Baby Loss Awareness Week, 9-15 Oct 2020

Trigger warning: This case study contains sensitive and deeply personal information about baby loss and may be extremely upsetting to read.

It is taken from our ‘Fertility, Infertility and Baby Loss in the Workplace’ guide which is available for members in the resource library here. You can find out more about all the Inclusive Employers membership benefits here.

At Asda, we’re really passionate about creating a truly inclusive culture that enables all of our colleagues to bring their best and true selves to work every day. This year we have stepped on our inclusion agenda by starting to talk openly about fertility journeys and baby loss to support our colleagues and help start the conversation.

Our fertility working group was spearheaded by one of our colleagues, Cat Hercman, who sadly lost her baby daughter Maria last year. Cat says: “At the beginning of August 2019 I excitedly left my role on the People Floor in Asda House to go and have my first child, a little girl. Nine days into my maternity leave my husband and I had to send a text message to all of our friends and family, including my line manager telling them the worst news. Our daughter had been delivered that morning incredibly poorly after a major haemorrhage at home and we’d had to make the devastating decision to remove life support. Maria Elizabeth had been delivered by C-section on the 17 August weighing a very healthy 8lbs 13oz at 3.58am and only lived for 7 hours. The days and weeks that followed were a blur of deep grief, recovery from surgery, alongside meetings with the hospital, coroners, funeral directors and lots of paperwork. We were also given the devastating blow that Maria’s death could have been prevented due to the hospital not following policy guidelines of a diagnosed pregnancy condition.

Through all of this, we were also dealing with the grief of our close family and friends; people who we’d known for years were suddenly awkward around us, as they just didn’t know what to say. A lot of people just chose to say nothing, which I found particularly painful. In the initial weeks after Maria’s death, I took great comfort from talking to other mothers who had been through the same experience, I was able to connect with them through the SANDs charity who hold a local group once per month. These were the only people who understood, in a situation where you feel so isolated – I was now in the club no one wanted to be in.

The reason I wanted to share my story, is to highlight that 1 in 4 women will experience loss when trying to start a family, and it is still considered a taboo subject. This is something that will be affecting many Asda colleagues, and I imagine a lot of the time in silence. One thing I’ve learnt through my experience of losing Maria is that people aren’t comfortable with talking about miscarriage or the death of a child, or even death in general. This made me feel nervous about my eventual return to work and how colleagues may act around me. On maternity leave I had started to think about how I can use my experience in helping to support other Asda colleagues going through a loss. The HR Director had been in contact with me whilst I was off, so I mentioned some ideas to her as well as the Diversity Manager. My initial idea was to set up a group dedicated to supporting colleagues through baby loss. However, on my return, when we started to talk to colleagues who might be interested in joining the group, it quickly became apparent that there are so many issues affecting men and women that span the whole subject of trying to start a family.

So, we decided to set up a more inclusive fertility working group covering all these subjects with the aim of breaking the silence and stigma around baby loss, infertility and mental ill-health linked to starting a family. Raising awareness of these issues, advising the business on how policies can be shaped, as well as creating forums to connect colleagues who have been through the same experiences. Getting involved in this group has not only supported me during my recovery, but it has also provided a sense of comfort that something positive has come out of my experience, to support other colleagues and in memory of Maria.”

The Diversity and Inclusion team worked with Cat who used internal channels to set up a working group with male and female representatives from Head Office, Retail and Distribution Centres – all of whom had been touched by fertility and, or, baby loss. We were surprised with the uptake, however in addition to 1 in 4 women experiencing baby loss: 1 in 7 heterosexual couples may have difficulty conceiving (NHS), and 60,000 babies are born prematurely each year (Tommy’s) – we know this has and will continue to affect many of our colleagues either as a woman, partner or family member.

The group have reviewed our policies to suggest improvements: helping to create a new Baby Loss Policy and refreshing our IVF Policy. This year will be the first year we are recognising Baby Loss Awareness Week across our business by promoting the Policies and starting the conversation. Our ambition is to break the taboo and help our managers and colleagues feel comfortable and supported in their conversations.