Last weekend, the comedian and radio host Em Rusciano revealed she had a miscarriage and lost a baby boy just before 13 weeks. She spoke about the exquisite pain in a raw and grief stricken Facebook post.
Despite the fact that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, it is still an unspoken subject and one that mothers and their partners often grieve privately. For some, miscarriage is private, but often shrouded in secrecy is a feeling of inadequacy, of shame.
Bravely, Em, a public figure hosting a new and high-profile morning radio show, chose to reveal to her employer, and her audience, the reasons why she needs to be off-air.
Em’s employer, 2DayFM, has been extremely supportive and respectful of her need to take time away from work to recover. And this ought to be applauded. Unfortunately though, this is not always the reality for some employees – and another reason why women choose to keep their miscarriage private.
As a mother who has grieved what might have been through miscarriage, I acknowledge it is very difficult to navigate the emotional roller coaster – “at least you know you can get pregnant” is an over-used, potentially true, but unhelpful consolation. But overlay all that with a need for time off from work, or medical treatment, and mothers are also faced with the decision as to how to navigate this on the work front.
Beware the unconscious biases
In our dealings with business leaders and managers, we are certain that a majority would demonstrate compassion towards a grieving parent. But it’s the unconscious biases and blatant discrimination that can follow your disclosure you also need to be prepared for – a short read of Liz Broderick’s speech sharing her findings into the prevalence of pregnancy related discrimination is enough to send a chill down your spine.
“All of these voices and many hundreds more, scattered throughout the report, bring to the fore some of the lived experiences of pregnant women and those returning to work. These voices teach us that discrimination is a real and pervasive issue – that its impact can be devastating – and that discrimination in this area is a major barrier to the full and equal participation of parents, in particular, mothers, in Australia’s workforce.“
Elizabeth Broderick, Former Sex Discrimination Commissioner
When deciding what to share with your employer and how you can best invest in some self-care, here are a few thoughts to consider:
1. Do you know your manager’s biases?
Research shows there is a cultural bias against mothers and potential mothers. They are less likely to be hired for jobs, to be perceived as competent at work or to be paid as much as their male colleagues with the same qualifications. It’s both illegal and unfortunate – but to assume otherwise may not serve you in the longer term. So think about how your stakeholders are likely to receive your news, both immediately and the potential impact over the longer-term – are working parents supported in your business? Can they work flexibly? Are they penalised for doing so?
We know that addressing biases is possible if you also share your professional vision at the same time, and have clarity about your message.
2. Know your rights – you can still be supported by your workplace and keep your loss private.
If you do miscarry, you are entitled to take personal leave in accordance with the Fair Work Act provided the leave is being taken because you are not fit for work. And if your partner miscarries, they may be entitled to take carers leave. Be mindful that a workplace policy or registered agreement can specify when an employee has to give evidence to their employer and what type of evidence they have to give. In many cases a medical certificate which states ‘not fit for work’ may be sufficient and maintain your privacy.
If you have used all of your personal or carer’s leave, you can request unpaid leave – again, check what type of evidence is required to support your request.
You may also access other forms of accrued paid leave such as annual leave or long service leave – but this can be trickier to access on short notice.
If you are going to share your loss, then be aware that if you’re pregnancy ends within 28 weeks of your due date (and provided that you have completed at least 12 months of continuous service with your employer immediately before the expected date of birth of your child) you are entitled to a period of unpaid special maternity leave.
Check your parental leave policy for more details.
3. Employee Assistance Program
Even if you don’t disclose to your employer, remember that you (and potentially your family members) may be able to access your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). EAP is a free and confidential counselling service offered by many employers t to support their well-being in the workplace and in their personal lives.
Em’s post is an important reminder that there is no shame in miscarriage. I remember asking my GP & Obstetrician SO many questions as to what could have caused me to lose my unplanned by then much desired and love baby – that long-haul flight to the USA, cocktails, sleeping tablet for the plane…you name it. Sadly, some embryos and babies just don’t develop the way they need to. 1 in 4 to be precise. Being kind to myself (and booking a warm holiday to escape winter!) was the medicine I needed.
Any loss leads to a period of mourning and the grief process is different for everyone. If you need a little time to think, take it. If you find that you are having trouble concentrating, don’t be hard on yourself at work. Give yourself permission to experience the emotions you feel. And if you find that your anxiety gets worse or that you are feeling depressed, do reach out to an expert. You are not alone.
If you are affected by the loss of a baby, SANDS Australia offers support through local support groups and a 24/7 phone line on 1300 072 367.