TRIGGER WARNING: BABY LOSS & MISCARRIAGE.
By Lucy Cutter, Head of Planning at Kinetic & Bloom President 2021.
This week marks Baby Loss Awareness Week. An opportunity to bring together those who have experienced baby loss and provide a time and place to share their experience, offer support and highlight that they are not alone.
It wasn’t until my first miscarriage 3 years ago that I realised the extent of how unfortunately common this is. But it’s not something that we often talk about, especially not in the workplace. Often seen as a taboo subject from years of social conditioning where people suffer in silence.
Now it’s time to turn the dial. Hopefully this blog will be my attempt at talking around the stigma of baby loss through my lived experience, and my tips and advice to break the silence of baby loss in the workplace. If you take anything from this blog, please just review the policy within your business (whether you have experienced loss or not) and ask whether this provides the necessary support for your employees.
Here are the statistics shared from the charity, Tommy’s:
- 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage
- 1 in 100 women have 3 or more miscarriages in a row
- 2.6 babies are stillborn each year (that’s 9 everyday)
- Miscarriage rates are 40% higher in black women.
In the last three years I have suffered three miscarriages. Each experience was very different, with the last one happening only a few weeks ago. The first was a missed miscarriage, the second a chemical miscarriage and the third being another missed miscarriage after a long journey with assisted fertility. The latest was without a doubt, the most mentally and physically gruelling due to several failed procedures to remove the gestational sac (I had 2 x medical management doses, a failed MVA and then finally surgery which happened on the third attempt at booking me into theatre). These failed procedures combined with the hospital Covid rules of not allowing my husband by my side was incredibly tough.
When I experienced my first miscarriage, I was in such a lonely and isolating place. I never thought it would happen to me and I felt a huge amount of guilt and grief around my own body for not being able to carry a baby to full term. But as soon as I started opening up and telling people I became part of this amazing network and community of women, all connected through one thing and that’s baby loss. This blog isn’t about wanting sympathy or pity, but about raising awareness and driving change.
Here are my workplace learnings:
Everyone’s experience is different
One person’s experience will be very different to anothers. Therefore, do not have any judgement or expectation on how the individual going through their loss should behave. Each situation and experience is completely unique to that individual.
It’s also true that grief isn’t linear and can show up at any time and place so please don’t think that once someone has returned to work that they are recovered.
To tell or not to tell work
The statistics around women not wanting to share their loss or wanting their company to know they are trying for a family in fear this will affect their career or pay rise is scary. The truth is, if this is the way the company behaves then it’s not a progressive company that you want to be part of.
I am lucky in that Kinetic, where I work, have been incredible and have allowed me the time off that I need. For me, working was a huge struggle. I lacked concentration, was disengaged and exhausted. Telling work took the added worry of stress and the feeling of not being able to cope away from the day to day. It allowed them to take the pressure off me and to give me some space when I needed it.
Its ok to feel vulnerable and take time out
I find it really hard to step away from work, and I found it much harder this time around to accept that I wasn’t coping and needed time out. I felt weak and didn’t want to leave my team in the lurch and felt guilty for wanting the time out. However, I talked it through with several people in the business and two comments stuck and allowed me the time:
- “Work isn’t important right now; you need to concentrate on you. You are the priority at the moment”
- “What would you tell someone in your team”. Of course, this would be for them to take time out and concentrate on themselves
Talking (and listening) helps
Talking really helped me. It was hard to start with and I know this doesn’t come easy for everyone. It’s important to create a psychologically safe and open environment and acknowledge that its ok to talk if that person feels they want to. Also, I can’t stress and encourage enough the skill of active listening. Really listen to how the individual is feeling which will give you an idea on how to support them which I’ll come onto later.
Don’t know what to say?
Not sure what to say? Afraid you may say the wrong thing? This is fine, a natural and common worry of many whether in the workplace or not. The importance here is to educate yourself, read up on baby loss and listen.
A couple of suggested dos and don’ts around bereavement
Do say “I’m so sorry for your loss” / Don’t say “I know how you feel”
Do say “Can I help with…?” / Don’t say “Is there anything I can do”
Building a support network helps
Understandably not everyone wants to share such personal information, and that’s fine. However, don’t underestimate telling your story to another person and receiving their support as you explore your emotions and grieve. I am very lucky that I have built a wonderful network around me at Bloom, Kinetic and amongst my friends and family as well. My husband has also been a huge support and don’t underestimate the impact this has on those closest to you.
Within the workplace, it’s important to create a safe culture which allows people to speak out. This can be done by creating an empathetic workplace, which provides thoughtful and kind leadership.
Check your Policy
Policies are an interesting one for me. Everyone is different and I strongly believe that having a policy with a set number of days is just part of the conversation. It takes away the added pressure and worry about asking what it is, but I believe that there is a need to be flexible and really listen to the needs of the employee and work with them on what is right for them. So have one in place for both men and women but leave the conversation open to be adapted when needed.
I’ll leave you on this quote from Michelle Obama which really resonated with me. Hopefully by sharing my story and experience with Kinetic will show what a difference having an empathetic and inclusive workplace means on those going through baby loss now or in the future.
“When we share our stories, we are reminded of the humanity within each other. And when we take the time to understand each other’s stories we become more forgiving, more empathetic and more inclusive.”