Miscarriage and the workplace: Victoria’s story
After two miscarriages, Victoria wrote some guidance for her Department.
I want to urge employers to put guidance in place to help people like me.
I’m a civil servant at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; I take pride in my work and take my career seriously, and it’s important to me that I feel valued for the contribution I make.
When I had two miscarriages at work I was confused and afraid, and my usual professional persona disintegrated rapidly. In the space of a few moments I went from planning what I wanted to say to my team in the next big meeting to feeling completely out of control of every aspect of my life. I just sat shaking at my desk, desperately thinking about what I needed to do but not being able to do anything but cry.
When, some weeks later, the haze of despair and grief started to lift a little, a thought struck me: what if the managers who had supported me through two of the most difficult times of my life, and who had played such a huge part in me returning to work as a productive and respected member of staff, were one-offs? There could be many people out there who, understandably, simply wouldn’t know what to do if someone in their team – male or female – loses a baby. That meant that the compassionate approach which had been shown to me, and which helped to motivate me when I came back to work, was not something which everyone could rely on.
So with the support of others in the Department, I wrote some guidance which offers advice to people who want to support team members who are experiencing the loss of a baby. It includes basic principles, such as what to do if a team member starts to lose their baby at work, what you should (and shouldn’t) say to them, and some practical advice on taking leave, in line with advice from the miscarriage Association, Sands and my department’s HR policy.
The first time I miscarried, I was physically in the office. It’s a very busy open plan building and at the time I led a large team – my hysteria was therefore very visible. My manager was fantastic in moving me to a quiet room where I could tell her what had happened, which gave me space to call my husband and for her to gather my things, switch off my computer and put out a bland message to my team, telling them that I had left to deal with an emergency. She also offered to call me a taxi so that I could get to hospital quickly.
The second time I lost a baby I was working from home and no-one could see my devastation. I called my manager to tell him what had happened; he asked me what I wanted other people to know, and made sure that I was either represented at the meetings I had scheduled or postponed them on my behalf.
Both times I was given the space I needed to start to recover, and was reminded of the emotional support services that I could access. Nothing will ever replace the babies I lost, but I will always be grateful to my employers for helping me at two of the darkest periods of my life.
I want to urge employers to put guidance in place to help people like me and to provide proper support to people who have lost a baby, so that helping people and making them feel valued becomes the norm rather than remaining an aspiration.