Returning to work after losing your baby is often a welcome distraction and a chance to return to a routine, but for some it’s a daunting prospect, what do you say to people? When is the best time to go back? Will you be able to cope?
Be sure to take time to figure out what’s best for you and use the advice in this article to help navigate the path and ease back into working life gently after baby loss.
When should I go back to work?
This is a bit like asking “how long is a piece of string?!” It really will differ for different people and may depend on their circumstances.
You’ll want to consider your physical health and wellbeing, your mental and emotional state, the type of work you do, and what support you have at home and/or work, as well as practical issues such as whether you have a right to time off work or financial security to take time off, and if you have other children to take care of.
You will need time to recover. Bereaved parents are often utterly exhausted by grief, both physically and mentally, so you are unlikely to feel up to working for several weeks at the very least.
Whether you have a right to time off work or financial benefits whilst off work depends on many things, including the length of the pregnancy, whether your baby was miscarried, stillborn or lived for a short time after the birth, whether you are employed or self-employed, whether you are the mother or father and whether you have other sources of income or financial support from a partner etc. You may be able to take your full maternity leave, have sick leave, compassionate leave or parental leave.
Tip: You can check with ACAS for employment rights in your situation if you don’t want to approach your employer just yet.
“I had a miscarriage and returned to work as a police officer after a few days – as soon as I was physically able. There was no pressure to return and I had a supportive husband who was the main earner. Work were amazing but I needed to get back to ‘normality’ so I didn’t have to think about what happened. I chose not to tell my colleagues except for my line manager, but I did receive counselling through work. That was 11 years ago, and I now have a gorgeous 9-year-old daughter.” Janine, aged 39.
A phased return to work
For many bereaved parents, it can be a good idea to arrange a gradual return to work if possible, starting with shorter days or less days per week. Or perhaps working from home for part of the week. This gives you time to rest and allows you to gauge what you can handle emotionally.
Recovery from losing a baby is a journey, and many bereaved parents need support and flexibility to ease back into their work. You may need time off to attend counselling sessions or for certain dates such as the anniversary of your baby’s due date or of his or her death. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and family celebrations such as Christmas can also be difficult times, so discuss taking these dates off with your employer early on or factor them into your work if you’re self-employed. This can help take the pressure off and give you an opportunity to do something different that day or visit a place that has special meaning for you to help you cope with your grief.
Take things easy when returning to work after baby loss
You have been through a difficult time, don’t be surprised if you feel drained. You may find it hard to concentrate and remember things when at work. You may find that you feel more sensitive to things people say, or that you lack confidence about making decisions. This is normal, just take things slowly.
Try not to make any plans after work for the first week or two. You may find that you’re exhausted after work, emotionally and physically, and might want to just sleep or take time for self-care.
You also might notice that grief hits you in waves. You might be fine one day, and then another day you’re overwhelmed by feelings of loss and sadness. Don’t be afraid to take time out when you need it. Go for a walk, take all your breaks and talk to your manager about leaving early if you need to.
Be mindful of possible triggers at work too, such as a pregnancy announcement or a colleague visiting during their maternity leave. Be kind to yourself, it’s natural to feel a mix of emotions at these times.
Approaching the subject with work before you go back
Once a date for you to return to work has been agreed, you might want to arrange a visit to your workplace or meet up with some close colleagues over coffee which will allow you to talk to them in a neutral environment.
Before your visit, or before your first day back at work, you may want to email your colleagues or your manager/HR manager about whether you’re comfortable or not with talking about your baby at work. It is completely up to you how you want to manage this but discussing it beforehand via email can take some of the pressure off and help colleagues understand your feelings.
Unless they have experienced the grief of losing a baby themselves, most people will have no idea of how you feel. They are unlikely to realise the impact that the death of your baby has had on you and your family. Some people know what to say and how to support you, while others may be uncomfortable or deal with it by behaving as if nothing has happened.
Choosing not to return to work
You may choose not to return to work at all following baby loss. Take time to think carefully about this and be mindful about making decisions that affect your future while you are going through grief.
Keep occupied whilst off work, perhaps there are little jobs around the house that you’ve not had time to do that you could sort out, or a hobby that you’ve always wanted to try but hadn’t had the time to take up. Volunteering can also be a good steppingstone, either for returning to work, or for exploring new career ideas.
“My wife and I had a young child and were expecting twins, but my employer didn’t seem very accommodating to my request for paternity leave, even though my wife was due a cesarean section and would need caring for along with our young child and newborn twins. Unfortunately, one of the twins didn’t make it. My wife really struggled with the loss, and I was struggling juggling returning to work and caring for them all, running a household and walking the dog. It was “do your job or leave” – even though I was doing my job, had been there 5 years and financially they had their best year in fifteen years of trading. They didn’t want a part time manager, so I gave up my highly paid job and put my family first, raising my boys so my wife could recover. Every mealtime we would lay our hands on top of one another’s and (like superheroes do) shout “team Maynard” then lift our hands in the air! I eventually started volunteering, first at the playgroups then got into nurseries. I retrained in childcare, started university and now look after babies in my new job.” James, aged 40.
Nobody can tell you when it’s the right time to go back to work, or indeed if you should go back, but it may help to talk it over with someone who isn’t a work colleague, friend or family member.
Having a trained counsellor to talk to, who is there specifically to listen to you talk about your feelings, is invaluable for many bereaved parents. Whilst you may find comfort in talking to friends and family, they are often grieving for your baby too, and might not give you objective advice.
Counselling is one of the best weapons we have against a whole range of psychological issues like grief, depression, trauma, anxiety and difficult life events.
“I suffered two miscarriages when undergoing IVF, which impacted my mental health really badly. I took time off work both times and there was no pressure to rush back, but I also felt lonely and isolated. Many people just left me alone, I had very few messages of concern. I feel that miscarriage is still taboo and people are scared to approach, but that can sometimes have a worse effect. It was a very difficult time. I was offered counselling through the hospital but I couldn’t bring myself to go back there, work also offered a counsellor but at the time I felt exhausted from talking about it so didn’t have counselling until months later. My family were supportive but my husband struggled the first time around. I didn’t feel like he supported me enough and we ended up separating for a few months. We had marriage counselling some months later and tried again.” Gina, aged 37
Counsellors are used to talking about almost any subject and will listen to you without judgement. They’re trained and experienced in talking therapy to help you see your thoughts from a different perspective. Sometimes just speaking aloud and verbalising your thoughts and emotions lets you see them from a new perspective, instead of from the inside of your own mind. Similarly, letting things out that you’ve been keeping in can be a cathartic experience, purging you of pent up emotions. Such a release often feels like a weight off the mind and can allow you to begin to let go of feelings you’ve been holding on to.
If you’d like to find out how counselling you help you, contact Liz for an informal chat.