(location and names changed to protect privacy)

The Story

A while back, I was doing some work at an organization in London. I had arrived at the premises early, as the organizer wanted me to accommodate some changes to the day’s programme. I headed for the admin office to collect my paperwork.

The office was buzzing with people coming in, grabbing a coffee and continuing their tasks from the day before. Phones rang and there was a general buzz of a day getting off to its usual start. 

The office manager greeted me with a wide smile and ushered me to a quiet lounge space in the corner where I could read over the revised schedule and accommodate new plans.

‘Coffee?’ she asked. I shook my head with a smile.

Relieved that I declined her offer, her smile broadened as she dashed back to her desk where 101 other more pressing jobs awaited her. 

The printer was reloaded with paper. The ink cartridge in the photocopier was replaced as call after call came in.

 ‘It’s Anna for you’ a voice called across the office space to the manager.

‘Ok’ she nodded and smiled before sitting down. There was the usual exchange of pleasantries before the expression on the manager’s face dropped. Whatever it was, Anna was not relaying good news. 

There was a lot of slow nodding and real look of worry and concern became her dominant facial expression. The call ended, and the manager placed her head in her hands, took a long deep breath and then silently bit her lower lip in deep contemplation. The office was still in buzz mode, just as it had been before Anna’s call came in.

A courier, who had just arrived left, and the manager asked for the office door to be closed and for all phones to be turned off for 2 minutes.

‘I just got off the phone to Anna,’ she announced. 

Smiles were exchanged across the room.

‘We all know how excited she has been about her pregnancy, but sadly she miscarried yesterday evening.’

All energy in the room vanished. It was like the battery that was powering the place had just been removed.

‘She will not be in for the rest of the week. She has asked that we respect her privacy and not call her. Agreed?’

There was a response of silent nods.

‘She has asked that when she returns, we do not talk about it. She has requested that you treat her as you usually would. Thankfully, none of the other staff know, so the line is, she has a bug, so there should be no issues there. Any questions?’

Silence.

‘Business as usual, okay?’

The response came in a series of silent nods. As someone knocked on the office door, phones were taken off silent.

It was the first time I had witnessed the breaking of such news at work. Suddenly, an efficient workspace seemed vulnerable. Calls, paper and protocol fell away.

The reality

How miscarriage is dealt with in the workplace needs a policy to ensure that it supports the trauma in the best way possible.

As Clare Foster, a freelance worker with the Miscarriage Association notes,

‘Everyone needs clear information on rights and responsibilities—ideally within a miscarriage policy. Awareness-raising can help prevent insensitive comments.’

Tom Bourne, professor of practice (gynaecology) at Imperial College London, alerts us to another issue in this area: post-traumatic stress disorder. 

PTSD can occur up to a year later. In a recent post of HR magazine, Bourne says how this ‘requires specific treatment and women should be given time for this, while employers may consider helping financially to provide it.’ He also notes that ‘in the event of stillbirth women can claim maternity leave but for miscarriage this is not the case. This “all or nothing” approach is unreasonable given that our work shows losing a baby is hugely traumatic irrespective of gestation.’1

Life is precious. Our people are precious. That is why time and effective policy need to be in place with support systems ready to activate. 

I dedicate this post to the lady referred to as Anna and to the office manager who handled the situation with compassion and clarity.

For further support and information, contact The Miscarriage Association.

Reference

  1. Bourne, Tom. HR magazine. “Hot topic: Early-stage pregnancy loss, part two”; https://www.hrmagazine.co.uk/article-details/ hot-topic-early-stage-pregnancy-loss-part-two; Accessed 12 February 2020.

#policy #ptsd #miscarriage #childloss

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