Should we be campaigning for miscarriage leave in the UK?
I came across this article in The Guardian earlier this month…
An interesting topic for discussion…
In summary, the article is about rising cross-party support amongst New Zealand MPs in support of miscarriage leave. This is following the efforts of Kathryn van Beek (pictured above) who suffered a miscarriage herself, and then discovered that many women across the country in similar situations struggled to get any time off to grieve. Currently, in New Zealand, people are entitled to bereavement leave but this does not cover the loss of a child not born alive (hence excludes miscarriages and stillbirths). There is now a bill proposing that women and their partners should be entitled to 3 days of paid bereavement leave after a miscarriage or stillbirth at any stage.
Now this sounds like progress! Not only does this bill validate the physical and emotional loss a woman experiences during miscarriage, but it also recognises that there is a grief process that partners also go through (who I feel are often overlooked). It also allows for some time for physical recovery after miscarriage, though I feel 3 days is not enough time to fully recover from any surgical procedure that may be required.
So what about us in the UK?
Miscarriage leave does not exist in the UK. Currently, if a woman/couple suffer a pregnancy loss before 24 weeks (miscarriage) the onus is on the person to request compassionate leave (but this is at the discretion of the employer), use annual leave or sick leave for any time off. A loss at 24 weeks or later is officially classified as a stillbirth, and in this situation the woman is entitled to full maternity leave and any other benefits that are in her pre-existing contract. Note, there is no official leave for partners (though I must admit I am unsure what happens regarding shared parental leave – please inform me if you know!).
Personally, I was lucky. I work in probably the most supportive environment with colleagues who are highly educated on the subject of miscarriage (of course being GPs), compassionate and extremely empathetic. Although I felt much guilt about being off work (a weird guilt that many doctors experience when off sick), I was not under pressure to work through my miscarriages. Also, on my return to work, I had several colleagues to talk to if I found things were a bit difficult. Once again I was/am lucky to be in this situation.
However, I am only too aware that many women are not so lucky. I have consulted women going through miscarriage who have felt the need to hide their loss from their employees as they have not had the supportive environment that I had. Typically, but not always (and please forgive me if I am stereotyping), these women work in corporate or in male dominated environments and often find it difficult to open up about miscarriage. Some women who work in other environments may struggle to open up to male bosses. Some women have even gone into work whilst miscarrying… This is clearly not right.
Can we, or should we be learning from the example set by New Zealand?
Obviously I think that we should be looking to do something similar here due to my personal experiences. Some form of legislation could help those who do not have very supportive work environments and could ease any additional stress when going through miscarriage. A bill would allow all women some more time to recover physically from the impact of miscarriage too. Finally, introducing miscarriage leave would help to reduce the taboo of miscarriage and to finally give some formal recognition to the psychological and physical impact that it has.
What are your thoughts? Please let me know!