How frequent are miscarriages?
A miscarriage occurs when one loses a baby before the 24th week of pregnancy. If a miscarriage occurs within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, it is called an early miscarriage.
If the baby dies in the womb after the 24th week of pregnancy or at birth, it is called a stillbirth.
Miscarriages are not rare, they are more common than many people think. It is estimated that about 10-20% of all pregnancies that occur in the 5th week of pregnancy result in a miscarriage.
Most miscarriages happen at an early or very early stage of pregnancy, i.e. up to the completed 12th week of pregnancy. This can happen before a woman even realises she is pregnant. It is also not uncommon for an embryo to implant successfully, but then for no heartbeat to be detected during the first or second ultrasound scan.
The probability of a miscarriage decreases significantly after the completed 12th week of pregnancy. This is also where the rule comes from that you should wait until the 12th week before telling friends and family about a pregnancy. The topic of miscarriage is still a taboo subject that is not talked about. The common thinking is that if you don’t tell people about the pregnancy, at least you don’t have to talk about the miscarriage, if it happens.
What are reasons for miscarriage?
There are many potential causes of miscarriage. In most cases of early miscarriage, the embryo itself is not genetically normal and a healthy pregnancy and live birth is not possible. The likelihood of this increases with the age of the couple: the older the two partners, the higher the likelihood that the chromosomes will not be arranged correctly when the egg is fertilised.
Other causes can be infections, some autoimmune diseases or previously undetected blood clotting disorders, hormone disorders or anatomical causes in the woman. Often, patients are unaware of these causes until further investigations are carried out as a result of a miscarriage.
Another cause is an ectopic pregnancy. In an ectopic pregnancy, the embryo has not implanted itself in the uterus as normal, but instead in the woman’s fallopian tube. Because the embryo in the fallopian tube is not supplied with enough blood, it often dies and naturally aborts. However, an undetected ectopic pregnancy can lead to dangerous complications. In most cases, however, it is detected early during an early ultrasound scan and must then be terminated because a healthy pregnancy is not possible.
What are the implications of a miscarriage for your employees?
Each couple, and therefore each of your employees, deals differently with a miscarriage. It also depends on the individual circumstances of the miscarriage, how far advanced the pregnancy was and how long the couple has had an unfulfilled wish to have a child.
In most cases of early miscarriage, the embryo comes off naturally. Bleeding – similar to menstruation, possibly a little heavier – starts and the embryo detaches naturally. A follow-up examination by the gynaecologist or in the fertility clinic usually confirms the miscarriage and at the same time ensures that no tissue remains in the uterus.
Even in the case of an early miscarriage before the 12th week of pregnancy, however, it may be necessary to have a curettage. This is an operation under general anaesthetic to remove any remaining tissue. The procedure is usually followed by about a week’s sick leave.
In the case of a miscarriage in advanced pregnancy or a still birth, a vaginal birth is usually performed, in some cases a caesarean section. In consultation with the attending doctor, this is either induced or the woman waits until she goes into labour naturally. Strong painkillers are administered to make the silent birth as painless as possible for the patient.
In addition to the physical consequences of a miscarriage or stillbirth, there are also the strong emotional burdens. Those affected often ask themselves why they suffered a miscarriage, whether they did something wrong and are “to blame” for the miscarriage and whether it will ever work out with the desired child.
Many women do not talk about a miscarriage they have suffered, or only to a very limited extent. Even to friends and family members, an early miscarriage is often not even mentioned, which can make it difficult to process the experience.
The barriers to talk about a miscarriage is even higher at work. Some female employees are reluctant to mention to their employer that they wish to have a child. This is often out of fear of being sidelined or passed over for promotion. If the pregnancy has not yet been communicated at work, many do not talk about the loss of the pregnancy. In these cases, employees often try to hide the physical consequences of a miscarriage. They do this, for example, by taking leave or justifying absences in other ways. The emotional consequences are then dealt with by the affected women themselves.
The physical and emotional consequences of a miscarriage do have an impact on the productivity of employees. If the employer only perceives the loss of productivity without knowing the background, a false picture can quickly emerge regarding the motivation and performance of the employee concerned.
Male employees do not suffer the physical consequences of a miscarriage, but they are also exposed to the emotional stresses. Men also very rarely talk about the fact that their partner has suffered a miscarriage. The topic is perhaps even more taboo for men than it is for women.
What can you do as a manager or HR representative?
If a staff member is affected by a miscarriage and confides in you, you may be wondering how to respond and how best to support.
Here are three tips on how managers and HR professionals can support their staff when they experience a miscarriage:
- Create a culture of openness and lead by example: The more open and natural it is to talk about sensitive matters in general in a company or department, the easier it is for those affected to talk about a miscarriage and related concerns. Of course, this only applies if openness on the part of employees is met with understanding and support.
- Show understanding and support: If a staff member speaks openly about a miscarriage, managers should show understanding and offer support. Well-intentioned tips and advice should be avoided. Simple, supportive statements such as “I am sorry this has happened to you. Let me know if there is anything I can do personally or if there is anything we as a company can do to support you” are most likely to help. Responses may vary. Some may want to throw themselves into work as a distraction, while others may need temporary time off.
- Introduce a “fertility policy”: Many American and British companies already have a “fertility policy”, i.e. guidelines, rules and written commitments on how to support employees who are undergoing fertility treatment or who suffer a miscarriage. This can be, for example, the right to temporarily and flexibly reduce working hours. With a “Fertility Policy”, companies normalise the topic of unfulfilled desire to have children. If a company already has a clear fertility policy, it is easier for employees to approach the HR department. Many companies in the USA and the UK also support their employees through so-called “fertility benefits”. In the case of a miscarriage, this could be the provision of a psychological support service even beyond the scope of statutory health insurance.
Why should companies care?
Why is this topic relevant for companies? After all, there are already so many other issues that companies, managers and HR staff have to worry about. Quite simply, miscarriages are not uncommon. It is very likely that employees in your team will also be affected at some point.
If companies support their employees in difficult situations, this has a positive effect on employee satisfaction and loyalty. Employees attach more and more importance to the fact that their employer is family-friendly. However, family friendliness also includes support on the way to the family of one’s dreams. In times of a shortage of skilled workers and a shortage of employees, employee loyalty is more important than ever. Taking an interest in the personal concerns of your employees and supporting them in the event of a miscarriage is therefore not only “the right thing to do”, but is also in your own company’s interest.