My Story of Loss, Support and How My Employer Helped Me In My Grief
When you accept a job, you’re not usually thinking about how that employer will support you if you were to lose your child. I certainly wasn’t. But, I faced this reality several years ago in tandem with my company. Neither of us were prepared to handle such a tragic and disruptive experience.
This was my first pregnancy, and likely my last as we had invested in two very expensive rounds of IVF. We were relieved to find out we’d be having twin boys, sort of a two for one deal.
My husband and I awoke on schedule, packed ready to welcome our twin boys into the world. I was fortunate to have a healthy, full-term twin pregnancy and had scheduled a C-section for the early morning of November 11th. My husband took a few pictures and some video with the usual happy commentary. I waddled in to the prep room, welcomed by several healthcare professionals who knew much more than I did about giving birth.
We were greeted with happy, excited faces and everything was going as planned.
A Change of Plans
Music was playing as the anesthesiologist made sure the medication was working, then the doctor got to work. Baby A – Charlie – Came out first. Within seconds, his newborn voice was echoing throughout the room. He was cleaned, swaddled and brought to my bedside for a quick peek before being whisked away by a bubbly nurse. A few minutes later, something felt wrong. The doctors’ movements seemed more frantic. I wasn’t feeling pain, but there was a panicked-pressure as he worked to deliver baby B – Oliver. Within minutes, the room was full of people wearing surgeon gowns and masks. The song, “Fire In the Sky” had been playing on the radio but was abruptly cut off. We were told the baby wasn’t breathing and they were doing all they could to help. 40 agonizing minutes later, my doctor looked at me with fear-filled eyes and simply said, “I’m so sorry.”
We were in shock. We had just welcomed a healthy baby boy and within minutes, lost another. Trying to cope with the waterfall of emotions was impossible. We weren’t prepared to deal with the loss. Being alone in the delivery room, holding my cold, purple baby seemed impossible. I didn’t know where Charlie was, I didn’t accept that Oliver was dead and I didn’t know what to do.
We were moved into our room and started hearing from our friends and family members, wanting to share in our exciting day. My first call was to my mom who was on her way to the hospital to greet her new grandbabies. It was one of the hardest conversations I’ve had in my life, trying to find the words to tell her one of the boys was gone. It is one of 4 times I’ve seen my mom cry. As the day went on, we had more visitors – Physicians, nurses, volunteers, the chaplain, our other children; all were there to share in our grief and offer support to help us heal. I felt I was in a position to provide them comfort because I could see their pain. I didn’t know how to accept their comfort to help me.
An Unexpected Response
Eventually, I was collected enough to share the news with my employer. I sent a brief, factual email to let them know what had happened and how it would affect my plan to return to work. I had only worked there for a year and didn’t feel I had made any meaningful relationships yet. But, in the following days, I was overwhelmed with the condolences and thoughtful gestures of my colleagues. Flowers, emails, visits, meals – They were there for me in a way I didn’t expect.
The bigger surprise, though, was how they reacted to my readiness to return to work. I was able to spend the time at home initially while I worked through some major grief, especially as we planned and attended the funeral and spent Thanksgiving and Christmas in a confusing mix of grief and joy. They gently checked in with me, providing opportunities for me to work from home part time to meet their basic HR and payroll needs while providing a much-needed income for me. When I was ready to start coming back into the office, they again surprised me with the opportunity to split my time between home and office.
A Human Experience
The value I felt from all of this is indescribable. When I was working, I not only wanted to do a great job, I was willing to invest my own time to do exceptional work. They were creating an environment where I felt valued, emphasizing the human behind the resource. Grief is such a difficult human experience but how they supported me made me want to be the best employee I could be for them. This kind of environment fosters the kind of employee engagement that everyone is looking for. When an employer gives to their employees, the employees want to give back — its a natural, human expression.
When you support your employees, you will get a return on that investment. Allow people to bring their whole self to work. Support them in their lives. Their lives will have moments of joy and moments of tragedy, as all of ours will, but as employers we need to share in that human experience, whether it be a celebration or a time to mourn. This is what the human experience is all about, and how we all can create better workplaces for a better world.