Helping Someone at Work
Returning to work can be challenging for a woman who has just experienced a miscarriage. Your workmate/employee has been through the physical birth and death of her baby. In addition to grieving that loss, she will also suffer the discomfort of going through a major re-evaluation of the control she thought she had over her life. These two sources of grief (the baby and the life she thought she was about to have right now) both need her attention in order to resolve them.
People with the best of intentions often get support wrong, not because they don’t care, but because they don’t understand. The response from mates and the boss are really important for your colleague’s healthy recovery – see ‘Helping someone after a miscarriage’ for ‘Things to say and do’ and importantly ‘Things not to say & do’. (Even those of us who have experienced a miscarriage do not necessarily get it right.) If she finds people around her are disappointingly unsupportive or behave in an upsetting or hurtful and dismissive way she may feel she needs to put on a brave face. This just makes dealing with her grief more difficult as trying to keep strong feelings under control is exhausting and distracting and her work will suffer.
Planning her return to work may help to make things easier. She needs to take time to consider her options, think about the intensity of her grief and its unpredictability, any medical attention required and her ability to cope with her work and surroundings. She may wish to take sick, maternity or special leave until she is better able to cope physically and emotionally. This may need to be negotiated with the boss. It would be a good idea at this time to have a discussion about what plans she had made, and may still have, so everyone is clear about the implications this has for the work place.
For most women, we have found it can be really helpful to confide in one or two trusted work mates. If you are reading this, you would probably be one of them or a sympathetic boss. Her wishes about ‘how she would like her miscarriage handled by her colleagues and the support she would like to receive from them’ can be discussed and a plan created. Being one of her supporters, you can make sure that it is carried out for her e.g. she may not want to talk about what has happened, initially anyway, and want to be treated normally and/or ask you to speak for her. As she begins to adjust to her loss, she needs to feel free to change her mind, and the plan, at any time.
She may be very vulnerable for a while and often not react as you are used to seeing her, including being angry. Some women even think they are going mad as the emotional roller coaster of miscarriage grief is often unacknowledged and undermined in the community. Her often unexpectedly strong and erratic feelings may seem unjustifiable. Encourage her to read our website and share with others who have similar feelings. Anonymity is often useful there.
Just knowing you are there acknowledging her grief helps her to cope. Your empathy is very precious and she will never forget you. This is a life changing time in her life and you make a difference.
NB Sometimes there is a delayed reaction to grief even 3 to 6 weeks later. As a friend it would be helpful to keep an eye on her, even if she refuses anything you might suggest when she first returns to work. She could change her mind.
In New Zealand ‘The Human Rights Act 1993’ covers the rights of Pregnant Workers. If you need information, call the ‘Human Rights Act’ Helpdesk on 0800 496 877.