It's time we spoke openly about pregnancy loss and grief at work

We’re changing the way the world deals with death and that starts with breaking down stigmas around grief and pregnancy loss. We worked closely with Daye, who are raising the bar in women’s health, to talk about why breaking down the stigma starts at work.

This article discusses pregnancy loss and miscarriage and may be difficult for some readers.

More than one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage. That’s a quarter of a million women in the UK who are impacted by pregnancy loss each year. 

A miscarriage is defined as pregnancy loss up to the 24th week of pregnancy. Any loss after that point is known as stillbirth. There’s no right or wrong way to feel about pregnancy loss and it can happen under lots of different circumstances. Some people may miscarry early on, others may experience pregnancy loss further down the line. For some it could come as a total shock, and others may have been going through fertility problems for a while.

Earlier this year, the largest ever study into the impact of pregnancy loss showed that a third of women who go through a miscarriage will go on to experience post-traumatic stress. And yet despite pregnancy loss being such a common experience, it’s still a taboo subject which people don’t want to talk about.

At Farewill we’re working hard to change the way the world deals with death, and that starts with breaking down stigmas around grief, including pregnancy loss. We worked closely with Daye, who are raising the standard of women’s health by creating sustainable female health products to talk about why breaking down this stigma starts at work and how to tackle the taboo.

We also spoke to Dr. Suba Thiyagalingam, a women's health doctor training in obstetrics and gynaecology, about her thoughts on pregnancy loss and how workplaces can best support people through it. 

Dr. Suba says, “pregnancy loss affects so many people but remains shrouded in silence. It comes in different forms: from what point in the pregnancy it happens, to why it happens, to how it happens and the associated complications. The stigma around it is an unnecessary added stress”.

Pregnancy loss and our workplaces

A big part of breaking down the stigma around pregnancy loss starts at work

We spend most of our lives at work. And yet the laws around time off for pregnancy loss only apply to stillbirth. There’s no mention of miscarriage under 24 weeks. So if you’re one of the 250,000 women each year who go through pregnancy loss, or one of three women experiencing related post-traumatic stress, you have no right to the time and space you need to grieve. Your only options are to take unpaid holiday, or to use up your paid leave (like your holiday allowance).

In October, Labour MP Sarah Owen spoke about the impact two pregnancy losses had on her. After miscarrying at work during her first pregnancy, she said “I can’t believe in 2021 people are forced to take sick leave to process their grief”.

At the start of November she called on the government to extend paid bereavement leave to people who miscarry before 24 weeks.

Laws around compassionate leave urgently need to modernise

Earlier this year we ran a study around compassionate leave following any type of bereavement (not just pregnancy loss). It showed that 61% of people who had taken time off to grieve, said requesting the time off was a stressful experience. One of the most common reasons they gave was that they felt too overwhelmed by grief to consider how much time they actually needed. 

The laws around compassionate leave, and particularly around early pregnancy loss, urgently need to modernise to reflect the reality of pregnancy loss in our society and the impact it can have. As Sarah Owen said, women “should have the space and choice about how to grieve”.

Compassionate leave policy

We updated our compassionate leave policy to include miscarriage, and now you should too

In the UK, companies are not legally required to offer any compassionate leave. Companies that do allow compassionate leave prescribe when you can take it, based on a close family relationship.

This is often defined as parents, grandparents, siblings and children. But we know that life doesn’t always work like that - we experience grief caused by losing people who are not our immediate family. And we experience grief caused by pregnancy loss too. 

Earlier this year we broadened our policy to include compassionate leave for the death of any person who is meaningful to you. We’ve made it clear that if someone is important to one of our team, they’re important to us. We’ve included pregnancy loss of any kind and we haven’t defined “closeness” because that means such different things to different people.

We’ve extended our compassionate leave policy to include things like abortion, as we know that this can impact our work too (whether it’s time taken to go to doctor’s appointments or time taken to recover). We’ve also included partners and surrogate mothers. 

Use our template version to help define your compassionate leave policy

We’ve put together a template version of our compassionate leave policy, to give your company a framework to use when defining yours. Our template policy covers why someone might take compassionate leave, the reason we’ve not defined “closeness” and how many days you’re allowed under this policy.

Grief and pregnancy loss

Grief caused by pregnancy loss can impact every part of your life

Our work at Farewill has shown us that grief impacts everyone in different ways. Grief can be messy and all-consuming. It can be an unwanted visitor that turns up when you least expect it. Not everyone who will experience pregnancy loss will suffer grief. But speaking about the grief she experienced from her pregnancy loss, Sarah Owen said, “grief hits everyone differently but the one thing that is universal is that it takes time”.

