How to return to work whilst coping with baby loss?

None of us wants to imagine what might happen if our longed-for baby doesn’t arrive in the way we had hoped. How does one return to work whilst coping with baby loss?

Pregnancy loss affects one in four women. This frightening statistic includes miscarriage (up to 14 weeks’ gestation), late miscarriage (loss between 14 and 24 weeks’ gestation) and stillbirth (loss after 24 weeks’ gestation). Whilst we may think that most of these losses are miscarriages, six babies per day are stillborn in Australia. Because this number is so high there is a very real chance either you, your friend, your sister or your colleague may experience pregnancy loss.

When pregnancy loss occurs, pain and grief are guaranteed, regardless of the number of weeks you are. Returning to work can be a harrowing experience for parents who have lost a child. Team members, managers and colleagues can also need support when a parent loses a child.

Here are some tips for if this happens to you or someone you know, and how you can manage the return to work process.

Baby loss, returning to work and you
If you lose your child, my deepest condolences are with you. As a mum who had a stillborn baby, I know too well the agony and grief that comes when a child dies. So here are some suggestions of what to do:

  • Contact (or have someone else contact on your behalf) your manager or a trusted colleague to let them know what has happened.
  • Consider whether you want the people you work with to know about your loss or not—it’s a personal choice whether you share, and how much or how little. You may want their support, or you may prefer to grieve and process privately.
  • Take enough time to process your loss. Grief is exhausting and it can take several years before you feel completely back to yourself. Even then, there will always be little part of you that mourns your child.
  • It is highly encouraged and recommended for you to consider seeking the help of a trained counsellor.
  • Speak to your manager ahead of returning to work to ensure the work will be suitable and help them understand what support you may need.
  • Upon your return to work, be aware that certain times of year will be hard. Christmas, the anniversary of your baby’s birth/death, Mother’s and Father’s Day, other birthdays. Plan for these days, and request leave if necessary.
  • A graduated return to work can help in certain circumstances.

Providing support for someone you know
When your friend/colleague/ team member returns to work:

  • Acknowledge the loss and their grief.
  • Say, “I’m so sorry for your loss”, even if you don’t have anything else to say—offering this sympathy goes a long way.
  • Don’t say, “You can have another.” That is one of the worst things to say.
  • Do use the child’s name, if you know it, when speaking to the bereaved parent.
  • If you feel you can, offer support in the form of being available to talk if/when they feel like it.
  • As a manager, let them know if they’re having a tough day to simply let you know (not in a performance management way, more in an ‘I’m here for you’ way). As a manager, be aware that after significant loss such as death of child, parents can be not fully present at work for up to two years. They will perform their role, but possibly their heart may not be in it.
  • Remember certain times of year will be hard—Christmas, the anniversary of their baby’s birth/death, Mother’s and Father’s Day, other birthdays, so be flexible and understanding.

Written by Rowena Mabbott, founder of JoyHopeLove

Rowena Mabbott is a life coach, writer, speaker and consultant. Through her coaching practice JoyHopeLove, she works with women who have experienced a transition point (such as the loss of their child) to help them gain clarity and confidence, and rediscover the joy in their life. You can learn more about Rowena on her website. You can also connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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