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A webinar yesterday heard how action at work to support pregnancy loss can help lift the taboo around an experience that so many women have been through.
A petition has been launched calling for statutory paid miscarriage leave for women who lose a pregnancy before 24 weeks.
The petition was circulated at a webinar yesterday to mark the launch of Channel 4’s policy on pregnancy loss.
Kirstin Furber, People Director at Channel 4, said research showed over 60% of women who had experienced pregnancy loss said the impact at work had been significant. Channel 4’s pregnancy loss policy covers, but is not limited to miscarriage, stillbirth and abortion and offers two weeks leave on full-pay; paid leave for medical appointments; flexible working; an array of resources including medical support, counselling and a buddying scheme to support employees returning to work after a loss.
The webinar was chaired by journalist Rebecca Reid who spoke about her own experience of miscarriage. Asma Khalil, professor of obstetrics and maternal fetal medicine, said the psychological impact of pregnancy loss for the woman and the entire family should not be underestimated. Acknowledging that means something can be done to tackle it. PTSD, anxeity and depression are known to be common side effects, she added. There was also a higher risk for future pregnancies and some women suffered higher cardiovascular problems in later life. More awareness was needed.
It is estimated that, in the UK, around one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage; around one in three in abortion and one in 200 in stillbirth [one of the highest rates in Europe]. Panellists said pregnancy loss needed to be talked about much more openly, but there is still a big taboo about it. Lizzie D’Angelo from Tommy’s said there was still a perception that pregnancy loss is something people have to go through to have a healthy baby. “There is an idea that it is inevitable and out of our hands, but that means not enough attention is given to prevention,” she said, adding that it may in part be due to it being a women’s health issue that research is lacking in this area.
Randika, a woman featured in Channel 4’s Baby Surgeons: Delivering Miracles series who had three miscarriages in five years, said the taboo around miscarriage meant she had felt unable to talk about what happened to her. “I felt I lost five years. I felt I had to get over it,” she said. She pushed herself to go into work when it wasn’t the right thing to do.
Reid said she too went into work still bleeding heavily from her miscarriage. “You feel that you are not entitled to make a fuss,” she said. Furber said work colleagues – and line managers – didn’t sometimes know what to say when just acknowledging what has happened and asking how someone is is a good first step.
The panel also spoke about the impact on partners. Paul, Randika’s partner, said it was not the same for men, but that there was a sense of expectation and hope that had been lost and a need to recognise that. “I forgot to grieve myself. It’s important to know that you are allowed to feel loss,” he stated.
The Channel 4 policy includes partners and panellists agreed that giving a set time period off was important. Paul said he was told he could take as long as he wanted off, but the trouble was that he didn’t know how long he wanted.
Lizzie said one in 12 partners experience PTSD after pregnancy loss. Tommy’s is building at Partner Support Hub in recognition of the need for support. Partners often felt unable to access traditional support, she stated.
The panellists also spoke about abortion, in particular abortion for medical reasons. That was even more of a taboo issue because there was a sense that it was chosen, although people often experienced the same mix of emotions. Reid said people often felt they didn’t deserve time off. Reid said including abortion in the Channel 4 policy was “revolutionary”.
There was discussion of the higher rates of baby loss among people from minority backgrounds and concerns about the fact that you currently need to have had three consecutive miscarriages [recorded in your health notes] to be referred for miscarriage care. Lizzie said there was a need for a change in the policy and more resources for recurrent miscarriage services. “We need to challenge the conversation that there is nothing you can do to prevent baby loss,” she said.