‘I lost my baby – then had to go back to my desk’
New Zealand’s new initiative to launch a special compassionate leave is key to breaking the taboo around miscarriage, says Louisa Pritchard, who navigated her own devastating loss in silence…
I vividly remember my commute into work just hours after having a miscarriage. The train carriage was rammed as always but I’d somehow managed to get a seat. Yet as I sat there, with my head leaning against the glass, numb with grief, a heavily pregnant woman got on wearing her shiny ‘Baby on Board’ badge. A badge that, just a few days earlier, I’d made a note on my phone to apply for (on a memo I’d excitedly named ‘Our baby!!!’). Jumping up, I made it on to the platform before breaking down, walking the last mile while desperately trying to stop the tears. Losing a baby – even an early loss like mine (I was nearly nine weeks) – is devastating. Yet when you’re at work, there is no time to grieve. One moment you’re pregnant, sitting at your desk and secretly Whatsapping possible baby names to your husband. The next that life you were carrying has gone. But you’re still at your desk, answering emails, having meetings. All on autopilot, just waiting for the waves of utter loss to come crashing over you – before running to the office loos before anyone sees your tears. Which is why I think the new bill being considered in New Zealand to give women – and their partners – three days of ‘miscarriage leave’ should also be introduced in the UK. This paid leave to grieve the loss of a baby would cover a miscarriage at any stage of pregnancy and, according to New Zealand MP Ginny Andersen, would bring the ‘taboo subject’ of miscarriage into the open. With one in four women in the UK experiencing a miscarriage in their lifetime, this can’t come soon enough.
While I worked in an incredibly supportive office, I hadn’t told anyone I was pregnant. And thanks to the shroud of silence around miscarriage, there was no way I felt able to announce, completely out of the blue, that I’d just had a miscarriage. Yet if we’d had laws in place such as those New Zealand is proposing, that’s a conversation I could have had.
I was lucky that I didn’t need to go into hospital and wasn’t in any huge physical pain. In the UK, if you lose a baby any time before the end of your 24th week of pregnancy, you’re entitled to sick leave and standard sick pay if your GP agrees it’s required. Otherwise, it’s
up to you to ask your bosses for compassionate leave or a period of annual leave or unpaid leave after a miscarriage – something they don’t have to agree to. Currently, there is nothing in place in UK law to cover the emotional toll of a miscarriage. A bill is currently being considered here, too, to allow parents who have lost a child under the age of 18, including stillborn babies, two weeks’ paid leave. MPS supporting it include the SNP’S Patricia Gibson, whose baby was stillborn at full term, who said a fortnight was ‘not very long, but given that currently there is no entitlement at all, it offers a start’.
‘It is well known that many women experience severe physical pain and often serious psychological harm as a result of miscarriage, so the current laws are inadequate in recognising the support and recovery time that some women need following a miscarriage,’ says Jane Brewin, who is chief executive of charity Tommy’s. ‘ We hope this will change in due course, and in the meantime employers need to be sensitive to allowing women time to recover following a miscarriage and empathetic and supportive in their return to work. We also encourage women to be open about the reason for their absence from work.’
Not every woman who has a miscarriage will want time off work. Yet for those who do, it could be the time and space needed to at least start to grieve.
It wouldn’t only have helped me. My husband Ian was also left to cope with his grief in silence at work. Like me, he hadn’t told anyone I was pregnant. And his devastation was just as great as mine.
We’d been trying for a baby for three long years (I had a very low egg reserve and high levels of natural killer cells, which made implantation almost impossible), so my pregnancy in 2011 when we were both 35 had felt like a miracle. I can’t even explain the utter joy I felt at seeing a positive line on a pregnancy test when for years there had been nothing. And then, just like that, it was gone.
I wrote about my miscarriage in Grazia a few years ago: how I’d started having cramps at my desk and miscarried in the office toilets. It was – and still is – the worst day of my life. After the article was published, I was inundated with messages from other women who’d been through a similar experience. One who’d started bleeding on her train to work but still went in and did her presentation. She said she simply didn’t know what else to do. Another who’d just had her third miscarriage and hadn’t told anyone, least of all her colleagues because, like me, she felt it was just something you weren’t supposed to talk about.
But just because it’s hidden – from friends, from workmates – doesn’t make it hurt any less. While three days’ leave from work isn’t going to take the pain away, it will give you some much-needed space to begin to mourn the baby you never even had the chance to meet.
Woman who miscarried 'stunned' to learn she did not qualify for bereavement leave
TIME OFF WORK COULD BE THE SPACE NEEDED TO AT LEAST START TO GRIEVE
New Zealand MP Ginny Andersen