Supporting Women With Perinatal Grief in the Workplace
Losing a child during pregnancy or immediately after birth is one of the most terrible situations that a human being can ever face. Indeed, all the mother’s hopes and goals, as well as her feelings for her baby, are disrupted by this tragic event. Suddenly, her emotional cosmos collapses, giving rise to a burning and incombustible feeling. It paralyzes her, piercing her every thought and emotion. This is perinatal grief.
Grief is a normal and habitual reaction when we lose someone we love. It arises from the rupture of what was built, which suddenly staggers and collapses. For most mothers, it represents a set of collapsing emotions that threaten, sometimes in a veiled way, the end of all hope.
“When a loss occurs during pregnancy, life and death walk together.”
-Ana Pía López-
Perinatal grief and the workplace
There’s a long tradition of definitions that gravitate around the terrifying world of perinatal grief. The pain that arises as a consequence of these heartbreaking episodes is difficult to define. In fact, some experts extend the perinatal period up to the first year of the infant’s life (Pía, 2011).
A large number of women facing this tragedy are working. However, as a rule, they hide their suffering because they’re afraid of being fired if their performance decreases or they worry that their experience will count against them. This places them in an extremely complicated situation.
Employers, managers, and the staff responsible for other employees need to realize that they can help the grieving mother a great deal. They should be given both time and space to process their loss until they begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
“Mourning is like an ocean; deep and dark, sometimes calm and sometimes agitated, but always present.”
Help in the workplace
The way in which a boss or manager responds to this sensitive and tragic situation says a lot about the work environment. Indeed, it conveys a powerful message, since the workplace must provide a healthy environment, as well as the security that employees need.
Therefore, if employers help women who’ve lost their children, it communicates to the other employees that the company cares about the well-being of its workers. As such, employers can choose between compassion and support or inhumanity and indifference. Those who choose the former develop a kind of personal trademark that shows they focus on how valuable their employees are.
How do they achieve this? Taking the mother’s wishes into account instead of their own is a good start. This is because everyone experiences grief in a highly personal and subjective manner. Therefore, going along with the mother’s needs is a valuable technique.
“The loss of a child is not something to get over, but something we learn to take with us.”
-Amy Wright Glenn-
Support guidelines from work in perinatal grief
The CIPD recently published a good practice guide. We’re going to explore it, with the aim of offering a framework of action for bosses, managers, and employers faced with employees suffering the tragic outcome of perinatal mourning.
There are many support measures and ways of providing support to those who are suffering. Many people are empathetic. However, compassion sometimes leads them to not know what to do or how to help the sufferer. The CIPD guide proposes the following:
- If they’re absent from work, respond compassionately. Being flexible is key. The mother is facing an ocean of suffering with no apparent end.
- Organize networks. The creation of support groups or networks offers resources that other employees can share with the mother. However, if she doesn’t want to participate in these groups, that’s okay. Remember that going along with her wishes is a good starting point.
- Promote a warm, sensitive, and aware environment around the fact of being pregnant and any possible perinatal grief. It’s important to transmit messages that underline the importance, above all, of well-being at work. For this, it’s essential to educate and promote deep reflection on the issue.
- Provide support. For example, via previously defined action protocols or by offering various resources to help them. Resources can mean many things: from reductions in working hours and the flexibility of objectives to more specialized resources, such as health professionals.
- Offer support guidelines to the grieving mother’s colleagues. As a result of the mother’s absence, her colleagues might be overloaded both professionally and emotionally. Helping them is also a way of helping her. That’s because her colleagues play an extraordinarily important role in helping to make the workplace a habitat of well-being, instead of a wasteland and hostile desert.
Experiencing the pain of others as if it were our own
Supporting an employee who has lost her child means thinking about her suffering. It also means experiencing it as if it were their own. In fact, it’s at this point, that the employee stops being just another worker and becomes a human being. Just like the grieving mother.
There are many support guidelines for helping a mother face this devastating process. The best way is by sensitively respecting their emotions, thoughts, and needs. Above all, it implies putting their pain before their work performance, with the aim of providing light in their darkest moments.
“It is a pain that hurts too much to speak. But even in the deepest loneliness, there can be light and hope.”
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
Consejo General de la Psicología en España. Infocop. Cómo apoyar laboralmente a las empleadas tras una pérdida perinatal. www.infocoponline.es. https://www.infocop.es/view_article.asp?id=22809
Fernández-Alcántara, M., Cruz-Quintana, F., Pérez-Marfil, N., & Robles-Ortega, H. (2012). Factores psicológicos implicados en el duelo perinatal. Index de Enfermería, 21(1-2), 48-52. https://scielo.isciii.es/scielo.php?pid=S1132-12962012000100011&script=sci_arttext&tlng=pt
- López García de Madinabeitia, A. P. (2011). Duelo perinatal: un secreto dentro de un misterio. Revista de la Asociación Española de Neuropsiquiatría, 31(1), 53-70. https://scielo.isciii.es/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0211-57352011000100005