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One in four UK parents lose a baby, but widespread stigma creates lack of support.
As we recognise International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, charity Tommy’s have released new research showing that half of bereaved parents had nobody at work acknowledge their loss or ask how they were and only a third felt able to talk openly in the workplace about their experience. Three in five said their boss didn’t know what to say or do to support them, and four out of ten couldn’t have the time off they needed.
British MPs are currently discussing pregnancy loss policy changes, but baby loss campaigners argue this should be merely an opening gambit in the way we talk about this issue.
Currently, parents who lose a baby after 24 weeks of pregnancy are entitled to maternity and paternity leave, but Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research found that 34% of bereaved mothers and seven per cent of their partners had symptoms of post-traumatic stress a month after the loss, which could persist even nine months later.
David Mackay from London had to combine paternity and bereavement leave when his new-born son passed away and went back to work a month later.
“I didn’t really feel ready to go back to work and it was very hard to leave my wife at home alone with her grief when I went into the office,” he says. “My managers did their best, but didn’t really know what to do or say, and over time the support dropped off.
“If you’re physically at work, it’s assumed that you’re okay, but grief doesn’t just disappear; mine is like PTSD, I have to keep from spiralling. Losing my son so abruptly created a lot of anxiety and guilt, which can spill over into my work and leave me struggling where I previously wouldn’t. You can have a policy for time off, but the person who comes back will never be the same, and they need long-term help like someone dealing with a lifelong health condition.”
New Zealand passed a miscarriage leave Bill earlier this year, while Asos and Channel 4 have recently announced pregnancy loss policies. Former health minister Jeremy Hunt has said all employers should voluntarily offer bereavement leave to anyone who loses a baby at any stage.
The new research found 96% of respondents would like to work somewhere with a pregnancy loss policy, although only seven per cent currently did so.
Tommy’s is a national charity working to reduce the UK’s unacceptable rates of miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth. It also provides training and guidance for employers is partnering with organisations across the UK like Santander to improve workplace support throughout any pregnancy and parenting journey.
“We want people from all walks of life to feel valued and thrive, so we’re determined to be a supportive workplace for every parent, no matter the circumstances,” says Santander UK’s family and carers network Executive Committee sponsor Louise Shield. “We’ve got to be there for staff during important life events like pregnancy, and support can’t drop off if that sadly ends in loss.”
Adds Tommy’s CEO Jane Brewin, “We spend so much time in the workplace, they should be open and supportive communities, where we can share things with our colleagues and ask managers for help if needed. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution for such deeply personal experiences, so knowing what to say or do isn’t easy – but saying or doing nothing is worse. It’s great to see high-profile discussions of how best to support people through baby loss, but any policy change needs to be part of a wider culture shift.”