Women in Health & Safety
Baby Loss Awareness Week: ‘Review your bereavement leave policy and consider signing up to the Pregnancy Loss Pledge’
SHP speaks to Jyssica Murphy, Divisional Heath, Safety & Environmental Manager at Redrow Homes, about her experience of miscarriage and how opening up to friends, family, colleagues and her employer helped her to deal with her loss. Jyssica also provides advice to employers and employees on how support a colleague who has experienced a loss.
Jyssica has worked in Health & Safety for 10 years, and has been in her current role for just over a year. She was formerly involved in arranging a charity event for male suicide prevention charity CALM. In 2018, she was named SHP’s Rising Star in Health & Safety, for her desire to develop awareness of health, safety and wellbeing outside of her job’s remit.
This interview is part of a series for Women in Health and Safety. As a member of the committee our goal is to amplify the voices of women in the profession. Some of the topics covered affect women more than men. Some are deeply personal. It’s our belief that we bring our whole selves to work and therefore should be able to talk about all sorts of issues that affect us, day-to-day, in a work setting.
Two things have struck us throughout this series. 1) We all have so much in common. 2) People are often very willing to open up, if they’re given a safe opportunity to do so with someone who is willing to listen without judgement. So, our hope is that issues discussed in this series resonate with readers, perhaps making some feel less alone, perhaps even giving some the confidence to share their own stories. We also hope readers will be encouraged to check in on colleagues, talk about the whole selves we bring to work and be there to listen.
Read more from this Women in Health & Safety interview series.
In 2018, Jyssica and her partner Carl, who she has been with for 10 years, fell pregnant with their first child. They learned the news eight-and-a-half weeks into the pregnancy and, naturally, were excited and began making plans for their new arrival, sharing the news with friends and family.
At 12-and-a-half weeks, Jyssica was notified to attend her NHS scan. At this stage, there were no signs at all that anything was amiss. “Everything was as it should be. I was starting to feel a bit nauseous, was suffering from pregnancy sickness and was just generally quite tired.”
Jyssica said that the nurse who was carrying out the scan was quite abrupt, almost to the point of being rude, which didn’t create an overly relaxing or calming environment. Having completed the scan, Jyssica was told that she must have her dates mixed up and that she can’t be 12 weeks pregnant.
Reaffirming to the nurse that the dates married up and that she’d had a private scan at eight-and-a-half weeks, a second opinion was sought. It was on the second scan that Jyssica was told that there was no longer a heartbeat and that her baby had stopped growing at nine weeks.
The couple were then left alone, shocked and upset, and told that someone would be in to see them to discuss next steps. When someone did finally return, the experience become even more upsetting and confusing. “Considering that I thought I was 12-and-half-weeks at this point, we were handed leaflets that were talking about being 24+ weeks pregnant and guidance about what happens if you lose the pregnancy at that stage. It all felt very unorganised and very unsympathetic.”
When presented with the correct literature, Jyssica was given a couple of options to manage the next steps. “I decided to go down the surgical route, which meant a general anaesthetic and going for a procedure that took a couple of hours and then obviously, recovery. Because, at this point, my body hadn’t recognised that the pregnancy had failed, the chances of it dealing with it itself were quite low.”
“When we rang to talk this through, I was upset at the terminology being used, they were using words like ‘termination’, and I had to say, ‘hang on, this isn’t a termination, it’s a miscarriage’. Jyssica made it clear that she is by no means against termination, but it’s not what happened in her situation. She felt the use of the term was quite insensitive. She also requested a copy of the scan picture of her baby and was told this wasn’t possible. She did, finally, get this at a later date.
Telling family and friends
“We then had to go and tell all the family and friends, who we’d gladly informed that we were expecting, that we’d miscarried. It was difficult to do because I felt responsible for them being upset. Initially thought we should have kept it quiet, but I quickly realised that, had that been the case, that we would have been going through it alone and we wouldn’t have had that support from our friends and family, which was amazing.
“Although, at the time, nobody that I knew directly had really been through it, everyone was so supportive and said the right things. That allowed me to get to the stage where, in day-to-day life, I would just start to mention it, if it came up in natural conversation. People would ask if I had any children and I’d say, ‘no, but we lost our first child earlier this year’. It really opened up a conversation with people and they would recollect and open up about their own personal stories. It really opened up a support network for me.
Jyssica feels that, had she not told people initially, then it would have been harder further down the line to deal with the emotions and feelings. “I think there’s a misconception that there’s a safe mark at 12 weeks and you’re allowed to tell people. But that just it it’s not the case. I would encourage people if they feel comfortable doing so, to share the news when they feel ready, whether that be 6 weeks, 12 weeks or 20 weeks!”
