There you are: suit up, bag in your hand ready to go back to work. A daily routine that was so common until recently. And now it’s all different.

You could totally imagine how it would go after childbirth and maternity leave. Your sweet baby in the Maxi-Cosi to the nursery and you nervous (because would it all go well), tired, but in a cheerful mood finally back to work after all these weeks. Participating in adult life again, having real conversations about topics you know so much about, or making a contribution to working life again.

You feel pain, you doubt and you are closer to crying than laughing. The world has moved on and yours has stopped after the death of your child. And now you’re going back, back to work. You want to, but then again you don’t.

What do you need to do? You don’t know what to expect and how you will react, feel or think. Loss, sadness or other emotions often come at the most unexpected moments. Perhaps the points below can help you return to work and when you are back at work.

  1. Get in touch with your work soon. They want to know how things are going. Employers don’t go through this every day and don’t always know how to support you. Contact your supervisor before the first day of work and discuss together, if necessary. With the company doctor present, how you prefer to see yourself on the first day of work. Discuss the possibilities and discuss the small steps. This is how you slowly build up work again. Physically and mentally, you have to get used to what it’s like to work again. You are no longer the person you were before the loss, you have changed to the depths of your being. It will never be the same again, not even at work.
    In addition, you have to get pregnant. Even though you have empty arms, your body has to adapt.
    For example, agree to come and have a cup of coffee before the first day of work. You and your colleagues have already seen and spoken to each other.
  2. Follow your own gut feeling and see what you need. Emotions associated with the loss don’t stick to fixed times and come when you least expect it. Listen to your body’s signals and try to think about what you need at that moment. Express your emotions or not and take good care of yourself. But how do you do that? Sometimes it helps to just get on with your work. In the beginning with adjusted working hours. A few hours of wits about something else. You can tell your supervisor that you’re not having your day and if they want to keep you out of the wind a bit. Sometimes it helps to let your sadness run wild for a while or to take a walk for an hour. Call your supervisor and tell them you’ll be late. Just because it’s not about making the step to work for a while. Remember: everyone grieves in their own way and you have your way. If necessary, say that you don’t know, but try to keep in touch.
  3. Think of ‘excuses’. Excuses are ready-made answers, which you have already thought of in advance. Because you can’t leave the grief of losing your baby at home and therefore take it with you to work, it’s nice to write down for yourself what you want and what you can do if you are overwhelmed at work by questions that you find difficult at the time. Then you are less likely to panic when people ask questions, whether well-intentioned or not. The ready-made answers are nice to come up with in advance with your partner or another loved one. It gives peace of mind when you can say something that you have thought of in advance.
    Examples of excuses can be answers to the question: “How many children do you have?”, or if someone asks “How are you?” what can you say to get rid of it? Do you feel comfortable with a bit of a vague answer like “Good under the circumstances” or do you prefer to say “bad”?
    To a question you don’t want to answer, you can safely say, “It’s nice of you to ask, but I feel sad and don’t want to talk about it right now. Let’s have a cup of tea sometime to talk about it further.’
    And when children or pregnancies are discussed, what do you do? Do you sit there, walk away for a while or say something?
  4. Don’t go to work alone on the first day. The first day at work is not easy. Make sure you go to work with someone on the first day. Ask a colleague you get along with, who you feel comfortable with and who you trust.
  5. Find a buddy at work. Ask one (or more) dear good colleague if he or she wants to be your buddy. Someone you can be yourself with and not have to hide your emotions. Who you can knock on the door of when things aren’t going well, who you can have lunch with and who will stand up for you if you can’t do it yourself.
    It’s nice to know that there is a colleague who supports you, assists you or can even stand up for you if things don’t work out for you. You hardly know how you react in certain situations, let alone the people around you. They don’t know how to react to you and they don’t know how to respond to their own emotions.
  6. Remembrance days. There are difficult times coming up such as: the birthday of birth, the anniversary of death, a birthday, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day or the holidays. Usually these are emotional days of which you don’t know in advance what the impact will be. Take care of yourself, fill this day with things that you and your partner enjoy. Indicate this to your employer so that they are aware and can take you into account around these important days for you.
  7. Ask and seek help if you can’t do it anymore. This is not a sign of weakness, rather it is a sign of courage. The work continues, only you can’t do it now. Your manager, company social worker, confidential counsellor or company doctor can help you or refer you to a specialised care provider. Furthermore, there are good reintegration coaches and experts who have experience with returning to work and can help both parents and employers. Look for opportunities together. It’s going to eventually help you return to work.

One thing is certain when you go back to work. You remain the parent of your deceased child and he or she will forever be a part of who you are. Your future has changed, you are no longer who you were before your baby died. However, the work itself and the workplace have not changed. It is a place where everything is as it was before your loss. Your work gives structure and meaning to your day, factors that give you something to hold on to precisely because it is a different place than home and that can also be a pleasant distraction.

©Hubertien van Heek

Voorburg, 4 October 2020

“ A few weeks after Joppe passed away, my partner and I went to work. I found that very exciting and was nervous. How would they react, what would they say, and how would I respond to them? In the end, it wasn't too bad. It was emotional, but I found it very pleasant, both for us and for my colleagues. When I finally went back to work after a few weeks, the tension was gone for everyone. ”

~ Hubertien, mother of Joppe* and Douwe

“ A few weeks after Joppe passed away, my partner and I went to work. I found that very exciting and was nervous. How would they react, what would they say, and how would I respond to them? In the end, it wasn't too bad. It was emotional, but I found it very pleasant, both for us and for my colleagues. When I finally went back to work after a few weeks, the tension was gone for everyone. ”

~ Hubertien, mother of Joppe* and Douwe