How to talk to HR about pregnancy loss, know your rights and support others...
Nothing a person says can ever take away the shock, numbness, and grief that comes with miscarriage, but there are plenty of things a woman (or her partner for that matter) might hear at work that will make things feel worse. As CEO and co-founder of miscarriage support service The Pink Elephants Support Network, Samantha Payne has caught wind of them all.
“We know women who’ve disclosed [their miscarriage] in the workplace and been met with [dismissive] comments like ‘oh well, at least it happened early’ or ‘at least you know you can get pregnant’. That happens every day,” she says. “It only takes one person to say the wrong thing to make a woman feel so invalidated and disenfranchised that she will never speak about it again. That’s dangerous because when we don’t speak about the experience, we’re more likely to develop anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress.”
But the tide is changing. On August 31, Australia’s federal senate passed an amendment to the Fair Work Act that guarantees women who’ve suffered loss in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy – and their partners – two full days of paid leave. This new Leave For Loss act, the culmination of three years of lobbying by The Pink Elephants, makes Australia one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise early pregnancy loss as legitimate bereavement. (Right now, neither the US nor the UK have a similar workplace law in place.) “It validates that miscarriage is real grief and women and their partners need access to bereavement leave to be able to start that grieving process.”
“ It validates that miscarriage is real grief. Women and their partners need access to bereavement leave to be able to start that grieving process ”
Given up to one in four pregnancies in Australia ends in miscarriage – equating to around 300 women every day – the amendment is long overdue, but that doesn’t mean sharing a deeply personal situation with your boss or HR manager is any less daunting. “Fertility treatment and miscarriage are still things people speak about in hushed tones to friends let alone employers,” says Samantha. “We assume that if we let work know we’re trying for a baby, they’re going to overlook us for a promotion. They can’t legally do that – we are protected by the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 – but we also know what happens in practice and policy are two different things.”
You may prefer to not tell HR about your fertility treatment journey or miscarriage, but rather experience it privately with the help of organisations like Samantha’s. “But if you think it would be a good thing for your workplace to know so that they have more understanding and compassion, then go in armed with information.” Better still, send a link to The Pink Elephants in the same email and ask them to review it before you catch up. “That way you’re setting up your people leader to have a better understanding, rather than just asking for five minutes and kind of blurting it all out, which is what often happens with topics like this. Give them time to understand what you’re going to tell them and you’ll often find you’re met with beautiful empathy.”
If what you’re met with is far from beautiful or empathetic, then please know you’re not alone. And help is close at hand from support services like Pink Elephants. “We’ve heard stories of women crying in bathroom stalls at work or presenting in board rooms whilst bleeding heavily [during miscarriage]. I know one incredible woman who is a high school teacher and was having what’s called a missed miscarriage – where she knew the baby had passed away in the womb, but she was waiting for it to pass. One of her roles was to take students away on excursions, and rather than take leave and grieve her experience, she had to take her students to a family theme park and experience the miscarriage there. There are so many of those stories, that’s just one of the thousands I’ve heard.”
Unfortunately, there are still no leave provisions in place for women navigating the equally tempestuous journey of fertility treatment. “But for women who’ve used all of their holiday and sick leave to endure IVF, then lose the pregnancy before 20 weeks, having two more days of legitimate leave to begin their grieving process is essential.”
HOW TO TALK TO HR ABOUT YOUR LOSS
Request a meeting and include a link to The Pink Elephants Support Network website. Tell them you’d be grateful if they read the information there before your conversation.
Have a clear plan in your mind of what you want to explain during your conversation.
Take the two days you’re entitled to. It is the start of an important grieving and recovery process.
Don’t blurt things out in the hallway, staff kitchen or knock on your boss’s door unannounced.
Don’t be scared. You’ll find the majority of people managers will respond with empathy and understanding.
Give up if your workplace meets you with a lack of understanding. Contact The Pink Elephants who can approach your workplace on your behalf.
HOW TO RESPOND IF SOMEONE SHARES THEIR MISCARRAIGE PAIN
“Whilst one in four pregnancies end in loss, that means that three in four don’t,” notes Samantha. It’s sometimes hard to understand the pain of miscarriage if you’ve not experienced it, but how you respond can deeply impact that person’s recovery. “Just remember these three pillars: validation, empathy and connection. You validate by acknowledging their loss as a loss; we don’t minimise it. Then you provide empathy and understanding – a safe space for them to feel like they can share and you’ll listen. Then you connect them into support such as The Pink Elephants.”
For support or more details on The Pink Elephants’ Fertility in the Workplace campaign, visit pinkelephants.org.au
If you’d like to explore your options for fertility treatment, visit www.genea.com.au