Support from work
Jyssica’s Direct Line Manager and Senior Line Manager at the time were both male and were both ‘fantastically supportive’. “My partner rang them on the day of the scan to let them know that I wouldn’t be coming back to work. They were really supportive, said to take as much time as I needed and, as a result, I didn’t feel rushed to go back. I think I actually stayed off for around four weeks.
The one negative Jyssica did highlight, was that she had to use her sick leave quota. “I understand we can’t have an unlimited amount of bereavement leave, but I wasn’t ill, I wasn’t sick, I’d lost a baby that I was carrying. There are countries that offer two weeks paid bereavement leave for miscarriage at any stage and I think it’s something we need to look at in this country.”
Baby Loss Awareness Week
Baby Loss Awareness Week is held annually in October, this year from 9-15, and is opportunity to bring people together as a community and give anyone touched by pregnancy and baby loss a safe and supportive space to share their experiences and feel that they are not alone. The theme this year is wellbeing, exploring what this means to people from all walks of life who have been affected by pregnancy and baby loss. Each day this week has its own dedicated theme, with today being focused towards ‘looking after each other as a community (including the workplace).
“I like to look at it as not just a week for those who have been through loss,” Jyssica said. “It’s to shine a light on the issue of miscarriage and baby loss to those that haven’t. For people who lose a child or have a miscarriage, it doesn’t go away, you don’t forget about it happening. This week helps to raise awareness of how to support someone that’s gone through or is going through, that type of loss.”
One in four pregnancies will, unfortunately, end in loss so it’s important to put in place that network of support and resources. “What I found most difficult is after the loss,” Jyssica continued, “was that I found myself on Google looking for where to get help. What Baby Loss Awareness Week does is to help sign-post those resources.
Supporting staff who have lost a baby
“My advice for employers would be to review your bereavement leave policy. There are many resources our there for employers and its important that they have reviewed this information and incorporated into their policy.”
The Miscarriage Association is currently running a Pregnancy Loss Pledge, a campaign which is urging employers across the UK to commit to supporting their staff through the distress of miscarriage. It has set out a pregnancy loss standard, to ensure that employees get the support and time off they need.
“There is a lot of focus on the women in all this, but often the men are forgotten about. It’s still such a taboo subject, particularly for men, so it’s important that employers make it clear that they have a support system in place.
“I think, for line managers, it’s important to be as supportive as you can, if anybody does come to you and explain that they’re going through a loss. I know there’s a line between professional and personal, however, just ‘we’re here for you’, ‘is there anything we can offer?’, and just being generally empathetic, can make all the difference.”
Supporting friends and colleagues
“Here, I would say there are certainly a couple of things not to do, one is to not belittle the loss. Whether it was eight weeks, 20 weeks, 40 weeks, each comes with its own difficulties and heartache, but pregnant is still pregnant.”
Whilst Jyssica said, the majority of people she told were largely supportive, there was one instance with a colleague how said to her, ‘well, you weren’t really that pregnant were you. It was only 12 weeks.’ “He really tried to invalidate the loss and that really made me take a step back. It doesn’t matter what age or what stage or gestation you lost your pregnancy, it was still your pregnancy, your child. So, I found that comment quite insensitive. I’d also say, and I heard this a few times, don’t say, ‘at least you know you can get pregnant, you can always try again.’”
“The best advice would just to talk about it openly and honestly. I had a very frank chat with a guy whose son was stillborn, I asked him, ‘what did you call him and what did he weigh?’ He was really taken aback and said, ‘no one really ever asks what he weighed.’ It’s important to remember that it was still his son at the end of the day, and I really saw his face light up, being able to talk about him.
“So, be open, ask questions and don’t be afraid of upsetting someone. Chances are they are already upset and so, if you’re sensitive, you’re not going to upset them anymore by just being there and taking to them. Generally, people want to talk about it because they want to raise their own awareness and, also, they want to acknowledge that it was real. Especially if the loss comes early in the pregnancy, when there are no physical bump or anything like that. You want to make people know that it was really happening.”
“One specific charity that I would like to mention is in the Saying Goodbye Charity, which is a subsidiary of the Mariposa Trust. It is Zoe and Andy Clark-Coates. They suffered five heartbreaking losses, and Zoe went on to write multiple books talking about the initial loss and how to deal with that at any stage.
“I’ve gone on to have healthy twins, which is amazing, but the pregnancy was obviously riddled with anxiety and worry, so that charity and those books were a lifesaver for me.”
‘Miscarriage should not be a taboo subject’ – a personal account of recurrent miscarriage
Workplace Pregnancy Loss Pledge
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Read more from this Women in Health & Safety interview series.