I have a colleague who has not been answering an email of mine for two weeks. I know that this person is expecting a baby around now (or maybe slightly before the present date).

I would like to know how they are doing (for work reasons, as well as curiosity), but it strikes me that I would only be able to handle the answer "it went fine".

I am not a very close coworker of this colleague. So I'm hesitant to ask because if the truth is that they lost the baby, I would prefer not to bother him with questions.

Any ideas how to resolve this?

  • 1
    If you could clarify your question a bit for me: You're calling the co-worker 'he' , does that mean I may assume you're talking about the father? How sure are you the reason they're not at work has to do with the pregnancy?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Jan 24, 2018 at 21:50
  • And, can you add maybe a little more detail on those work-related reasons? Is there stuff you need to plan, where you need to know whether you can expect him or not?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Jan 24, 2018 at 21:54

3 Answers 3


It is not appropriate to ask (especially in an email) how the birth went. As you pointed out, you may not want to know the answer. To continue to be sensitive, you have three appropriate options:

  1. Seek information from other co-workers. Do you have an administrator or someone who might have information on your colleague's status? If so, avoid asking about the specific status of the colleague's family, because that's private. But you can ask whether he can be expected to reply to emails.

  2. Wait. If the email you sent does not require an immediate response, or if you can find someone else to help you, do that.

  3. Send an email to your colleague that indicates you are aware of his general situation, sympathetic to whatever he may be going through, and willing to accept whatever help he is able to give (as in Forklift's answer). Even the most favorable outcome of a healthy birth leaves your colleague with a newborn to adjust to.

For the record, the death of a fetus before 20 weeks gestational age is miscarriage; if your colleague's partner is near their due date, the correct term is stillbirth. But keep in mind that the window of term birth is plus-or-minus two weeks, so it's possible the baby hasn't come yet, even if the due date has passed.


As a general rule, don't ask about health. If there's bad news, they're likely not happy to think of it again, and if there's good news he wanted to share with you, you'd have likely heard from him by now. I would recommend something like:

Hi Bob, hope everything is going well for your family! I think you missed an email I sent you a couple of weeks ago. It's not a high priority but if you get a minute to look at it or know someone else who might be able to answer it that I should send it to, let me know!

This says a few things to Bob:

  1. You are aware of his important life event and are showing care/concern
  2. You are not suggesting that your work question should take precedence
  3. That he missed a responsibility when work should have been a higher priority
  • 1
    This starts out really well but ends in a weak place. I definitely support point #1, I'd stay away from point #2, and point #3 is the the last thing I as a new parent would want to hear. New parents are sleep-deprived and very busy taking care of a new person; work can wait. Jan 24, 2018 at 18:12
  • @baldPrussian OP and Bob are not best friends. OP wants work information while still politely acknowledging the family event without getting too personal or suggesting that a work email is more important than childbirth. I believe my answer addresses all of those issues. There is certainly room for more than one approach, so feel free to suggest an answer as well :)
    – Forklift
    Jan 24, 2018 at 18:17

You can and should inquire about work responsibilities if they are time sensitive and involve you. Keep it professional since it doesn't sound like you are particularly close and you don't want to delve into possibly bad news anyway. It would be good to say something generally supportive, express your hope that they are doing well at this busy time.

They are not likely to keep good news secret, apart from possibly being too busy to immediately inform everyone. Be patient and you'll surely hear all of the details soon enough.

But as you don't want to hear possibly negative news about the birth you shouldn't push or pry any more than asking for an update about strictly work matters + offering a generally supportive message. If you must slake your curiosity more then see if your co-workers have more information. Or possibly try phoning the hospital (if you know which one) and ask for a general update anonymously.

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