During a fertility journey, it is possible that the unthinkable may happen – a miscarriage. They are a common part of trying to conceive, and yet they are rarely spoken about.
Pregnancy loss is one of the most difficult aspects of a fertility journey. One in four times a pregnancy will end in miscarriage, and this figure is estimated to be higher because so few people report their loss.
Despite such a common occurrence, there is a huge taboo surrounding miscarriage, and this has seeped into all aspects of society. It can be lonely, isolating, and the lack of emotional and physical support can have long term effects.
So, it is no surprise that workplace after-care for workers suffering from a miscarriage is minimal for most people, all over the world.
What is the bigger picture?
1 in 4 pregnant people miscarry, and 1 in 100 suffer from recurrent miscarriage. The effects of these devastating losses are not isolated to the individual, but are felt throughout society, and one of these areas is in the workplace.
The lack of paid leave is detrimental for multiple reasons; principally the health and welfare of the individuals involved with the loss, but also the productivity of the workplace.
Mental, physical, and emotional health is affected by miscarriage, and this can affect the capacity of the individual at work.
This is a huge gap in workplace care.
If workers are suffering emotional and physical trauma, how can they be expected to produce quality work?
Part of the difficulty with getting workplace care is the stigma surrounding miscarriage, and the possible trauma involved when speaking to an employer. It’s difficult to identify if a change is needed unless people say that it is.
Many people could feel like they are unable to speak to their employer for fear of the possible consequences. If employers were more upfront about their policy and open about their support for fertility issues, perhaps people would feel more comfortable reaching out for support.
What’s the deal with New Zealand?
A year ago you may have heard about a new law in New Zealand which implemented paid bereavement leave for workers who suffer loss. This ground-breaking change, passed in March 2021, sparked conversation on a wider scale about the nature of paid leave after miscarriage and how organisations can better support people on their fertility journey.
While 3 days is not nearly enough to heal from a miscarriage, it certainly goes some way to improving the situation for workers. It signals that miscarriage is a loss felt deeply and requires official recognition and time to heal.
India, the Philippines, Mauritius, Taiwan Canada and Denmark all have varying laws which include paid leave after miscarriage.
What’s the deal with the UK?
In the UK, workers currently get statutory maternity leave after suffering a loss at 24 weeks, but there are no similar protections for losses before then.
It’s a bleak picture. There is no legal requirement for sick pay due to miscarriage. Without any legal requirement, companies are under no obligation to support those suffering a miscarriage, and this could result in many receiving no support at all.
However, the situation is slowly changing. As a forward thinking female led start up it was one of our key considerations when forming employee contacts. Having personally experienced the struggle of juggling fertility treatment, pregnancy loss and work we would now like to ensure all of our employees feel supported in the workplace. Other companies who’ve made public statements on paid leave include Channel 4, Monzo, and LADbible. With companies such as these taking the next steps, it remains to be seen what could be possible if more universal support were introduced.
The taboo nature of miscarriage has a detrimental effect on the workplace. Professionals are expected to maintain their work schedules, deadlines, quality of work, and professional manner all while suffering the many traumas of miscarriage. Depression, irritability, physical ailments, grief, anxiety, and memory loss are just some of the possible outcomes. Introducing work-related stress to a miscarriage compounds the trauma and reduces the ability of individuals to heal. Added to this, work health is affected, and this has an impact on the wider economy at large. Recent research found that the economic cost of miscarriage in the UK was £470 million per year. With such an astronomical cost, how can we ignore the need for better post-miscarriage support?
What can be done?
When considering the options, there are steps people can take if they do not have paid leave.
Start off by talking to employers about taking some time off. This can be done if it is recorded as pregnancy-related sickness or compassionate leave.
If this is not possible, then discuss a flexible working arrangement. While there is no requirements for flexi working for miscarriage, every employer must provide adequate adjustments for disability, which includes mental health.
Speaking to a GP is a good way to get help securing a flexible work arrangement for mental health support. It is important to understand that grief is very different day-to-day, and therefore a flexible work arrangement may help people go back to work in a way that works for them.
Finally, its important to understand that no one has a right to know about an individuals miscarriage. Many keep their miscarriage completely confidential, partially confidential, or not confidential. Some people may find speaking to their employer and colleagues helpful in their healing process, and others may choose to go through it privately.