This time last year, model Chrissie Teigan’s openness and vulnerability about her pregnancy loss, that left her in ‘utter and complete sadness’, began opening up the conversations around pregnancy loss.

Jessica Zucker, an LA based psychologist who focuses on reproductive health started the #Ihadamiscarriage campaign. We’re slowly seeing taboos being broken and communities being built around pregnancy loss, but there’s more we have to do to break the silence around grief.

Talking openly about pregnancy loss

It’s time to break the silence and start talking openly about pregnancy loss at work

Most people don’t talk about pregnancy loss because they’re scared of saying the wrong thing. Having a clear policy around compassionate leave that includes pregnancy loss is crucial, but breaking down the stigma and the culture of shame also starts with talking about pregnancy loss openly and honestly. As Dr. Suba says, “talking more about it, listening to those who share their experiences and understanding how commonplace it is will help tackle taboos”.

We've put together a guide for managers on how to speak to someone about

Our research from our recent study showed that 98% of those aged 18-24 found taking time off to grieve a bereavement stressful, with worries around career progression highest in this group. To help break stigmas around grief and open up difficult conversations, we’ve also put together a guide for managers on how to speak to someone in your team about compassionate leave. You can download the guide here or read our blog post about it here.

Dr. Suba also suggested that workplaces could have a trained individual to report to if someone is experiencing pregnancy loss (as well as a clear policy like our template version above). 

“Holding sessions to encourage conversation amongst staff on these issues is really powerful and often surprising. Employees usually already have feedback they can give on how their workplace can manage these issues better. It’s just a matter of having a forum where these suggestions can be made, discussed and taken forward.”

Here's how to support someone going through pregnancy loss

We worked with Dr. Suba to put together some ways you can support someone through pregnancy loss - be it a family or friend, a colleague or member of your team.

  1. Listen and be empathetic Be empathetic to the fact that everyone will be going through this in different ways; take your cues from the person who you’re speaking to. Language is important in being empathetic but sometimes you don’t need to say anything at all to be there for someone. Dr. Suba suggests opening up conversations around pregnancy loss by saying things like:

    “It’s never your fault. Take all the time you need.”

    “You can lean on me and on your support systems.”

  2. Offer help and do not ignore it People often avoid speaking about pregnancy loss because they’re worried about upsetting someone or saying the wrong thing. But offering help, especially in our places of work, can be important in helping someone feel supported and like they’re not going through this alone. 

    As Dr. Suba says “so much of our human experience is shared, there’s a sense of reassurance and validation to be gained from that and that’s why the sad experiences in life deserve as much airtime as the joyous ones”.

  3. Do not try to find a positive spin

    It may feel tempting to try to say something that feels uplifting, but Dr. Suba recommends not trying to find a positive spin. An example of this may be starting a sentence with “at least” or “on the bright side”. Finding a positive spin to something someone feels negatively about, can sometimes make people feel like you're dismissing their feelings.

  4. Do not overwhelm them with other stories of bereavement

    Pregnancy loss may sometimes end in grief, but for many people this won’t be the same as experiencing other bereavements or other kinds of loss. Don’t forget, there’s no one way to grieve or experience loss, and this experience may feel entirely different to anything you might’ve experienced.

  5. Give the person space to decide what’s best for them

    There’s no ‘best’ way to deal with things like pregnancy loss, and that should be reflected in how we approach supporting someone too. Giving someone the time and space they may need, and updating your company’s compassionate leave policy to reflect this in a practical way, will help give them room to decide what’s best for them.

    If you’re supporting someone at work going through pregnancy loss, make sure they know you trust them, with no questions asked.

    The burden often falls on the person who is going through one of the hardest times of their life, to ask permission to take time off. Our research has taught us that some people will not feel comfortable talking about things like pregnancy loss with their manager. Let the individual make the decision on how much time they need and how they want you to contact them.

What's next

We've still got a long way to go

There’s still a lot we need to learn and do when it comes to understanding pregnancy loss, grief and how we can best support people at work.

While we continue to learn about it and modernise the way we work to reflect the way people go through life, we’ll be encouraging more companies to update their compassionate leave policies. We’re also hoping to build on the resources and help we give our team and managers when they’re going through the process themselves. We want to make using our compassionate leave policy as easy as it can be, to take the burden off of people at a difficult time. 

We’re always open to feedback, so if you have any questions or want to chat send us an email at [email protected] or find us on Twitter.

Article reviewed

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