Baby Loss Awareness Week - Working Through Miscarriage

Equality - 11 Oct 2019

To mark Baby Loss Awareness Week 2019 GMB Political Officer Sarah Owen writes about why we should talk about miscarriage more openly.

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My first miscarriage happened at work, almost a year to this day. The irony that this happened during Baby Loss Awareness Week was not lost on me. I was in the middle of a meeting when the discomfort started - so I nipped to the loo, to see spotting.

I knew that if my worst fears were true, there was nothing I could do to stop what was happening that early in my pregnancy. I came back, snuck my phone out and booked a scan for after the meeting. Not a single person in that room had any idea what was happening. I gave my presentation and fielded questions as if it was any other day.

Women do miscarry in public and many do just carry on, they just shouldn’t feel they have to - Fleabag showed this reality in a brilliantly frank fashion. While on the surface I was managing, the inner reality was that, in that moment, my heart was torn in two - one half desperately wishing for a miracle and the other half devastated by the certainty that the scan was going to confirm my worst fear. And it did.

Six months later, another significant day for women - International Women’s Day - and I shared with friends and colleagues that I would be attending a cremation service for another miscarriage - our second. We had become pregnant again and found out that they were twins, but sadly these little lives didn’t make it outside my body either. It was devastating.

While great advances have been fought and won for women in the workplace, miscarriage is still not something that is easily talked about.

What followed was unbearably hard but made easier by the wonderful people working in the overstretched and under-resourced NHS, my GP and staff at Newham and St Mary’s hospitals. They were without fail kind, professional and understanding. After finding out the babies were no longer alive, carrying them inside was really hard and the little bump is no longer a comfort but a reminder of how your body has failed.

I’ll always be grateful at the speed in which I was seen, but those days in between knowing and saying goodbye were the worst. I tried to go back to work, and, for one day, I think I pretty much nailed it, until I sat in a meeting with another pregnant woman. I was glad her baby was thriving but seeing her bump was a brutal reminder that, inside me, mine were not.

That’s when I knew work wasn’t going to be an option for me for a while. I am lucky to have an understanding employer, and to know that I’ll be judged on the merit of my work, not on anything else. But in the darkness of the moment, I even doubted that and myself. I can’t imagine how a woman in insecure work or a sexist organisation would deal with it.

While great advances have been fought and won for women in the workplace, miscarriage is still not something that is easily talked about. After I shared my own experience, I discovered that lots of women I know have miscarried. Statistically, one in four pregnancies end this way.

We should, if we can, talk about miscarriage and baby loss more openly.

Sick leave for miscarriage is protected by law in the same way as sick leave for a pregnancy related illness and shold not count towards an employee’s sickness record - yet not all of my friends had told work, or took time off. Some lied about why they were off - said they had flu, or a cold, or took annual leave.

For many it was their choice, as they didn’t want to share the very personal pain. But for others the fear was how it would impact their career progression or how their management would respond, and it is these women who need better protection and support in the workplace. Women should be entitled to time off if they need it, without punishment or using up precious leave.

The whole process is - with and without any procedures - physically painful, not just emotional. I thought it might be like a heavy period - no, it was the worst pain I’ve ever felt. I am no stranger to pain but it could be best described as being electrocuted in the stomach, while being savaged by a bunch of rabid badgers. It was also not over quickly.

The way my union dealt with it should be the norm and not extraordinary. Which is why we should if we can, talk about miscarriage and baby loss more openly. I recognise I speak from a position of privilege and relative safety - I am in a secure job with supportive workplace policies. But I wanted to share my experience publicly, because if we don’t, the stigma, fear and awkwardness remains, with women (and fathers) continuing to suffer in silence.

For any employers reading this, the Miscarriage Association has a simple guide on how to support workers and for any workers, my advice will always be to join a union.

Miscarriage Association guide

Sarah Owen
GMB Political Officer

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