“I knew, as I clutched my firstborn child, that I was losing my second,”-Meghan Markle (NY Times- The Losses We Share).
Losing a loved one will always be painful, no matter what the situation is. It does not matter if you saw it coming or if you did not. But for a mother who loses her child before getting the chance to meet them, there is a special kind of pain and sorrow. Those who have not experienced this pain before cannot understand the feeling of losing a pregnancy, or what comes after it.
After such a loss, many expect that things will back to normal for the parents relatively quickly. This is almost never true, especially for mothers who often see themselves as a reason for the loss. Mothers often experience feelings of shame, guilt, and reduced confidence as a result of losing a baby, and this translates into daily life and the workplace.
The struggle of returning to work
Imagine that after suffering a major loss, perhaps one of the biggest in your lifetime, you have to return to work and pretend like everything is normal. It can feel almost impossible.
Miscarriages (1-19 weeks along) and Stillbirths (20+ weeks) are stigmatized health issues, and they do not receive much attention from the working world. There is little discussion about it.
Employees who suffer a miscarriage often remain silent. They may still be suffering from symptoms, both physical and emotional, when they return to work. Some have even reported suffering the loss of a pregnancy loss at work without telling anyone.
The employee who suffered the loss is unlikely to bring it up due to the shame associated with a pregnancy loss, and the likelihood of breaking down (which is often labeled as unprofessional, no matter the reason). Other employees might not know what to say or fear the awkwardness of trying to bring it up and be a source of comfort.
The overall effect of the silence is often burnout, which interferes with the grief process and the employee’s work.
How can we help?
Destigmatizing the loss of pregnancy will be a huge step in making the workplace more friendly towards those who suffer the loss of a pregnancy. Employees need to be able to disclose the loss a pregnancy without repercussions. Providing training for all employees that includes dealing with pregnancy loss will go forward in promoting understanding.
Certain policies can be created to help employees who suffer this loss feel more comfortable at work. Some of these practices include accommodation. This can mean having counseling available for those who will need it. It can mean providing counseling resources and reminding your employees that they are available.
Many professionals are also recommending maternity or bereavement leave for these situations. Employees need time to heal physically and emotionally and providing that can be beneficial to both the employee and the company.
These practices will reflect the fact that one in four pregnancies end in loss and that it is okay to heal and talk about it before going back to “business as usual”.