This year I suffered a miscarriage. Through a journey of pain and self-learning, I have come to realise that the profession we love and share can make this hardship feel almost impossible to cope with. This is not a job that tolerates public breakdowns. I could hardly sit in the corner of my classroom crying in front of my Reception class. I am forced to wear a mask of happiness and confidence each day, regardless of how I feel inside.
Everyone responds to tragedy differently and I wanted to share the learnings and insights that have helped me this year. As teachers, we need to recognise that we are not alone, and support can be found both inside and outside of our profession.
Support for teachers who have suffered miscarriage
I want to stress: I write this from a woman's perspective. Miscarriage is painful for both mothers and fathers, but I hope my advice could give strength to both.
1. Talk to others
Experiencing miscarriage can make you feel isolated. Despite the obvious difficulties in communicating my experience with colleagues, I felt more free once I had done so. It meant that when children asked heart-wrenching but perfectly innocent questions like “Is there a baby in your tummy?”, I could leave the room and knew my colleagues understood why that moment had been difficult for me.
My advice would be to tell those close to you and build a support network. It will be hard, but will be so worth it. If you struggle to talk then write it down in an email or letter.
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2. Give yourself time
You will need time. I don’t know any teachers who are good at taking time off school. I miscarried during half-term so when school resumed and my physical symptoms eased, I felt like I had to go back to school to support my colleagues. Now I realise that this was too soon: I had not dealt with anything emotionally and the business of school just completely overwhelmed me.
Teaching is often a profession that neglects wellbeing, and we don’t do enough to give each other time away and I personally felt huge guilt in accepting leave. However, it was absolutely essential, and would be in anyone’s recovery from miscarriage. The number one priority has to be mental and physical recovery, otherwise you’re showing half of yourself in the classroom, and falling behind at school shouldn’t be a burden on top of the trauma you will be going through.
3. Be honest with management
As you recover, there will be people around you who don’t know what you have been through. You will feel the urge to carry on as normal. You may have fallen behind with school tasks or feel more overwhelmed due to your emotional state. Reaching out to SLT and letting them know I was overwhelmed because I was behind meant they could step in to support me. A good SLT should make provisions to support you in the classroom, even if it just means more regular check-ins or a transition plan for once you’re ready to return to work.
Again, if a face-to-face conversation is daunting, I would echo my previous advice: a letter or email to your line management could be perfectly sufficient to let them know what you are going through.
4. What not to say
Generally, everyone I speak to about my experience offers love, understanding and warmth. But I soon learned that some statements could kill me inside, even when they were said with warm intentions. I wanted to list some of these to prepare you and to help understanding about the sensitivities that the questions can harm.
- “At least you know you can get pregnant “
- “Will you try again?”
- “Everything happens for a reason”
- “Were you trying?”
Everyone asks if they can help. They ask if I am OK. The truth is, no, I am not OK. And my grief changes from day to day. Sometimes all I want to do is talk about what might have been and what could still be. Other times talking about children causes emotional distress and I can’t bear to think about it.
My advice would be to try to check in on people who are experiencing this: not just in the weeks after but the months. The pain never goes away, and it’s difficult to understand. The only real solace comes from your support network and the love and care they provide you. Let’s remove the silence surrounding miscarriage and give people the strength to share their pain and aid the grieving process in schools.
Laura Pizey is a Reception teacher in the UK