Managing through miscarriage and pregnancy at work
Take yourself to work
I’ve heard this said time and again over the years and it is so important. Take your whole self and not just the corporate image of perfection that you want people to see. Yes, we all need our elevator pitch ready for the times when we need that perfect corporate image, but no one is perfect and we all have battles to fight in our lives. And because much of our lives are lived at work, health and private battles do have to be lived through at work too.
That applies at no time more so than returning to work after a miscarriage or managing anxiously through a pregnancy after miscarriage.
As it is Baby Loss Awareness Week, I wanted to share my thoughts about how to make it work at work for anyone that sadly finds themselves in the same situation as me.
I was always very open about our challenges to colleagues as I can be a sensitive soul, and it was the right thing to do for me. Long after our little boy was eventually born I blogged about it and I know that blog brought tears to a few colleagues alongside the outpouring of support that I had already had from colleagues and friends at the time. My husband also wrote a short blog about it last year and, again, the support from colleagues who’d been in the same place and never shared their woes was unbelievable. Miscarriage is more common than many people in the corporate world realise and having the support at work (and honesty from so many others that they or their wives had suffered too) to get through the challenge was essential.
Senior partners in my firm were the ones that made me hold off rushing back to work and to grieve appropriately. They knew I was suffering from more than just a miscarriage. It was a lost dream too and a feeling of failure. There I was sat at home worrying I was letting people down on work things, but I wasn’t. They were the ones (from experience) that told me to take all the time in the world. And the ones that when I was ready to go back checked that I really was. There’s a point when you need company and to get back to the day to day to carry on recovering, and we all reach it at different times.
People work with people, not clones
We’re all different and have our challenges but if you put up a wall around you then nobody will realise what you’re dealing with. It is never good to drop a ball at work, but at least if people know you aren’t yourself then they are there to catch you or something you’re responsible for when you aren’t quite doing you as well as you normally would. That’s not quitting or slacking, it’s letting people help you discreetly when you’re suffering.
By sharing with colleagues you can set the rules. I wanted the people that I worked closely with to know and support me, but I also didn’t want to be wrapped in cotton wool or hugged and checked in on. If people know they don’t ask the wrong question, or tell an awkward joke or start waving around pictures of their sister-in-laws, brothers, cousins new baby… There were no wobbly bottom lips in the office as a result, they had my back and supported me just how I needed.
When people understand your challenges they are more likely to support your decisions. My role at work actually changed entirely as a result of me needing a break. I wanted a new challenge and a fresh start rather than staying in the same role. A role that I thought I would be departing to be a Mummy that I just couldn’t see my way to continue with as a result… Because I had a reason, when I announced I was going after a secondment to a new area of the firm it was supported whole heartedly. And that new area of the firm – helped me get promoted, supported me through the next phase and into the latest challenge of balancing baby and work! And I’ve never looked back! You have to make the best out of a bad situation.
And then the next challenge comes when you find out you are pregnant
I don’t know about anyone else, but I didn’t want people to know because I didn’t want to give people more bad news down the line. But I needed some people to know so that my anxiety was supported and if I wasn’t feeling good they’d know why I was lurking at home… We told a few key people at 6 weeks, a few others at 12 weeks and everyone else at 20 weeks when I needed to put a ‘baby on board’ badge on my coat to actually get a seat on the bus! Everyone respected my privacy but the most important thing was that I knew they cared and I knew that it was never in doubt my commitment to work, but that sometimes I just had to do the day it would work for me. When you’re a high risk pregnancy you have an untold amount of hospital appointments so it is good to not have to scuttle in and out of the office for them!
By default because the right people knew I didn’t get in any difficult situations where I had to fess up to my news before I wanted to. There was no ‘why are you drinking apple juice’ sort of comment. No request for me to fly to India for work (although a colleague was considering it and found out about the zika issue for both our benefits thank goodness). No request for me to take the lead on something that would run into my leave which would have needed an awkward answer. No rush to start the search for my cover. Knowledge is power and it just made life all together more simple!
It’s important to remember that when the bump shows, everyone will to ogle the bump, coo at it, ask your plans etc etc…
It’s equally important to remember they are well-meaning in what they say especially if they aren’t aware of your history. They might not expect the ‘I’m not buying anything for baby until he’s born’ sort of response… So go with it. My bump was tiny, obviously it looked great as a result even though small bumps aren’t necessarily a sign of good news… Anyhow, I took it as a compliment every time because small as it was I knew from all my scans it was ok. But even so, when everyone else notices the size, you do wonder if it’s ok! There’s anxiety at every step, I did chuckle traipsing across London once with a partner who asked when I was off on maternity leave – I said ‘next week’ and he hailed a cab immediately, I think he’d assumed a few months!
I used to travel a fair bit with work and thankfully was able to pick my trips when I was pregnant
I know this isn’t possible for everyone and some jobs are more active than others, but worth exploring what can work better in any role. For me, less travel was a good thing, as one of the last flights I did we actually had the landing gear fail and did some circling above Heathrow while the computer got restarted or some such… I also had to commute on a thoroughly unreliable train service – South Western Railway. And then there was the never-ending summer 2018 heatwave too which made movement exhausting. Hallelujah for being able to work from anywhere as long as the job gets done. I cannot imagine the exhaustion otherwise. Commitment over the years earnt me flexibility and I know that I’m lucky my job is flexible when many aren’t. But being given the autonomy to know what was best for me and the little one was so important to my health and my anxiety.
So that is what helped me. I think that talking about your own challenges at work helps more people that we realise. And that isn’t just miscarriage and anxiety in pregnancy. I look around the business I work in and how open people are about mental health. Taking yourself to work, being your full self and being open about difficulties is always a problem shared and progression is never slowed either for being human. Too many people suffer in silence and as a result can’t manage their work stress alongside their health and life worries. People that have colleagues suffering and want to know how to help them. I hope that my openness at work helped others as well as me, and I hope that writing this here will help a few more too!