Navigating your return to work can be difficult after your baby dies.

Acknowledgement: This section was written by Ann-Maree Imrie, Stillbirth Foundation Ambassador and creator of the Baby Loss Project training program for workplaces. We thank her for her contribution and if you would like to find out more about the Baby Loss Project, please click here.

Deciding to return

When your baby dies, it is like your whole life takes an extreme and unexpected u-turn.  Your usual routine, your social life, and your work life are thrown into the great unknown as you try to navigate a new way forward.

The ‘non-essentials’ are somewhat simpler to manage, because you can gauge what feels comfortable, or not, and make decisions accordingly.  For example, if you feel too vulnerable to go out socially or even just to the shops, you can choose to stay home – no harm done.

Much more challenging, is the decision around your employment. If you were working when your baby died, you will need to negotiate your leave, and eventual return to work, or resignation. If you weren’t in paid employment when your baby died but due to financial pressures, you may now need to consider looking for work.

This is the hard stuff. Because for most people, paid work is ‘essential’.  So, this means you are potentially having to step back into ‘the real world’ before you are ready.

There are some strides being made by the Australian Government around more appropriate leave entitlements for bereaved parents.  But ultimately the decision to return or not, rests with you and your employer.  And unfortunately, while this can be managed with compassion, it is often finances and practicalities that are the leading factors in decision making.

But for you, as the bereaved parent, entering or returning to the workforce, post-loss, is emotionally complex and multi-layered.

We know grief is life-long, so it’s a fact that you will ‘still’ be grieving when you go back to work.  If you are returning to the same workplace, painful memories may be triggered, as the last time you were there, your baby was safe and alive.

Plus, humans are flawed.  So, your boss and colleagues may not respond to you in the way you would like. In particular, western society is not literate in grief.  Cue the unhelpful platitudes, “everything happens for a reason”, “you’ll have another baby” or “God must have wanted another angel”.  As hurtful as these comments can be, it may help to consider that this is a societal issue (that we are working to change), rather than the callous of an individual person.


Meeting with your employer

It might seem unfair, but often the burden of responsibility lies with the bereaved parent, to provide grief education to those around them – including their employer and colleagues.

Only you will know how you are personally impacted, and what your support needs are.  Before stepping into the workplace, it could be helpful to have a meeting with your employer to discuss how you would like to transition back and the kind of support you would like upon your return.

Some of the points you may want to cover in the meeting include:

  • How do you want to communicate (if at all) to colleagues, about your baby being stillborn e.g., by email or staff meeting? Do you want communication to come from your employer or from you directly?
  • How much leave do you need and how can this be negotiated collaboratively with your employer?
  • What support do you need to successfully re-engage in the workplace? Can you negotiate a phased return i.e., start with part-time and build up to your usual hours? Can you have regular check-ins to discuss your wellbeing and progress over time?
  • What structures can be put in place for difficult or ‘grief-heavy’ days? How can this be communicated to your employer in a simple way?

Ultimately, maintaining open lines of communication can help you feel supported in a return to work that balances your needs with your employer’s.

As your grief is unique, so too, will be your decision about your employment.  There is no right or wrong way to handle this.  And sadly, there is no script.

Multiple factors will come into play as you make your decision.  And even the most well-considered plan may feel painful, uncomfortable and anxiety-provoking.  The most important thing to hold in this space, is self-compassion.


Your entitlements

You and your partner may be entitled to short-term and long-term paid or unpaid leave, subject to your individual circumstances or employment.

The hospital or social worker may provide paperwork relating to leave entitlements provided by the Australian Government.

Below is a selection of entitlements which you may be entitled to.

  • Compassionate Leave

    Compassionate or bereavement leave is available to an employee who needs to take paid or unpaid time off due to the passing of an immediate family member.

    To find out more, click here or contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94.

  • Parent or Carer's leave

    An employee may take personal or carer’s leave if they are unfit for work due to personal illness or injury or to provide care or support to an immediate family member.

    Click here to find out eligibility for full-time, part-time or casual employment click here or contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94.

  • Bereavement Leave

    According to Services Australia your family may be entitled to Dad and Partner Pay and one of the following:

    You must submit your claim within 52 weeks from the birth date of your child and time limits apply to payments.  Click here for more information.

    To find out if you are eligible, click on links above or contact Services Australia’s bereavement line on 132 300.

  • Parental leave and unpaid special maternity leave

    Sadly following the loss of your child your entitlements will differ.  Read here to find out more or contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94.

Advocating for bereaved parents’ entitlements

We are saddened that bereaved parents are not currently entitled to long-term unpaid leave following the loss of their stillborn babies.

Listening to our bereaved community, we understand this is a challenging and traumatic time and continue to drive change to benefit bereaved families in Australia.

Read more on our Advocacy page and click here to read about new workplace entitlement to be introduced as reported in The Sydney Morning Herald. You can also read more here about legislation introduced by the Morrison Government to improve unpaid parental leave entitlements for families dealing with the trauma of stillbirths, infant deaths and premature births.


Practical and emotional help for parents

Stillbirth is never planned. Understanding what happens now can make it less overwhelming.