By Elizabeth Hampson, Director, Monitor Deloitte
Last week, from 9th to 15th October 2021, it was Baby Loss Awareness Week (BLAW), which is now in its 19th year.1 The objective of BLAW is to raise awareness nationally about those who have been affected by pregnancy and experienced baby loss in the UK. This year’s theme is Wellbeing and throughout the week bereaved parents and their families and friends unite with others across the world to commemorate the lives of babies lost. In this week’s blog, our colleague Liz Hampson shares her personal experience with baby loss with the aim of increasing transparency and the support provided by employers.
What do we know about pregnancy loss in the UK?
Both miscarriage and stillbirth describe pregnancy loss. A miscarriage is the loss of a baby before the 24th week of pregnancy and is defined as a stillbirth thereafter.2 However, we do not know the full extent of baby loss each year as the Office for National Statistics only tracks live births, infant deaths and stillbirth. England and Wales recorded 2,429 stillbirths in 2020, with the stillbirth rate at 3.9 per 1,000 births.3 Other research suggests that miscarriage affects over one in five pregnancies, which makes over a quarter of a million miscarriages every year.4 The number rises to one in four if we include those who have not realised they had a miscarriage.5
Despite these substantial statistics, the subject is not widely spoken about, and people experiencing pregnancy or baby loss often encounter subsequent difficulty with their mental health. This includes increased risk of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, with the short-term national economic cost of miscarriage is estimated to be £471 million per year in the UK.6
My personal experience
One of the messages from BLAW that resonated most with me was the importance of talking and sharing personal stories. To support this campaign in breaking down stigma and creating conversations, it felt timely to share my personal experience. Over three years I had four miscarriages, and I know many people who have experienced similar, as well as worse challenges. My first miscarriage was early and comparatively easy to deal with. “At least you can get pregnant” people said, but with the second my optimism about having a family crashed and I experienced depression. Fortunately, I had been working on projects in the mental health space for a number of years by that point, so I knew where and how to seek support. I left work early every Friday to see a therapist, but many people won’t prioritise themselves, or can’t afford to, and so struggle without the support or network needed to cope day-to-day and to recover.
I then had a long period of infertility treatment and two further miscarriages. Initially I was quite private about the experience at work and only a small number of female colleagues knew. However, over time it was increasingly obvious that something was going on with my health and I started to share more widely. I experienced a lot of support from some colleagues and others going through similar outside of work, and the feeling of not being alone was tremendously helpful.
Miscarriage is very common, but despite increasing awareness it is still not widely spoken about, particularly at work. There is often a stigma surrounding the subject and not everyone will want to talk about their experiences or feel that they need help. I believe individuals should feel comfortable to talk about these issues at work and know they have employer support if required.
What actions are being been taken by employers?
It is great that employers are starting to recognise the importance of having a miscarriage policy. Many have recently announced extra support for employees who have experienced miscarriages. Over the last six months alone, a number of high profile companies have all introduced miscarriage policies within their companies.7 This includes paid leave for employees who have suffered pregnancy loss – whether that is miscarriage, abortion, or stillbirth, which is in addition to the provision of maternity rights after a pregnancy loss has occurred which is parental bereavement leave, Statutory Maternity Pay, Maternity Allowance and paternity leave.8,9
For Deloitte employees, there is an abundance of support through My Family Care's Speak to an Expert service which can address questions about care and dealing with emotional and practical issues – including managing baby loss at work as an individual, or as a team leader. There is also a confidential Advice Line that offers independent support as well as a Mental Health Champion to talk through any concerns.
How can we do more as individuals?
Not all employers have implemented such policies and by increasing awareness, more can be achieved. Individuals should feel empowered to speak up in their organisations and shine light on this subject that affects so many of us. There are many ways in which employees can do this at their individual organisations as shown in the figure below.
Source: adapted from the Miscarriage Association10
I welcome a future where we are just as open about pregnancy loss as other bereavement and health topics at work. I hope my experience can encourage others to step forward if in need and hopefully provide some comfort in knowing that there is plenty of support out there to help individuals through this challenging period.
1 Baby Loss Awareness Week – Let's break the silence around baby loss (babyloss-awareness.org)
2 Miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death – rights to time off and pay - Maternity Action
3 Provisional births in England and Wales - Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)
4 Background information - The Miscarriage Association
5 Miscarriage Statistics UK | Tommy's (tommys.org)
6 Miscarriage matters: the epidemiological, physical, psychological, and economic costs of early pregnancy loss - PubMed (nih.gov)
8 Working Families | Miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death - your rights at work - Working Families
9 4 companies offering bereavement leave for miscarriages | UNLEASH
10 A miscarriage policy - The Miscarriage Association