Julia describes the emotional impact of recurrent miscarriage and how the support of her employers helped her through that journey.
My office become a ‘safe haven’ for me.
Back in December 2018 my husband and I suffered our first miscarriage. We had enjoyed just a few days on cloud nine after seeing a positive pregnancy test before our world came crashing down. It was only a couple of days before Christmas and thankfully I wasn’t due back at work until early January.
I manage a small team at my workplace, but as a company we have multiple sites across the UK. It was therefore easy for me to come into work and not tell any of the team. The only people at work who I told were two close friends who worked at other locations. This meant that my office became a ‘safe haven’ for me, a place that I could get on with part of my life as if nothing had happened.
By February 2019 I was pregnant again and decided to tell my manager early on, partially as I was experiencing bad morning sickness, but also so I could be honest about our first miscarriage and the anxiety I was feeling. Whether it was the rawness of it all, my hormones, or both – I’m not sure… but I cried as I told her. She was amazingly sympathetic and supportive but also kept the conversation positive instead of focusing on the miscarriage itself.
In April we had a private scan booked for when I was 10 weeks gone. We simply couldn’t handle waiting until the 12 week check, we had to know our baby was OK. It was bad news. There was no heartbeat. Our hearts were broken again.
That evening I let my manager know that I wouldn’t be in the following day, as we were due to go to the Early Pregnancy Unit to have the miscarriage confirmed. I didn’t have the strength to ring her, so just sent a text explaining what had happened. She told me how sorry she was, not to worry about work at all and that whatever I needed she would support me. It was short and simple and certainly didn’t need anything else being said.
I had to have surgical management for this miscarriage which was organised for the following week. If I had the choice I would’ve been in work the following day, purely to keep my mind occupied, but it was compulsory to rest for at least 48 hours. My manager pushed for me to take the week off, but I didn’t want to. I needed that safe haven. I needed to act like everything was OK even though it wasn’t. She agreed to me being back in work but reiterated that if I changed my mind it wouldn’t be a problem at all.
It was about a month after our missed miscarriage that the national senior managers were visiting my site. I was aware that they knew about what had happened but hadn’t spoken to any of them about it. The National Operations Director spoke to me in person, but tactfully waited until no-one else was in the office. He offered his condolences and reiterated what my manager had previously said to me with regards to supporting me however they could. I cried; I still wasn’t in a place to talk about it without crying. Later that day my manager told me that the Operations Director felt bad for upsetting me and was worried he had done the wrong thing. From my perspective he definitely did the right thing. He showed he cared about me as a person and an employee, he offered support and I fully respected him for having what probably was a slightly awkward conversation for him.
We had our third and fourth miscarriages in June and July. Each and every time this happened to us my work asked me ‘how can we support you?’, but also made suggestions they thought might help, such as taking time off work or seeking mental health support. It wasn’t just lip service either – every so often my manager would check in with me to see how I was doing and to check if I was coping being in work. I was never made to feel as if taking time off was a problem, or that things should be back to normal straight away. I feel very fortunate to work for a supportive company and especially under a manager that I could talk to and be open with.
My experience at work was positive, mainly because they were supportive, acknowledged what had happened but didn’t make judgement and let me explain what worked best for me. Everyone will handle their miscarriages in different ways, there is no ‘one size fits all’ and my company certainly championed that.
Was I one of the lucky ones whose line manager was the compassionate type? Or was it that my employer knew how to handle my situation sensitively? Some might say having a female manager helped things, but in reality the male senior managers also showed compassion and support. Would my employer have been just as supportive if it was my husband in my place? I truly believe they would have because they believe mental health is just as important as physical health.
My husband and I went through an incredibly difficult journey together, but my employers supported me which helped get me through the trauma. I saw first hand that my husband had a completely different experience which made those dark days that much harder.
You can read Julia’s husband Peter’s story here.