Returning to work after losing a pregnancy or a baby is extremely complex. You might be feeling hesitation, or you might be dreading workplace interactions. You might also be looking forward to the distraction and return to a routine. However you are feeling, please know that it is normal.
You might find it hard to decide when to return to work. When someone experiences pregnancy or infant loss, the grief can cause anxiety, distraction, insomnia, and even depression, affecting your ability to function, especially in a workplace setting. This is why the Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support Centre (PILSC) exists; we can offer you tools to help you as you prepare to return to work.
Asking for Support from your employer
Prior to returning, we encourage you to be open with your employer about your situation and your feelings. If you feel safe, share with them what you need and the various ways to support you. Their understanding may increase their ability to accommodate your needs as you transition back to work, and it could be useful for others in the future.
We have a great resource on how to support an employee after a pregnancy and infant loss so you’re welcome to pass that along! That way, they have a bit of an insight into how you’re feeling to be back at work.
How to Deal with Colleagues
It is normal to feel very anxious about facing your coworkers. Let your supervisor, or someone you trust, know if you would like them to speak to your coworkers on your behalf about your loss. Be specific about the details you would like others to know. Tell them how you would like those in your working circle to support you. If you don’t want to talk about your loss, ask your supervisor to inform those around you about your wishes.
Some people request to visit their workplace before their planned return to work date, so they have the chance to share their story on their terms, minimizing the opportunity for uncomfortable questions. You can share as much or as little as you want. Sharing your baby’s name, details about the experience or anything that can help them support you may be something you want to do.
It is very important to note that you cannot control how you feel when you return to work after loss, and that’s okay! Take as many breaks as you need. Take each day with one step in front of the other and reach out for support here if necessary. You’ve got this!
The Unavoidable Questions
Remember that saying nothing or keeping your answer short is not rude. It is self-care.
Try preparing a response for the unavoidable times where questions will come up about your loss. A person may ask, “How is your baby?” or make a comment like, “why did you return to work so soon?”. It is emotionally hard, and preparing a simple answer ahead of time for those kinds of questions can help you face them. When someone asks, take a deep breath and give your response if you want to.
When Others Have what You Lost
Some parents report having feelings of envy, jealousy and even hate towards those who still have what they lost. Those feelings are natural and will lessen over time. You may find that you do not want to socialize with coworkers that were expecting around the same time as you were or have babies of a similar age. Avoidance from others can happen for many reasons: maybe they are concerned about triggering you, they are not facing their fears, or they are uncomfortable with grief in general. Don’t feel obligated to attend settings that can be upsetting for you. Connecting with people that can support you in your loss and are comfortable listening to your feelings can make a huge difference in your grieving journey. We are here to support you. Check out our peer support resources.
Extended Leave and Back to Work Options
Discussing your needs and accommodations with your employer can go a long way to help you transition back into the workplace. You can find Canadian bereavement legislation on our website www.pilsc.org. We also recommend talking to your doctor and your mental health practitioner when deciding your readiness.
Note that while employers are not required by law to accommodate you, they may be able to offer some flexibility to support you, such as a phased return to work, remote work, or reduced hours.
Even with these accommodations, it can still be quite overwhelming to be back at work. Talk to your employer about exploring additional leave or accessing Short Term Disability or Employee Assistance Program if available. It may also be necessary to consult with your family doctor to have access to sick leave benefits.
Remember that your well-being is a priority. As you navigate this next step in your grief journey, we are here to support you.
Extended Leave and Back to Work Options
There will be specific dates in the year where it will be harder to stay in control of your emotions: the anniversary of your baby’s death, the due date, your baby’s birthday, Mother’s day, and Father’s day, to name a few. It is wise to plan and consider taking time off on the dates you anticipate feeling overwhelmed. Those are days you could use to nurture yourself and to remember your baby. We have resources on our website with ideas for ritualizing your loss. There will be specific dates in the year where it will be harder to stay in control of your emotions: the anniversary of your baby’s death, the due date, your baby’s birthday, Mother’s day, and Father’s day, to name a few. It is wise to plan and consider taking time off on the dates you anticipate feeling overwhelmed. Those are days you could use to nurture yourself and to remember your baby. We have resources on our website with ideas for ritualizing your loss.