‘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…

Grazia (UK) - - CONTENTS -

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


New Zealand MP Ginny An­der­sen

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