Pregnancy loss can come in many forms, with each having the potential to be equally as upsetting. Some of these are embryonic pregnancy, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, and stillbirth. Most of the time these losses could not have been prevented, yet they can still leave behind feelings of guilt and anger, which can take a long time to work through. This, along with other factors, can hinder a person’s ability to go back to work after the loss. Therefore, pregnancy loss policies are starting to be adopted by companies in support of their employees during these distressing times and to help them to be in a better position mentally to come back to work.
With approximately 1 in 4 pregnancies ending in miscarriage, it is not surprising that there is becoming a real focus on supporting women in these difficult times. The recovery time for the physical side effects can take anywhere between a few weeks and a few months, so continued support from family, friends and a person’s workplace is so important. Some of the symptoms can include, but definitely aren’t limited to, bleeding, cramping and abdominal pain. With all this in mind, it is no wonder that women sometimes can’t dive straight back into work after a traumatic experience like this.
Not only are there the physical effects that pregnancy loss has on a person, but there can also be a huge impact on mental health. In a study that compared 492 women that suffered pregnancy loss with 87 women with healthy pregnancies, it showed that those that suffered early pregnancy loss almost one in five had PTSD, one in six had anxiety and one in twenty had depression. These side effects also continued to be common for another 9 months following the loss. To validate these findings, a larger study of 2,823 women who had miscarriages, found that around 15% experienced clinically significant depression and/or anxiety during and after pregnancies for up to three years. This demonstrates not only the importance of implementing workplace policies, but also the amount of time they should provide support to women. Moreover, this can feel like a very lonely time and create a sense of guilt or failure, even though the chances are this could not have been prevented. This can then exacerbate depression and/or anxiety and become an even more isolating experience. Therefore, it is not only the length of time a person needs to physically recover that must be considered, but also mentally.
Currently, if you have a miscarriage before 24 weeks, you will not be entitled to maternity leave, paternity leave or shared parental leave. However, if you are not well enough to work, then you can take sick leave which must be handled in the same way as sick leave for a pregnancy-related illness. This will then allow you to receive either contractual sick pay or Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), however this may only be for a limited amount of time. Another alternative is compassionate leave which will be decided by your employer. You can find out more about paid miscarriage leave here.
As there is not a great deal of support in law for women suffering through pregnancy loss, miscarriage policies are becoming more frequently adopted. Policies also allow both managers and employees to feel clear in their rights and responsibilities.
There are some features a miscarriage policy ideally contains, these are:
If policies aren’t put in place by employers, women can feel pressure to return to work as soon as possible, despite this maybe not being the best decision for them physically or emotionally. If this does happen, it could lead to further health issues, for example, they might not feel comfortable enough to ask for time off for doctor’s appointments or to speak to a counsellor. Ultimately, this could also lead to them leaving their job if they do not feel they have been supported or that the company is having a negative impact on them. Alternatively, if they do choose to take time off sick, this may not be enough money for them to live on and can increase any depression or anxiety they may already be feeling.
You can find more information on what to include in a pregnancy loss policy with this example from the Co-op.
In addition to creating a policy that shows clear responsibilities of the company, there are also many things that employers can do to help their employees. Providing access to counselling services will be extremely valuable in helping a women’s mental health during this time. It will not only help provide coping mechanisms, but it will also help them to feel less isolated and alone if there is someone that is really listening to them. Allowing flexible working hours or remote working will also help ease them into work without having the anxiety of having to face work colleagues. This will be greatly beneficial for some as they may have a fear of having to explain what happened or be asked if they are okay.
It is also important to create a safe environment in the workplace. This may include educating managers and co-workers about pregnancy loss and how to help someone that is grieving. This will allow the person to feel comfortable enough to come into the office or talk about any worries they have. Alongside this, it is beneficial to have plan in place for returning to work in these incidences, including whether that be a phased return with less hours or with less duties to start with.
With so many women unfortunately suffering from a loss at some point in their life, it is vital that employers treat these times delicately and effectively. No one wants to be going through this and whilst it might not take all the emotional and physical pain disappear, the way they are treated during this time could make a big difference to their recovery time. Therefore, no matter what plans or policies are put into place, the biggest priority is to listen to the employee and make them feel acknowledged and safe.