A tale of work culture and loss
I’ve always wanted to be a Mum (as soon as I past that awkward puberty stage of disgust at young children that is!). I longed to settle down and have a family, by the time I met the man I would eventually marry I was already worried about being left on the shelf, baron and lonely. I was only 22!
After having one beautiful baby girl aged 30, it was a struggle to have another. Eventually I fell pregnant but fate had other plans and I lost the baby. A missed miscarriage. It happens every day to so many women, but the guilt that I am still making peace with many years later is that I likely lost the baby due to our work, work, work culture.
You see, it’s tough being a woman at work, eyes on you wondering if you’re going to have a baby / another baby / why you’re not having babies. I was once in a job in my 20’s where I was told (in a joking way that was no joke) that none of us were allowed to get pregnant.
When I finally fell pregnant after battling secondary infertility, I was ecstatic but also desperate to keep it a secret at work. To work hard, to pull my weight, to not be weak, not be affected by the morning sickness, to not let anyone down.
When I was 8 weeks pregnant I fell ill, yet instead of taking myself off to bed to rest I did what I had learned to do and soldiered on. For a few days I managed to battle through, then one morning I sobbed all the way to work. My entire body ached, I was in the clutches of flu, my head foggy and heavy. Yet I was still adamant that I needed to work, I don’t even know how I drove there in a complete daze.
I took one step in the office and had to confess all to my team lead, between sobs explaining that I was ill and pregnant and needed to rest. He asked what on earth I was doing at the office and sent me straight home.
I knew I had overdone it.
The stupid thing was that the company I was working for had a great culture and a supportive line manager. There really was no need for me to push so hard, that was coming from me rather than the company and years of learned social norms.
I took myself home to bed shaking all over, fever and stomach pains. I stayed there a few days before returning to work, thinking I had made it through unscathed.
When my 12 week scan came around, I knew immediately that things were not fine. What I saw on the screen was not what should have been there, there was the most excruciatingly long and drawn out scan without a word from the sonographer. I held my breath already knowing what was coming.
I’m sorry she said, and I burst in to tears.
The baby had stopped growing, it’s little heart stopped beating at 8 weeks. The exact time that I soldiered on through flu.
All I could think was that if I had taken care of myself and rested then maybe he or she would have made it.
I had been so intent on not being seen as weak and carrying on with work that I had let myself down, not giving my baby the home it needed to thrive.
A missed miscarriage they said. Like my body had just forgotten to pass on the message.
Although I have been told that we will never know why, that there was probably just something “not right”, that it wasn’t anything I did or didn’t do, I have had to live with that “what if”. What if I had made my health the priority over my work? Would it have made a difference?
Needless to say there were a lot of tears, a lot of self-blame, a lot of healing to do after that. I have made peace with my decisions and also changes to the way I approach my responsibilities now.
We were also eventually blessed with another child and also a third. However, that’s a story for another day. What I really want to focus on here is the culture we have of working through illness, of pushing on and wearing it as a badge of honour.
Even in the weeks following my miscarriage and the subsequent operation to correct what my body could not, I felt under pressure to return to work rather than grieve my loss and start to recover physically and emotionally.
We are rewarded for having perfect attendance at school or work, punished if we are off sick with no paid leave or judgement of letting down the team.
Only last week I took my 5 year old daughter out of school as she was full of cold and feeling rotten, the school advised to send her in as long as it was just a cold. This is the culture, it starts right from school. Just let them know what time you administered calpol and you’re good to go. Even with the current climate there is a public health radio advert advising parents not to keep kids home from school for every day illness, only if they have covid-19 symptoms.
What if we taught out children and young people instead that it’s okay to rest and take care of yourself, that our health is valuable and should be treasured not pushed to the breaking point?
If months of social distancing and isolating has taught us anything, shouldn’t it be that if you have symptoms of any illness you stay home and get better? Why is it expected that we carry on through cold and flu, likely spreading our germs everywhere we go?
Why is it seen as a sign of weakness to stay home and heal whist also protecting our fellow humans?
I for one am making it a priority to teach my children to value their health, to prioritise it and to know themselves well enough to know when they need to rest and to honour that. I’m making it a priority to lead by example, my health and the health of my family needs to come first. So does yours.