Whilst there is often much discussion about maternity and paternity rights at work, in contrast, pregnancies not going to plan is almost a ‘taboo’ subject – but very much worth discussing. Christine Husbands, managing director, RedArc Nurses, discusses how employers can best support employees through this traumatic and difficult situation.
The news that a new baby is expected can be one of the most joyful things in life, whilst the majority of pregnancies have a happy outcome, sadly some do not, leaving families coping with a child with severe health problems or devastated by their loss.
The NHS midwifery and paediatric services are excellent at the time of need; however the impact of a severely ill child or the death of a child can affect all members of a family unit forever. Couple this with the fact that people cope in very different ways, family relationships are often under huge pressure.
Work, of course, can inevitably be affected, and it can be tough for employers to know how to support their staff.
Even in a normal pregnancy, support in a new situation is often welcome. According to the insurer EmbryoCare, 60% of expectant and new mums would value one-to-one expert practical advice and emotional support during their pregnancy.
Fortunately the chances of having a severely ill child or losing an infant are very low. In the UK, 8 in every 1,000 babies are born with Congenital Heart Disease, 1 in 2,500 babies are born each year with Cystic Fibrosis and 15 babies die before, during or shortly after birth in the UK every day .
Whilst the occurrences of these and other serious conditions are low, when it does happen the consequences are likely to be life changing with major long-term consequences for families.
Parents (and often also grandparents) in these circumstances frequently need long-term support. This is initially to help them come to terms with the news; mid-term this might include making adjustments to cope with caring for a severely ill child perhaps alongside other children; long-term it might include grieving for the loss of their baby.
Whatever the circumstances, the issue is often life-long, so it is very important that support can be given on a continuous basis, with flexibility as the needs of the parents change.
Couples often cope with serious issues very differently and relationships can easily come under a great deal of strain, adding to the impact on the family unit.
New Parents in the Workplace
The transition to parenthood for any working person can be a big adjustment, sleepless nights for a working parent can be draining and leave an employee finding it hard to concentrate and work effectively. A parent at home with a new baby can feel isolated and returning to work is often an emotional time with worries about leaving the baby in someone else’s care, as well as often a loss of confidence in the ability to pick up and do the role effectively again.
In the instance of a child being born with a serious health defect or a child’s death, then the difficulties are much worse. One parent will probably need to return to work in order to keep money coming into the family but this can make the job of the lone parent at home very difficult indeed.
Emotional and practical support
Our team of qualified Personal Nurses are experienced in supporting parents in all these circumstances. We have learned that each parent’s needs are very different.
Some need practical advice, such as information to help them understand the medical condition, guidance on how to make suitable home adaptations, how to ensure that all relevant NHS services are utilised, signposting to local charities and self-help groups, etc.
All tend to benefit from emotional support, having a listening ear from someone with plenty of time that the parent can quickly get to know and trust. This can be a life-line for parents going through these difficult times.
Parents also welcome the opportunity to discuss how they can best support their partner and work together as a family unit, which can be vital for families.
How employers can offer support
As well as the required ‘maternity and paternity policies’, employers are obliged to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate parents with a disabled or severely ill child.
A flexible, sympathetic approach to part-time or home working and a caring supportive culture can make a huge difference, however employers should consider taking a fresh look at their group risk policies to see what support is available – and gently make sure that employees are aware they can access any benefits you provide, often as ‘added benefits’ that many organisations don’t take time to explore.
For example, mental health support for employees is often provided as part of your existing group risk policy – and can even be helpful if an employee suffers, for example, post natal depression even after a normal childbirth.
However new products can go beyond the basics and specifically offer tailored insurance to cater for the situation of a child being born with a serious health condition or the death of a child. This gives families financial support so that they can take extended periods away from work if they need to, pay for specialist care or make adaptations to the home. It can give parents the breathing space they may need without having to worry about the pressure of work.
EmbryoCare is an example of a company that offers such insurance which recognises the importance of emotional support as well as financial assistance and offers both to customers – it is certainly a product employers could consider offering with a direct arrangement or via a flexible benefits policy. Whilst such insurances are new, employers should be aware of them.
Having financial and emotional support available for worst case scenarios is a great benefit to consider offering your staff – because unfortunately, sometimes, the worst case scenario happens.