“As I prepare my heart and mind for returning to work I can't but wonder how my life would be with an infant. I forgot to unsubscribe to Baby Center, and they sent me an email reminder that the baby I thought I would be holding in my arms is no longer here. Will I be strong enough? Can I handle the pressure and stress of work? Will people treat me differently? How will I feel? These are some of the thoughts that go through my mind when I think about returning for work. I've loathed in self-pity, blamed myself for everything that I did and did not do right, and cried every day. Now that I have to go back to work will I have a break down and cry all day?”
Grief is the natural response to any loss. The exert above is a personal journey entry as I prepared to return to work after the death of my newborn son at birth. I grieved over my baby boy for 8 weeks before returning to work. My body was physically healed from the emergency caesarean, but my spirit and mind were not. The loss of a child is arguably the most intense loss of life and people rarely know how to respond to this. Whether you have experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth or the death of a child or infant, returning to work while you are still grieving is difficult. As a fellow Sister in Loss here's my advice on how best to go about it.
1. Unsubscribe to parenting websites and apps
Nothing like a push notification to remind you of your grief. As you prepare your heart and mind, delete all pregnancy apps and unsubscribe from parenting websites. This will save you the anxiety of being reminded of your loss when you’re least expecting it.
2. Therapy is key
The Employee Assistance Program (or EAP) through your employer’s insurance is a great resource and will help direct you to therapists in your network. Mental health carries a significant stigma in the African American community, as many do not think therapy is a valid way to deal with trauma. For me, it helped me to see the light during my darkest moments, and the biggest thing I learned was how to respond to other people around me as I prepared to go back to work. If you are seeking someone who understands the mental health stigma in the black community, Therapy for Black Girls is a podcast/database worth checking out.
3. Take it slow
Taking time to grieve is easier said than done. Please remember you are not the same person as before (how could you be after such a traumatic experience!) You may have left work visibly pregnant or perhaps your coworkers weren’t aware you were expecting. Whatever your situation, take the time you need and transition back into work slowly. Your supervisor and job may let you work part-time for a period or let you work from home as you learn to navigate your new normal.
4. Ask for help
It’s important to seek support from your coworkers and friends (not just your boss.) Tell your supervisor or manager about your recent experience and ask them for grace during this time. Look for counsel in a friend or trusted coworker whenever you are feeling down and need someone to talk to. Do not suppress your feelings of grief at work! If you have to cry, go into the restroom. Then, come back out when you’re ready to tackle the day.
5. Forgive people for their responses
The hardest part about coming back to work after your miscarriage or infant loss is dealing with those people who did not know about your pregnancy until now. And often, they won’t know the “proper” words to say to console you - they are just trying to do their best to make conversation and for it to not feel awkward. Therapy taught me to let those not-so-comforting” responses such as, “heaven gained another angel,” or, “God is going to bless you with two more,” to roll off my shoulders. If your coworkers admit they don’t know what to say to you, just tell them you want to hear your babies name or simply listen to you talk about your experience. Sometimes this can be all you need to bring you comfort during those first few days and weeks back at work.
Please make sure when you do go back to work you are honest with yourself. If you are still grieving and mourning, recognise those feelings and where you are at with your journey. You have to be able to tackle those feelings of grief head-on so that your grief won’t hinder you from doing what you are paid to do.