What miscarriage has to do with diversity, and why Breaking the Silence
- even at work - might just make miscarriage easier to manage
This week is Baby Loss Awareness week. It's a difficult topic to talk about because it focuses the mind on some difficult topics; grief, fear, loss, women's bodies, families, blood, luck, fate, 'normality'. It's more comfortable to be momentarily grateful it's not something we have to deal with, and then to turn the page
Except miscarriage should be something we're more prepared to talk about, because miscarriage happens all the time. Statistics say that 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, and that 1 in 4 women will have this experience (although this varies from source to source). These statistics are probably the tip of the iceberg though, as miscarriage is often unreported and experienced in silence.
These statistics don't just mean that miscarriage could happen to you (although it might). It means you have probably, unwittingly, been with a woman who is experiencing, or who has experienced a miscarriage. It means there are thousands of women who are just getting up and getting on, when really they need some care & support.
Miscarriage is one of the last great taboos - and an experience many women carry.
I know this because the statistics tell me, and because the women I speak to tell me. I also know this because I'm one of the statistics.
I have 3 children, and I've been pregnant 5 times. My first pregnancy ended in miscarriage at 7 weeks. I'd pretty much adhered to 'The Rule' that you don't tell anyone before the 12 week scan. Except for an old friend, a consultant obstetric anaesthetist. He was on rotation at the hospital round the corner from my office, and so we met after his shift for dinner. It was so unusual for me not to be drinking, that I told him. Later, I went to the toilet, and noticed spots of blood. I tried not to worry - after all, sometimes it happens in pregnancy. The next day I was still spotting, so I booked a late appointment with my GP, and off I went to work. I was advised to take some time off, but I didn't because, well, how do you say that to your male boss? Where does bleeding, and feeling pain and hormones and sadness fit into a commercial business?
Over the next few days my pregnancy ended, ignominiously, in a bloody, painful mess, sopped up with pads and in toilets, and in between meetings about media schedules and financials and brand stretch. It didn't seem right. The end of this pregnancy deserved more care than I gave it, and I deserved more care than I was able to ask for.
I didn't tell anyone at the time because I didn't feel I could. Although I knew the data, I didn't know anyone else who had experienced pregnancy loss, because we don't talk about it. I didn't trust my employer to treat me fairly, should they know I had been pregnant. I worried that pregnancy was a weakness, and definitely felt that my miscarriage was a failure. My hormones were running amok. I was terribly sad. And I was angry. In fact, I was such a maelstrom of physical and emotional feeling I didn't trust myself to say anything to anyone.
What has miscarriage got to do with diversity?
Since I was pregnant that first time, the general lot of women in business has improved dramatically in lots of ways. This week is the perfect time to bring a further improvement by recognising and thinking about how businesses can support women & men who are experiencing miscarriage & pregnancy loss too.
The Miscarriage Association, who lead Baby-Loss Awareness Week, talk about Breaking the Silence. That means being open about our own experiences, and being prepare to talk about and listen to experiences of miscarriage with family and friends. Sharing emotions and marking pregnancies. Making sure that babies aren't 'lost', but become and remain part of life, part of what makes you 'You'.
I would like to see businesses recognising pregnancy loss, and considering how they can support the women & men who experience it;
Who would a woman contact if she were experiencing a miscarriage?
How would her time away from the business be managed?
Who in the business understands the legal requirements and entitlements around pregnancy loss?
How would information about her pregnancy be managed? Who would know? How would you ensure this could not adversely affect her career?
How would your business support men who were experiencing pregnancy loss?
So, business leaders, while you may not be able to go as far as Burness Paull in Glasgow, and illuminate your whole office this week, I wonder where you'll start?