Parenting Tips from the Professionals: Baby loss - how to support a bereaved colleague or friend?
How can workmates help and support colleagues returning to work after the stillbirth or miscarriage of their baby? Emma Beck and Nicola Gibson, creators of the Stillbirth Stories archive, are both bereaved mothers themselves. They share some advice.
As a society we find it difficult to talk about death and especially the death of a baby - Baby Loss Awareness Week is held annually from 9 -15 October. Baby loss is far more common than people think. Every day in the UK:
- 9 babies are stillborn (that is born after 24 weeks of pregnancy without signs of life)
- 684 babies are miscarried
Mothers whose babies are stillborn are legally entitled to up to 52 weeks maternity leave. Last month the Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay Bill gave allparents whose child dies (including those whose babies are stillborn), the legal right to two weeks paid leave.
Whilst this is welcomed of course, more still needs to be done in the workplace to support those bereaved parents when they do return to work; for many, this is an extremely challenging and daunting prospect. How do you face your colleagues who often don’t know what to say or worse still say nothing at all for fear of causing upset?
For our peer support website, Stillbirth Stories, we interviewed many bereaved parents. Here are some of their experiences for people in the workplace who may be unsure how best to offer support:
“Before I went back I spoke to my director… I said, I want to see everybody in an office… all at once… so that I wouldn’t have to explain it again and again.” David, dad to Jannah born at 41 weeks
- For bereaved parents telling people what has happened over and over again and receiving misplaced congratulations from colleagues who didn’t know their child died is upsetting and awkward for both parties. Some bereaved parents find it helpful to contact their employer before returning to work to say whether they feel comfortable talking about their baby.
“I felt like people avoided me, and I didn’t know how to react around people.” Aimee, mum to Petal born at 23 weeks
- Often colleagues feel they don’t know what to say but remember it is easier to stop a conversation than start one. Don’t avoid bereaved parents and pretend it hasn’t happened, unless they have specifically said they don’t want to talk about it.
“You don’t have to try and say the right thing - because there’s no right thing to say – but just the fact that you are trying to understand it is good enough.” Marc, dad to Petal born at 23 weeks
- Saying ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I’m thinking of you’ is unlikely to upset or offend. Try not to refer to the baby as ‘it’ and if you know the baby’s name, use it. Bereaved parents often want to talk about their babies in the same way as any parent does.
“Things that you hear like, ‘it wasn’t meant to be’ and ‘these things happen for a reason’ are not very helpful.” Sam, mum to Guy born at 25 weeks
- Don’t say ‘you’re young, you can have another’ or refer to children they might already have as a consolation. Any children they may have in the future will never ‘replace’ their child that died.
“There was a lady who was on maternity leave and she came to visit with her baby… I remember sitting there just holding in a lot of pain because I didn’t want to hold her child.” Rabia mum to Jannah born at 41 weeks
- Be aware of grief triggers – such as colleagues visiting with their newborns during maternity leave. Perhaps forewarn bereaved parents if there is to be a pregnancy announcement or visit from a new parent. Be sensitive to key dates that may be particularly hard, such as due dates or the baby’s birthday in years to come.
Above all, be kind. Grief comes in waves. Take your lead from the bereaved parent and try to remember, “Just because you didn’t see the baby doesn’t mean that they didn’t exist." Rabia
Recently Stillbirth Stories have been working in partnership with Tommy’s to create a series of 8 x 90 second animations about baby loss. The Baby Loss Series #BreakingTheSilence launches on 11th October during Baby Loss Awareness Week. For more advice visit tommys.org and sands.org.uk
The Stillbirth Stories archive can be found at stillbirthstories.org
Emma and Nicola will be joining a Cityworks event in January to share their advice with HR professionals.
Released On 4th Oct 2018