What I’ve Learned: Jess Crawford on grief, empathy and the importance of supportive workplaces


Jess shares the story of her daughter Lilly, and how workplaces can support bereaved parents with empathy and understanding as they return to work.

Jess Crawford, works at the Department Planning and Environment NSW and she shared with us her experience of the preterm birth of her daughter, Lilly. 

In our What I’ve Learned series, Jess discusses how workplaces and colleagues can support bereaved parents going through a similar experience to hers with empathy and understanding as they return to work. 

In Australia, one in every 135 pregnancies that reach 20 weeks will end with a stillborn child. For some women, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and other disadvantaged groups, the risk of having a stillborn baby is higher. 

Say Their Name Day on March 25th helps raise awareness of pregnancy, baby and child loss and raises much-needed funds to ensure every bereaved family has access to the support they need, for as long as they need it.

Jess kindly shared her story below. 

Back in 2017 my husband and I were expecting our first child. We went in for the 20-week scan and everything was looking great. We had a little gender reveal party, and the day after we revealed that we were having a little girl, I went into preterm labour.

I was 22 weeks, and the doctors essentially said “if the baby comes today she may not make it. And there isn’t a lot that we can do because we are a rural hospital.” So, my husband and I looked at each other and we knew immediately that her name was Lilly. We gave birth to her 13 hours later and got to hold her for 28 minutes. She was breathing and here with us.

We listened to some music and got to really experience her and wrap her in our love by taking hand and foot prints, giving her baths and taking photos. It was a really positive experience to come out of something that can be so devastating. We were surrounded by some incredible support, and all of our families were there for the entire four days that we got to spend with her.

We now talk about her all the time. She inspires us in everyday life and our earthside children still talk about her. It’s been really nice to be able to say her name.


Throughout this, what sort of leave did you take, and what was your experience through that journey?

Because I was over the 20 weeks, we were entitled to take parental leave. Hayden got the two weeks leave and I got the leave through Centrelink. 

I wasn’t entitled to anything through my previous employer and I did end up taking a fair bit of unpaid leave because I wasn’t ready to return to work. It wasn’t a very positive space to be working in and I think that really impacted my journey. It brought on a lot of anxiety coming out of that phase of losing our daughter and going back into the workplace. 

My husband himself, his boss, was great and very understanding. But he did have an hour drive to and from work, in which he had a lot of time to sit and think, and as soon as he got to work he turned around and came home. 

It was just one of those things that is really hard to get back into and I think it needs the right support in the workplace to be able to make it an easy transition.


What have you found most supportive whilst working at DPE?

I started at DPE in 2018 so I had just fallen pregnant with our rainbow baby (terminology for a healthy baby born after losing a baby due to miscarriage, infant loss, stillbirth, or neonatal death). Immediately in my interview, I was welcomed and my manager said “Look, I’ve seen you in the paper and I have a story just like yours. I’m so glad you’re here. Welcome to the team.”

It was really nice to hear that the people in my team had similar stories that they were happy to share. They were welcoming and they said my daughter, Lilly’s name. That pregnancy was filled with anxiety for me so having that additional support helped ease my mind and take away the anxiety.

One of the most important things to me was being able to be upfront, and talk to my manager about all of these things and how I was feeling. In turn, they would talk to me about my daughter, protect me in situations where it might be uncomfortable or just check in on a regular basis. 

Those check-ins are so, so important. Having the opportunity to talk to people, to share our experience and make other people aware and comfortable in that space, in what is a very taboo subject.

Another big thing is preparing for the return to work. By having your manager reach out to you and say “what do you need from us, what do you need from the team on your arrival back to work and how can we best support you?”.

I know that that first day is daunting, especially coming into a team where you’re not sure how they’re going to react.

It’s also really nice for colleagues to be willing to have those uncomfortable conversations for your sake. It is so important for bereaved parents to hear their child’s name, and to hear that you’re thinking of them and supporting them through that time.


What is it that leaders can do with their teams ahead of someone’s return from a period of grief?

From a leader’s perspective, giving the bereaved parent a call or an email, whatever they’re comfortable with, and saying “we want to set this up and prepare everyone here to support you the best way we can. How can we do that for you?”

Having that conversation with the bereaved parents first so you know what they want and then gathering the team to organise what support they’ll provide in that first week and going forwards. It’s also important that they think about how they can support themselves because it does have an effect on everyone, not just the person on leave.


What do you feel about crying at work now? Do you feel like that’s just a normal part of life?

Crying is just showing that a person is feeling for you in that moment so to me, it’s not confronting. It’s not going to make me sad, if anything it makes me happy to see you cry, because I know that you’re responding to how I’m feeling and you’re on that empathy level with me. For me, it’s really important to see someone else putting their comfort aside to make me feel better.

It’s not something that’s easy to talk about, and I know that the tears are going to be there at some point. I’ve definitely learned not to shy away from those tears. It’s okay to show emotion, whether it’s a manager or a colleague. It really is okay. I think it’s becoming more well known that you’re allowed to express that emotion.

Jess has also turned her knowledge into a very helpful blog, which she has kindly shared with us. So if you’d like to read open and honest information on a wide range of areas around miscarriage, stillborn and death support please do have a read – https://www.madetobloom.com.au/blog.


If you are a manager seeking to support parents returning to work after an experience like Jess’s book a coaching call or try our online coaching to assist managers to support parents returning to work


You can also reach out directly to SANDS (stillborn and neonatal death support) Or via 24/7 phone support – 1300 308 307

SANDS can: 

  • Listen to your story 
  • Help you find ways to cope with grief 
  • Help you navigate the anxiety of a subsequent pregnancy 
  • Give you information on other Sands support services 
  • Give you guidance on how to support a friend or family member