The year 2022 can seem like navigating around a minefield for many employers. There is a multitude of well being concerns we need to be more conscious of in order to provide a truly safe, supportive, inclusive and happy work environment for those people who actually make our businesses tick.
The problem is, some of the most important and difficult life challenges a person may experience (which can also affect their day to day working life) all too often remain hidden, with many people suffering significantly and often in silence. And miscarriage is one of them.
Miscarriage is on the rise
According to the Miscarriage Association more than one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage. As we get older, that number rises to as many as one in three.
As the increase in different lifestyle priorities begins to shift; from climbing the career ladder and dealing with the cost of living to focusing on going out or even searching on dating apps, this means that many of us are now delaying starting families.
In fact, for the first time ever, the average age for becoming first time parents has risen to 30 years old in the UK.
But, what actually causes a miscarriage and why is it so common?
The most common cause is in fact, a genetic abnormality in the egg or sperm cell (or even both).
Having some genetically abnormal cells is actually part of our normal biological make-up. We all have billions of cells in our bodies, and as women we are born with all of our ‘egg’ cells but these naturally decline in quantity and quality as we get older, with ‘quality’ relating in part to whether or not the cells are genetically ‘normal’.
For men (yes, it takes two to tango) although the number of sperm cells doesn’t necessarily decline with age, the quality does (albeit it less rapidly than egg cells). But thanks to their delicate nature, a certain percentage will always be genetically abnormal – even in young men.
This doesn’t mean something is wrong with either partner, or even spell infertility. It’s just what happens to a certain number of our cells as part of life; as we age, and also thanks to lifestyle factors such as smoking, vaping, obesity, drink and drugs.
The bottom line
If a genetically abnormal egg is fertilised by a normal or abnormal sperm cell (or vice versa) the chances are you’ll experience a miscarriage, most commonly occurring before 12 weeks.
The impact of suffering a miscarriage
Just because it is common, doesn’t make it any less traumatic.Experiencing a miscarriage can be a truly devastating event. However, like many things in life, it can be hard to appreciate the extent of the impact unless you’ve gone through it yourself.
Latest research shines a very bright light on highlighting the true impact of suffering a miscarriage can make on a person’s mental health and explains it in a way that all of us can understand.
As many as 30% of women meet the criteria of PTSD after pregnancy loss
Yes, you read that right. According to new research published in the prestigious American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology; as many as 30% of women suffer clinically from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy.
This can translate into a range of feelings and behaviour including; anxiety, self-destructive behaviour, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, irritability and anger as well as debilitating feelings of guilt and shame.
Not only is this the first piece of clinical research to examine the true extent that miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy can have on mental health, but it is also the largest study of its kind. Meaning the results have real weight and something we should all be taking very seriously.
It doesn’t just end there; 24% of women reported suffering from moderate to severe anxiety and 11% suffering from moderate to severe depression.
Not only can this affect a person’s ability to work and do their job, but it can have a real impact on their relationships and life as a whole. We can all offer support to friends and loved ones, in a range of different ways.
What can organisations do to better support employees going through pregnancy loss?
As employers (and human beings) the extent of the impact is something we need to be aware of. We have a duty of care to offer support to our employees.
Based on research, the effects of suffering such a loss can last up to nine months, regardless of when during the pregnancy the loss takes place.
Just because a loss occurs ‘early on in the pregnancy’, does not mean the effects are necessarily any less. The effects can also be triggered again once a person falls pregnant following loss.
The reality is that every person will experience pregnancy loss in their own unique way. Some will want to be open and share, others will want to remain silent and keep it private. Regardless of these different approaches, there are some things that as employers we can do to support any person experiencing pregnancy loss.
Awareness, acceptance, understanding and patience
As a manger, first and foremost having genuine compassion and understanding for what a person may be experiencing is the first and most important step. For those who have not experienced miscarriage for themselves, it can be hard to understand. But hopefully this research indicates that it is something that should be taken very seriously and can have a very tangible, clinical impact on a person’s ability to do their job or even function normally day to day.
Approaching the issue with genuine understanding and acceptance will automatically make a person feel better supported and understood. Judgement, pressure and impatience will only begin to make things worse.
Provide an inclusive, supportive and open environment
Whilst an individual experiencing pregnancy loss may not want to be directly open about their own experience, as an employer, bringing the discussion more generally to the forefront in an open, educated and supportive manner can be enormously beneficial. Even for a person who is choosing to keep their experience to themselves.
Hosting open discussions and workshops about the issue of miscarriage and pregnancy loss will signal to a person that their issue is seen and not judged as weakness. It will also encourage others within the organisation to become more understanding and empathetic towards a colleague’s loss. As well as equip them with the knowledge if they need to offer support outside the workplace or even if they experience it themselves in the future.
Offer confidential support and resources within the workplace
Providing a safe space for someone to share their loss as well as resources to support them (both internally and externally depending on size of the organisation) is a great start.
Consider, having a dedicated person within the organisation that someone can share their situation safely in confidence with. It can prove to be hugely helpful to just offer an ear to listen and encourage them to share their experience.
However, anyone experiencing major mental health challenges should always be encouraged to have a discussion with their GP or a mental health professional as a first port of call.
You may also want to consider offering compassionate or sick leave, once someone has consulted with their GP.
With thanks to Sarah Heywood bloss expert across all aspects of the fertility journey.
If you have any concerns or need to find out more about how you can help support employees following miscarriage, please get in touch.
Resources which you may find useful in dealing with pregnancy loss or miscarriage
Tommy’s is a fantastic charity specialising in pregnancy loss. They even have the option to speak to a midwife who is specially trained in bereavement support free of charge on 0800 0147 800. Or you can email them at [email protected]. They can offer a whole host of information and support, as well as links and recommendations to other charities who may be able to help either online or face to face, including:
The Miscarriage Association offer support and information. They have a pregnancy loss helpline, live chat service and information.
Child Bereavement UK supports families when a baby or child of any age dies or is dying, and when a child is facing bereavement. They have a helpline, face-to-face groups and information resources for families across the UK.
Saying Goodbye provides information, advice and support to anyone who has lost a baby at any stage of pregnancy, at birth or in infancy.
They also organise “Saying Goodbye Services”, which are held for people who have suffered the loss of a baby, as well as for their children, family and friends, whether the loss was recent or historic. They welcome anyone who is grieving the fact that they have never had children.
The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy provides information for those who are thinking about having private counselling. The website includes a directory of qualified therapists who work to professional standards in your local area.
The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust provides information and support to those affected by ectopic pregnancy. This includes information resources, a helpline and a forum.
Molar Pregnancy Support and Information provides information and support to women who are currently, or have previously, suffered from a molar pregnancy.