allowed my life to be consumed by my work. I was a successful teacher, but at what cost?
My husband and I split our time between the NICU and caring for our older daughter at home. There was no time for anything else but my family, and that was exactly what I needed. I was forced into reprioritizing everything in my life.
Once I put myself first, I was able to see my work for what it was﹣a job. It was then that I looked back on my losses and wished I had asked for more support.
Start Healing Together
In February 2021, I launched my organization, Start Healing Together. We support educators experiencing pregnancy loss and infertility in the workplace.
Because this job expects self-sacrifice, there is often a sense of guilt that goes along with family-building. We worry about our students when we have to schedule doctors’ appointments or take days off from work to recover from a procedure. We worry about our colleagues having to cover our classes when we are unexpectedly absent. Start Healing Together aims to create a workplace that not only supports educators in their family-building journeys but also encourages them to put themselves first.
Support for Grieving Teachers
Throughout my own personal experiences with loss, I could tell that my administrators, colleagues, and even my students felt uncomfortable around me. No one knew what to say or how to interact with me. No one knew how to support me. Oftentimes, they chose silence.
Start Healing Together wants to create an environment in which everyone﹣from administrators to union officials to coworkers to students﹣to have the necessary tools to support a grieving parent.
It is incredibly rare to find a contract that includes bereavement language for pregnancy loss or failed fertility treatments. There is no protocol in place to break the news of a pregnancy loss to staff or students. There are no established steps to take when a staff member returns to work after a loss. Instead, teachers are expected to either keep the loss of their child a secret or put on a fake smile and go right back to the classroom.
Infertility in the Workplace
Start Healing Together is here to change all of this. No staff member should feel alone when they are at their most vulnerable and experiencing infertility in the workplace. Schools are expected to be safe communities for our students, and they should be the same for all of us.
Have you experienced loss or infertility in the workplace while teaching? Feel free to share your story or thoughts in the comments below, or reach out to Jackie at Start Healing Together for support. If you wish to remain anonymous, you can Submit a Secret or start a conversation in our Vent Forum.
Jackie Mancinelli is a high school English and ESL teacher in New Jersey. She is the founder of Start Healing Together, an organization dedicated to supporting educators experiencing pregnancy loss and infertility. She is also the New Jersey Ambassador for Count the Kicks. Follow Start Healing Together on Instagram and Facebook, and check out their website. To learn more or start a chapter at your school, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.