by Emma Walker, Committee member of The Miscarriage Association of Ireland
Given that 1 in every 5 pregnancies in Ireland ends in miscarriage, most workplaces will have on their staff women and partners that are being or have been affected by miscarriage.
Some of these will have had ectopic, molar or chemical pregnancies, early, middle or late miscarriages. Some people will have experienced multiple pregnancy losses (recurrent miscarriage). Some will have had experienced loss while trying to conceive through assisted fertility treatments.
Pregnancy loss is a unique type of loss, a deeply personal experience. It can be uncomfortable to talk about at work but it is necessary in order to look after the welfare of employees. It also helps create a culture whereby other employee’s know it is something that is acknowledged and discussed in your workplace.
Women, and partners will need varying amounts of time off after a miscarriage. This will have been dependent on how they are grieving which is different for every person and also how they were treated medically for miscarriage as there are different treatment options.
Things to consider in the immediacy of a miscarriage
- Start by actively listening and answer any queries from your employee with sensitivity. This will reassure them that you will handle their loss with care.
- Ask open questions. ‘How are you?’ instead of ‘Are you ok?’
- Allow for expressions of emotion and for silences.
- Allow time for verbal responses.
- Show empathy, understanding and support – by asking ‘How are you?’ ‘What can I do to help you right now?’ ‘Is there any piece of work /project that needs to be dealt with while you are away?
- Continually take their lead in terms of the language they use about their loss and allow for change in terminology as they go on after the loss. Example: Notice how the employee refers to their loss, baby/it/he/she/pregnancy.
- Check in with the employee about how they want their loss to be communicated to colleagues: Some may not want anyone else at work to know, some may want just one or two close colleagues to know or for everyone to know.
- Decide together when and how you will communicate while they are on leave from work, text/call/email.
- Helpful things to say – These can validate a person’s loss of their baby
“I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“I can’t imagine how difficult this is. I’m so sorry.”
“Please let me know if there is anything you need.”
“I’m not sure what to say but I’m so sorry”
Unhelpful things to say – These can diminish the person’s loss of their baby.
“She’s an angel forever now”
“You can always try again.”
“At least you can get pregnant.”
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“Look on the bright side’, you’re fit and healthy”
“It was probably for the best.”
“ He’s with God now, in a better place”
“At least it was early on.”
Leave during & after miscarriage
You will need to refer to your employee policy for compassionate and/or sick leave so the employee is clear about any entitlements or benefits (if any) and is also clear about expectations about return to work.
Impact on Manager
The supervisor or Manager may have experienced pregnancy loss. It is important they avail of any support themselves during this time. It’s important to note that every experience of a pregnancy loss is unique to the person, both physically and psychologically.
You may wish to send a card or card and flowers simply stating you are sorry for the employee’s loss. Their wishes about who in work will learn of their loss will determine who any card or gift is from.
The initial return to work
When it is decided that the employee is returning to work it may be appropriate to contact the person prior to their start date in line with employer protocols.
Using open questions find out the employee’s wishes on return to the office:
Check in to see have they changed their mind about how their loss can be referred to by colleagues when they return.
Establish whether the employee wishes to return on a phased basis or previous work hours.
Establish whether any changes need to be made in relation to the person’s role or work duties due to their recent loss, if even for a phased time.
Discuss supports should the employee become upset or overwhelmed while working: Buddy system, protocol should they need a little time to themselves – where can they go, who should they tell etc. Do consider informing the employee of any recent pregnancy announcements in the workplace. This is one of the more obvious triggers in for a person who has miscarried or for a partner of a person who has recently miscarried.
Respect their wishes by way of what’s communicated to other employees.
If anyone needs to be informed such as Human Resources, or Occupational Health inform the employee and explain what’s likely to happen.
Make sure they know who else they can talk to – share any details of your EAP Employee Assistance Programme, workplace counselling, counseling through private health insurance, occupational health, or other support. You can share the Miscarriage Association of Ireland information too if they have not heard about it. www.miscarriage.ie.
Back to work – moving forward
Organise a time to check-in with the employee. This will reassure them you have not forgotten about their loss and grief and it will allow them an opportunity to bring any issues that may be impacting on their work. Ensure the employee is aware they can come to you in the meantime (open-door policy) or signpost to another particular person as appropriate.
Try and not make assumptions about what the employee may or may not be agreeable to or interested in because they are grieving. Eg. staff outings etc. By continually being supportive and open in your communication style the employee will feel comfortable coming to you.
Be cognisant that there will be days such as Mother’s Day, Father’s day, expected date of birth of the baby lost, when the employee may be more sensitive. Grief after miscarriage like any grief can comes in waves.
Creating a supportive workplace culture
Any discussion, training, introduction of, or change to company policies or protocols helps reduce stigma in relation to miscarriage in the workplace. It encourages people to open up about their experience and support others. This in turn creates a healthier workforce. Check www.gov.ie to keep abreast of updates in any legislative changes regarding miscarriage.
For more information on types of pregnancy loss please see miscarriage.ie