At the start of this year I had a miscarriage – I was one of the one in four whose pregnancy sadly just isn’t viable. I couldn’t have done anything differently, and nothing could be done medically, so we waded through a difficult month of lockdown, shunting back and forth to the hospital until the end of February when everything was over.
Thanks to some rather vigorous morning sickness, I’d told my boss that I was pregnant quite early on and this meant that when things started to go wrong with my pregnancy, I was given the flexibility to work – or not – as I needed to. I couldn’t have been in a more supportive environment to go through something that turned out to be fairly drawn out and traumatic. Once all the medical procedures were finished, I was encouraged to take some time away from work to heal physically and mentally. There was no formal process to go through, no approvals needed, just kindness and support.
This isn’t a puff piece about how great it is to work for the FDA – although I’m sure our general secretary will welcome the nice comments about how well supported I’ve been. My experience did, however, make me think about how others manage, particularly when they don’t have the support from work that I was fortunate enough to have.
Research from Maternity Action shows that around 150,000 working women will have a miscarriage each year. While I was really sad to join that club, it also got me thinking about how many of our members will also have been affected by a similar loss.
As I emerged from the immediate aftermath of what we’d been through, stories of employers introducing new pregnancy loss policies started to emerge. Channel 4 seemed to lead the way in April and shared their pregnancy loss policy publicly with a call for other employers to follow suit. Monzo Bank, the Co-op, law firm Kingsley-Napley and John Lewis all quickly published their policies, which included provisions for time off for both partners and underlined the mental health support services available to bereaved parents-to-be.
In classic trade unionist style, I turned straight to policy and did some research as to what was currently offered for civil servants who suffer a miscarriage themselves, or are bereaved partners. What I found was really paltry – there’s no guarantee of paid time off and no mention of partners, just a commitment to look at requests for leave “sympathetically”.
We know that having explicit provisions for paid time off or special paid leave can really remove the barriers to people taking time away from work when they need it. Adding any levels of bureaucracy or the need for senior decision making can put people off asking. It’s not about forcing people to have time off but rather having the time there as standard, with the option to opt out.
While the legal protection available to working women and their partners is limited before the pregnancy reaches 24 weeks, the flurry of policies from private sector employers underlines that more can be done. I’ve written to the Cabinet Office asking for them to work with us on creating a fit-for-purpose pregnancy loss policy. This policy would run alongside a suite of support for members navigating this all-too-common loss, including guidance for line managers and professional and peer support.
I’m sure most readers have someone in their lives who has been impacted by pregnancy loss. Carrie Johnson has recently shared her experience of getting pregnant after a loss, and when I shared my experience of miscarriage I was overwhelmed by the number of friends and colleagues who reached out to let me know they’d been through the same thing. Miscarriage is so common, but in my experience having the right support from work and the option of taking time away when you need it has made the world of difference to my recovery and my mental health. We’re asking the Cabinet Office to work with us to create the same environment for civil servants impacted by pregnancy loss.
Victoria Jones is the FDA union's equality officer