Supporting bereaved parents to return to work

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The challenges commonly faced by new and expectant parents are in the spotlight this Perinatal Depression and Anxiety Week as national attention turns to ways we can better support parents’ mental and emotional wellbeing.

Research has shown that parents who experience the shock and devastation of the loss of a pregnancy or the death of a baby have statistically higher rates of depression and anxiety in the perinatal period than the general population.

Sands Australia CEO Jackie Mead said that more support services that addressed the wellbeing of bereaved parents are needed to ensure they can cope with the unique challenges they face in coping with everyday life as they grieve their baby.

“Without a baby to care for, bereaved parents are often cut adrift from the usual sources of support offered to new parents. There are no new parents groups to attend, no catch-ups with colleagues to introduce their new baby. Family and friends can also stay away for fear of further upsetting their loved ones,” said Ms Mead.

Bereaved parents report to Sands that one of the most significant challenges they face in adjusting to life without their baby is returning to work.

“Returning from maternity or paternity leave in such harrowing circumstances is a very daunting prospect. Parents may feel worried about what to say to their colleagues, or how people will react to them in the workplace. They may not have the physical or emotional stamina to undertake their usual work hours or duties.”

“Employers, too, often struggle to know how best to help their employees transition back into the workplace in the most appropriate and sensitive way. Increasingly, businesses themselves are contacting Sands for advice about how to manage the return to work process for the affected employee as well as their wider teams.”

Sands Australia and The Pink Elephants Support Network are joining together to deliver a targeted workplace support program to address these specific needs.

They’ll deliver workshops across Australia to educate employers about these issues and to equip them with the knowledge and confidence they need to support bereaved parents and to address any challenges that may arise.

Melbourne dad, Nick Xerakias, returned to work just weeks after the death of his newborn son, Angelo, in 2017.

“I would not have been able to do so had I not had such a supportive employer and colleagues who allowed me to take the time I needed to grieve for my son and to support my wife, Elena. Nick’s employer, GRACosway, were able to provide him with flexibility in his work hours and work load, which greatly reduced the pressure Nick felt about balancing the needs of his family and his job.

“They kept in touch with me and made sure they knew what I needed at each point in time. They didn’t make any assumptions.”

Sands CEO Jackie Mead said that the death of a colleague’s baby can also a have a profound impact on others in the workplace.

“It’s important to remember that other colleagues and team members may also benefit from education and support to feel confident about responding to a really challenging life event that is still so rarely publicly spoken about.”

The proposed workshops, to be rolled out in 2019, will help pave the way forward for employers in navigating this historically difficult space and in increasing awareness of the impact that pregnancy and infant loss has on the community.

About Sands

Sands is a not-for-profit organisation providing support, information and education to anyone affected by the death of a baby before, during or shortly after birth. We provide 24/7 support to bereaved parents through our national support line, email, live chat and through local face-to-face support groups. We provide information on miscarriage, stillbirth, newborn death and the grief experience to families as well as educating health professionals to improve the care and support bereaved parents receive.

About Pink Elephants

The Pink Elephants is an organisation that supports, nurtures and empowers couples through early pregnancy loss. We provide emotional support literature, personalised peer support and online support groups. We believe that whilst miscarriage is an individual journey, it should not be walked alone. For more information and to access our varied support services visit