Going back to work after losing a baby before 24 weeks
One of the particularly difficult aspects of losing a baby before 24 weeks of pregnancy is that many parents are not eligible for maternity/paternity pay or leave. The rules state that only parents whose baby is born dead after 24 completed weeks of pregnancy or whose baby is born alive at any gestation but who dies shortly after birth are entitled to maternity and paternity rights and beneﬁts. If a baby is born dead before 24 weeks of pregnancy, parents are not entitled to these same maternity and paternity rights and beneﬁts.
Only a few parents we spoke to were eligible for maternity or paternity pay and parental leave as their baby was born alive but died shortly after birth. Those parents who did get leave found it gave them time to decide when they were ready to return to work and reduced the burden of financial pressures. Camille’s baby was born alive and she had six months maternity leave and felt it was definitely what she needed. However although these parents were eligible for parental leave and pay, many employers were not clear of the different rules of entitlement. Several mothers had problems proving they were entitled to their maternity leave. Most of the parents we spoke to were not entitled to parental leave and pay because their baby was not born alive and so they had to take sick leave from work. Many spoke about feeling “huge pressure” to return to work. Parents also found having to visit their GP to extend their sick leave stressful. This was eased for Vikki Z as the hospital provided her with a sick note for a month.
Parents often spoke about how unfair the system seemed, as they would have received parental leave and pay if their baby had been born just a few weeks, days or even hours later or had shown signs of life. For Lindsay this reinforced her feeling that society didn’t recognise the impact of her loss. Liz felt maternity leave would have allowed her to have “a bit more breathing space and recovery time”. Sarah felt that “for the sake of ten days… I had a completely different, you know, chance of recovery than everyone else”. Fathers’ access to paternity leave was also affectedWhile many parents felt taking time off work after the birth was essential, others were pleased to get back to work and keep “busy, busy, busy, busy”. While returning to work was extremely difficult, for some parents it was a “welcome distraction” and helped get a feeling of “normality”. For Sarah who worked as a teacher, going back to work helped her mind to focus on something as her job felt “all-consuming”. Kirsty described going back to work as horrendous but couldn’t see what else she could do as “I can't sit down and dwell on it. I'm a doer, and that's how I deal with things“. Support from employers
Parents’ experienced varying support from their employer and colleagues. Many were extremely positive about the response of their employer, who encouraged them to take whatever time they needed. But other parents had a less positive experiences. Some mothers were pressurised into returning to work as they weren’t eligible for maternity leave. In contrast while Joelle felt ready to return to work, she was extremely upset when her manager told her that she didn’t think Joelle was emotionally ready to return. Going in to work for the first time
The first day back at work was very difficult for most parents and their experiences of colleagues’ behaviour was mixed. For some popping into work before their first day back eased their return. Parents found the return to work easier when their employer understood more about their loss. For Kelly, writing a letter to her manager explaining her experiences helped colleagues support her when she went back to work. Nesta appreciated a suggestion from her midwife of trying to anticipate some of the questions colleagues might ask her when she went back to work. Sam wished her employer had something to read to help them understand what she was going through.
Other parents we spoke to felt they had returned to work too soon. This often had longer term impact with many mothers taking a second longer period of sick leave. Others decided to leave work and change career. Helen Z worked for a company making baby clothes and found it too hard to return. Others moved into less pressurised jobs because they needed time to reflect. Helen resigned from her job as a lawyer because it was so demanding and worked as a teaching assistant at the local school.