Parents struggling to cope after the death of their baby are often let down by their employer if they return to work, according to a survey published today by Sands (stillbirth and neonatal death charity).
Almost all parents who responded to the survey (95%) had shared the happy news of their pregnancy with colleagues, but after returning to work two in five said no one talked to them about their loss.
Only one in five parents surveyed said they had been offered or provided with any bereavement support by their employer, and almost half said employers did not discuss entitlements to pay and leave with them, following the death of their baby.
In the worst individual cases, parents said they faced dismissal due to absence from work, were made to sit away from colleagues, or were compelled to provide evidence that their baby had died.
Every day in the UK fifteen babies die before, during, or shortly after they are born so everybody probably knows someone affected by this tragedy who may be suffering in silence.
Sands is now urging employers to get in touch for advice on supporting bereaved parents who want to return to work. And the charity is calling on everyone in society to help break the wall of silence around baby loss through its Finding the Words campaign.
Chief executive of Sands Dr Clea Harmer said: “Sadly, the death of a baby is not a rare event but too often, bereaved parents are faced by a wall of silence because people around them, family, friends, and colleagues, are lost for words. We want everyone to know how to start a conversation with anyone whose baby has died, however long ago.
“For grieving parents, returning to work may be a difficult step but the workplace can be a vital source of support. The government is proposing two weeks of additional pay and leave for bereaved parents from 2020, but we need employers to do more right now to ensure parents know their rights, and that colleagues feel comfortable in talking to parents about the death of their baby.
“Death is never an easy subject and when a baby dies it is even harder to talk about. But finding the right words at the right time can really help to support bereaved parents and families when they need it most. Not everyone will be ready to talk about their bereavement – but simply saying ‘I’m so sorry’, for example, can really help.”
At the heart of the Finding the Words campaign is an struggling to cope when no one is able to talk about the death of their baby.
Author, journalist and co-founder of Sands Bel Mooney said: “The short but oh-so-powerful animation brought tears of recognition to my eyes, nearly 43 years later. The loss of a baby is with you forever, and I can still recall people turning away awkwardly, not knowing what to say. Yet words of understanding and compassion are not really hard to find – and I believe that friends and colleagues can be ‘taught’ how to respond to this shockingly common bereavement.
“We must break the silence around baby loss. And that reaching-out in simple human sympathy can start in the workplace, if employers recognise the importance of what has happened and colleagues realise that saying quietly, ‘I’m so sorry to hear what happened’ is not, in fact, very hard at all.”
Parents left isolated after baby loss
Many people who responded to the Sands survey mentioned the importance of other people feeling able to talk about the death of their baby:
- “Many people think that mentioning your baby will make you sad but actually I really appreciate it when people talk about her. If no one mentions her name it feels like she never existed.”
- “At first my colleagues never said a word about my baby, although quite a few of them, including my manager, attended the funeral, which was very kind and very supportive. Over the first few weeks, gradually people did broach the subject with me. I wish someone had said to them, it’s okay to talk to me about the baby.”
While other comments revealed the wide variation in support from employers:
- “I was dismissed from my job for taking more than 7 days off sick following the loss of my baby. My manager visited me in hospital, but only to give me attendance paperwork.”
- “My line manager failed to tell head office about my baby dying. So when I rang for a form I needed after my maternity entitlement was ending, I was met with ‘but you’ve been on maternity leave with your baby’. I then had to explain what had happened, causing me great upset.”
- “I had amazing support from my line manager & colleagues throughout my time off and when I returned to work. I’m sure it was this genuine support which was constant throughout my time off which made my return to work possible.”
- “Once my baby died, others struggled with me being around. I found that I had an amazing ability to clear a room, so stopped taking my daughter to local groups, which made for a very lonely experience.”
Bereaved parents, and anyone affected by the death of a baby, can find support through Sands’ free helpline, online community, and network of local support groups across the UK. Find out more: https://sands.org.uk/support-you/how-we-offer-support