Peter describes the emotional impact of his and his wife’s recurrent miscarriages and how attitudes at his workplace only added to his distress.
As loss followed loss, I reached rock bottom.
Switching jobs is always ranked as one of life’s most stressful activities. Having decided to embark on a new chapter in my career at the end of 2018, there was a mixture of nerves and excitement as I prepared for a brand new challenge. Then our world came tumbling down.
I’ll never forget the day when we lost our first child. I just felt numb; overwhelmed by a sense of confusion, anger, fear and pure devastation. In truth I think something broke inside me that day. The events of December 2018 sent me into a spiral of anxiety and depression that was a recipe for disaster as I began my new role in January of the following year.
I made the decision to tell my boss of our loss in the early stages of joining the company. I made it clear I didn’t want it to affect my work, but that there was a chance that we may be absent for tests or further medical treatment if required. In truth, my boss he was a good guy and sympathised. That was encouraging, but it soon became clear that no matter how supportive he wanted to be, this particular organisation harboured a culture that just wasn’t equipped to support me.
The workload was intense and the pressure was constantly on. I found myself drowning – miserable and stressed at work, anxious and depressed at home. By the time we suffered our second loss I was completely knocked for six. My work life had me completely on edge and at times I had no idea what was causing me more angst. When events at work stressed me out, I’d start to feel guilty that I wasn’t thinking about the loss of our child. I felt awful for having the audacity to panic about anything as trivial as work, and that in turn dragged me down. To top it all off, there was a tremendous sense of guilt that I was causing my wife more pain and stress at such a difficult time, as she was all too aware that I wasn’t myself anymore.
I knew something had to give when, as I waited in hospital for my wife to have surgical management for our second loss, I found myself worrying about work and working away on my laptop as I waited for news. It just wasn’t right. Again, the company made supportive noises – but were incapable of backing it up. Literally within the space of five minutes I’d receive a sympathetic e-mail, before opening a follow up moments later demanding further work or adding deadlines. I was in work the next day to ensure nothing was missed, whilst my partner lay desolate at home.
As loss followed loss, I reached rock bottom. The lowest point came when I called a meeting with my line manager to discuss a series of concerns about a project we were working on, but found myself breaking down in tears. I’d never shown so much as a flicker of emotion to work colleagues in 12 years of my career, but I just lost it that day. I could see the shock on his face. It was at that point I decided to hand my notice in, despite having barely been in the job six months.
The decision didn’t go down well in some quarters of the company and I was practically ignored by some of the senior staff in the coming weeks, which did nothing but justify my decision. If any further validation was needed, I had to call a series of meetings to confirm arrangements for my departure – such as notice period and annual leave. After a series of administration errors I had to push hard to receive the correct allowance of holiday.
One day, one of the owners took me aside to say he was rather surprised I was causing such a fuss about my annual leave, given how supportive they’d been about my ‘personal issues’. I was furious. I pointed out that I’d had three days off for four miscarriages. I’d worked in hospital waiting rooms, and after my partner suffered our fourth loss in work – we met up on our lunchbreak to hold each other before heading back to our respective offices. Other staff members had taken more sick days for colds. I couldn’t believe their insensitivity.
I was lucky enough to quickly find further employment, at an organisation that couldn’t be more different when it comes to pastoral care and mental health awareness. It’s given me plenty of time to reflect on what went wrong throughout 2019, and what could have been done better.
First and foremost, I believe companies should be proactive. At times I was repeatedly asked ‘what do you want us to do?’. But in truth, I was so low, so devastated, I couldn’t think straight. I needed someone with proper training to point me in the right direction, and help lead me to a better place. On a similar note, actions speak louder than words. A sympathetic note or a kind word mean absolutely nothing if you’re piling on the pressure, or sending snotty e-mails a day later. I was willing to work hard, but I needed to be treated gently at my lowest points.
Perhaps if I’d suffered the loss of a family member, or a loved one had fallen ill, the reaction would have been different. I certainly think that the ignorance that surrounds miscarriage contributed to my situation. Nobody could comprehend the pain and suffering that it had caused. This likely combined with my gender. In many eyes, baby loss affects only women. The first thing many people did was ask after my partner; I was usually the afterthought. I completely understand the unique torment that women go through when losing a baby, but the toll it takes on men should never be underestimated.
Ultimately, workplaces need to receive training and education to allow them to properly support staff who suffer something as terrible as miscarriage. Until that happens, I fear my story will be all too common.
Peter’s wife Julia had a very different experience at work. You can read her story here.