The path to parenthood isn’t always a smooth one. Some may experience a smooth ride to parenthood, while others may have to navigate rough terrain, and overcome enormous obstacles. Sadly, some may never reach their destination.
Fertility can be a long and trying journey. Over time, the stress and mental toll can start to have huge impacts on those going through the process.
For workplaces, your support at this time is crucial, but knowing how to support your people at this time can be really difficult.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that every single day in this country there are 282 miscarriages, five still births, and two infant deaths under the age of 28 weeks. Given the prevalence of pregnancy loss, employers and HR managers need to be aware of the issue and mindful of some of the ways it can potentially affect their employees.
Pregnancy loss can take many different forms. Miscarriage refers to the loss of a baby up to and including the 19th week of pregnancy, while stillbirth is the loss of a baby from the 20th week of pregnancy onwards. Bear in mind that loss can also be experienced as a result of an unsuccessful fertility treatment cycle, or when all avenues for pregnancy have been exhausted.
Pregnancy loss can often manifest itself in a variety of symptoms of emotional and physical strain.
These may include:
Managers should also be aware of the logistical challenges that grieving parents may face during recovery.
These may include:
In addition, there are also specific workplace concerns relating to pregnancy loss. Some people may not have told colleagues they were pregnant or trying to conceive. Others will be unsure about how to inform their manager, colleagues or clients about their loss.
The far-reaching consequences of pregnancy loss can impact your employees’ workplace performance and affect their mental and physical health. But what can you do support your employees through this difficult time?
Ensure policies explicitly cover perinatal loss, and that this is clear and easily accessible to everyone. Avoid having a “ask your manager for the policy” situation as the grieving parent may not yet be ready to discuss their situation. In addition, educate your organisation about pregnancy loss, explaining what support is available to those impacted, and how they can support their colleagues.
Recovery takes time and is not linear—some days will be better than others. There is no ‘set’ amount of time a person takes to grieve. Ask what leave they need and be prepared to be flexible as their needs change. Be aware that some people will want to keep busy as part of their recovery—they may not wish to take leave.
If EAP services offer counselling to immediate family members, remind them of this service for partners and other children. Close co-workers and managers may also benefit from EAP counselling.
If appropriate, prepare a return-to-work plan. You may consider a range of options including temporary part-time hours, gradual transition back to regular work, compressed hours or another option your employee requests.
Ask your employee what communication they would like, and what they would prefer to do themselves as opposed to having it done for them. They may, for example, prefer you to inform their colleagues or clients about their loss to spare them having to repeat the same conversation numerous times.
Remember: it may be necessary to discuss this more than once as and when it becomes necessary or appropriate.
If possible consider some form of financial assistance, for example, contributing to expenses, funeral costs, vouchers for childcare to provide grieving parents some time or even vouchers for meal delivery to help in this difficult time.
As pregnancy loss often isn’t openly discussed, your employees may face uncertainty regarding their leave entitlements. Parents dealing with a stillbirth or infant death can currently access six weeks of unpaid leave where they have already commenced their parental leave.
Under new legislation, parents of a stillborn baby, or in the case of infant death, are entitled to 12 months of unpaid parental leave. In addition, special maternity leave may be available for eligible employees not fit for work because the pregnancy ends in loss, within 28 weeks of the expected date of birth.
Parents dealing with pregnancy loss may also be unfamiliar with their legal or financial obligations.
Our team are here to help navigate this transition. All our sessions whether virtual, over the phone or face-to-face are conducted by registered psychologists specialising in pregnancy loss.
We can offer a tailored approach to help best support employees at this time, through dedicated one-on-one sessions, and team leader support.
For more information, head to our pregnancy loss and fertility support page.