World Childless Week 2023: supporting colleagues who have experienced pregnancy or baby loss

Back in May, I published a written piece about what childlesss not by choice (cnbc) means. The 11th – 17th September is World Childless Week and I wanted to write another profile on a related topic because it can be hard to know how to navigate issues of grief, infertility, and childlessness at work as the subjects can be very confronting. 

The focus of this blog is looking at what support we can offer colleagues who have experienced pregnancy or baby loss, but before I get into the details it is important to remember that, as a colleague,  

…your role is not to be a counsellor or even someone’s best friend. But looking out for your colleagues, being prepared to listen, and showing empathy are part of building a caring and compassionate workplace.

CIPD, Workplace support for employees experiencing pregnancy or baby loss, 2022 

Acknowledging and talking about these topics can be really hard, but doing so offers us all the opportunity to work in a more compassionate environment and support colleagues who may be going through times of really challenging emotional hardship. 

The CIPD have produced a helpful guide for colleagues outlining what types of pregnancy and baby loss there are and their definitions, what you can do to help a colleague who has experienced pregnancy or baby loss, and some useful resources. This blog focuses on what you can do, but please read page 3 of the guide, if possible, to familiarise yourself with the types of loss that may occur as it is often presumed this means miscarriage or stillbirth, but these are not the only types of loss during pregnancy and during and after birth. 

It is also important to note that not included in the guide are instances of missed miscarriage: 

A missed (or silent) miscarriage is one where the baby has died or not developed, but has not been physically miscarried.  In many cases, there has been no sign that anything was wrong, so the news can come as a complete shock.

Miscarriage Association, Missed miscarriage 

People experiencing pregnancy and/or baby loss and its impacts may be feeling a range of emotions including grief, shock, anger, confusion, self-blame, and sorrow. This includes the person who has directly experienced the loss as well as their partner(s), friends, family members, surrogates, among others who may be impacted. It is important to not expect and demand that somebody continue on with their work as though nothing has happened and instead offer them compassion, care, and consideration. 

What does this look like in practical terms for colleagues? 

It is very common to not know what to do when someone experiences loss or bereavement of some kind. The CIPD guide provides very useful information gleaned from Miscarriage Association: 

What to say and not to say  

Comments that could be helpful:  

  • “I’m very sorry that you have lost your baby.” 
  • “This must be really difficult for you.” 
  • “I don’t know what to say.”  

Things not to say:  

  • “Don’t worry, you’re young. You can always have another baby.” 
  • “It wasn’t meant to be.” 
  • “It was probably for the best.” 
  • “At least you have other children.”  

After a statement like “I’m very sorry to hear about your loss,” you can ask open-ended questions like, “How are you feeling?” This gives someone the choice to open up and talk about their feelings but it may be that a person doesn’t want to talk about their loss in detail or at all. One approach is no better or worse than the other, but, as colleagues, “acknowledging that their loss has happened is very important” (CIPD, 2022).  

What if I don’t know?

It may be the case that you do not know if a work colleague has experienced pregnancy or baby loss. In this case, there are general good practice actions you can take to be mindful of people who may have experienced these things or who may be childless not by choice (cnbc) due to other reasons. 

  • Baby announcements. It can be really exciting when a colleague has a baby and it is okay to share this news. However, it is good practice to not include people who do not know the colleague who has had the baby. For example, I was copied into a baby announcement email that included 73 people in the email chain. While I am happy for that colleague, I didn’t and do not know them and now I know the name and birth date of their new baby which is information that they themselves may want to keep more private. If you are going to do baby announcement emails, keep the circulation to people who know the colleague 
    • Notifying. Relatedly, some colleagues in the sector at childlessness events have shared that if they have disclosed to a close colleague that they do not want to hear about baby or pregnancy announcements, it can be helpful if that colleague warns them that there is a baby announcement email in their inbox before they open it unexpectedly. This is not required, but can be helpful  
  • Pictures in baby announcement emails. After attending various talks online and in-person from colleagues across the sector on childlessness, something that can be very common, and quite hurtful for people who are childless not by choice or going through pregnancy and/or baby loss, is receiving baby announcement emails with pictures of the baby included in the email itself. If you wish to share an image of your newborn, you can of course do this. However, instead of embedding them directly in an email where, once opened, the picture is immediately visible, attach them in a zip file that a person can choose themselves to open 
  • Office visits. It can be nice to bring your new baby into the office. However, if you would like to do this, try and schedule when you will bring your baby in and, if possible, book a room where people can come to you. Bringing a baby into an open plan office will not give people who are cnbc or who have experienced pregnancy and/or baby loss who are not ready to engage with the situation the choice to stay in the office. They may feel they have to leave or feel pressured to stay, despite feeling very emotional 
  • Language. Culturally, it is often assumed that people of a certain age have children. However, this is not everyone’s reality but this assumption still appears in our language. For example, I was told about an instance where the Chair of a meeting wished people in the meeting a nice holiday with their children. Instead, they could have just said “enjoy your holiday.” Be mindful of presuming that people have children as this is not the case for everyone 

Support for colleagues

If you have been impacted by pregnancy and/or baby loss and you would like support at work, please feel free to access the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). The University offers the EAP, which is an independent, free, confidential support and counselling service run by CIC and called Confidential Care. You can find out more information, including how to contact Confidential Care on the University of Reading HR pages. 

If you would like to talk to someone at work, you can talk to your line manager, HR Advisor or Partner. 

Please feel free to visit the World Childless Week website to find out more about what’s on this year. 

One thought on “World Childless Week 2023: supporting colleagues who have experienced pregnancy or baby loss

  1. Thank you so much for these clear and helpful guidelines.
    I emailed the head at my educational workplace following a baby announcement email with 5 photos attached of new born baby and with new born baby with both parents, which was deeply triggering. I suggested that photos be in a separate file. I had a positive and seemingly understanding and supportive response. However, a year on, we received an email with the subject, “ finally, good news from the bursary “ , with a baby announcement with photos of new born in the email which opened automatically.
    This is triggering for those recently suffering baby loss.

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