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February 20, 2023
Min read

"Repeat pregnancy loss nearly broke me. I was lucky to have a supportive manager."

Written By
Nausheen Eusuf
Sonali Bhalsod-Patel

Five years ago, things were going well for Sonali. She was happily married and felt settled in her personal and professional life. She and her husband had always wanted a baby, and it seemed like the right time.

Sonali got pregnant a few months later. It was exciting—until she began experiencing intense pain.

As the pain got worse, she kept going to hospital for tests. At one point, it was so bad that she struggled to stand up. An internal scan revealed that it was an ectopic pregnancy. The fertilised egg had gotten implanted in one of the fallopian tubes instead of the uterus.

“They told me I needed emergency surgery immediately. You can die from an ectopic pregnancy. Your fallopian tube can rupture and cause internal bleeding—that’s what that pain was.”

<quote-author>Sonali Bhalsod-Patel<quote-author><quote-company>People Operations Partner<quote-company>

Sonali remembers the shock and terror she felt as she was wheeled into surgery just hours after the news. Not only was she losing the baby she desperately wanted, she wasn’t even sure if she would survive. There was no time to think or process what was happening. Even worse, the doctors were not always sensitive or empathetic.

“There wasn’t a lot of compassion in the process. When I was sobbing after the surgery, the doctor insisted on showing me a picture of what was removed—even though I didn't want to see it.”

The doctor didn’t understand that whether someone loses a baby in the first couple of weeks or at the end of term, they’re still losing the dream and the love for the child they hoped to raise.

A seismic change

The pregnancy loss, the brush with death, and the insensitive treatment by doctors dealt a serious blow to Sonali’s mental health. She’d always been very lively and outgoing. But she changed completely. She would cry all day, and didn’t leave the house for three months. Her family came over from the US to take care of her.

“I just shut down completely. I wasn’t functioning. I left the house once for a meal, and the noises and people overwhelmed me. I went to the dentist and got drenched in sweat because the overhead light reminded me of the operating theatre. When my husband was at work, I’d worry all day that something bad would happen to him.”

It was only later that Sonali realised she was experiencing post-traumatic stress. But during those dark months, she could not find any support.

"My GP told me to 'stop crying' and 'get ahold of yourself.' I wondered: 'Who am I supposed to get help from?'"

<quote-author>Sonali Bhalsod-Patel<quote-author><quote-company>People Operations Partner<quote-company>

At one point, she met with her manager who said, “You look fine to me.” The callous remark made her realise she could not work there again. She ended up not only switching jobs, but switching industries as well.

Eventually, Sonali was able to find support through the Ectopic Pregnancy Trust. Meanwhile, she started a new career at Beamery—her first time working at a startup.

Four years, four pregnancy losses

Unfortunately, Sonali’s ordeal was not over yet. During the next three years, she experienced three more pregnancy losses. Despite having a wonderful husband and a loving family, she felt very alone. She struggled with grief, self-doubt, and even self-hatred.

She also struggled with finding her way in a new industry. Her self-confidence had taken a hit, and it was hard to connect with her new younger colleagues. While they seemed to shine, her own life was consumed with doctor’s visits, tests, and investigations.

“It was incredibly isolating. My body had failed me and I just felt broken. While other people were going out for drinks after work or celebrating someone’s birthday, I’m thinking, ‘Why do I feel pain? Why do I feel a cramp? Am I going to start bleeding?’"

"Everyone was progressing in their lives and careers, while I was frozen in each pregnancy and each loss.”

But despite the initial isolation, her workplace would soon become an unexpected source of support.

“A massive leap of faith”

When Sonali first opened up to her new manager, it was “a massive leap of faith.” She had to tell him because she was newly pregnant at the time and might have to leave work for doctors appointments or routine checks. But she didn’t feel comfortable because she wasn’t sure how he would react.

It turned out her manager was “incredibly compassionate.” He didn’t necessarily understand what was going on, but he understood that Sonali wasn’t okay. Whatever she needed, he said, ‘We'll figure it out.’

"The most important thing my manager said was: ‘I don't have experience with this. But I'm going to do the best I can for you.'"

<quote-author>Sonali Bhalsod-Patel<quote-author><quote-company>People Operations Partner<quote-company>

It was that sincerity—the willingness to listen and do his best—that made all the difference. And it helped Sonali slowly regain her confidence. As she opened up to other colleagues at work, they too were kind and supportive. They saw her as a human being first, and they wanted to be there in whatever way she needed—whether that was time off to grieve or checking in over a coffee.

Turning support into policy

Sonali considers herself lucky to have had a supportive workplace. Most people she knows who have experienced a miscarriage never told anyone at work because they didn’t want to be judged, isolated, or seen as slacking.

Statistically, one in five pregnancies will result in a loss. It affects people regardless of what industry they’re in. That’s why companies need to have supportive policies in place.

“Having a miscarriage leave policy is incredibly important because it shows employees that it’s in your culture to care. If it had already been on paper, I wouldn’t have had palpitations when asking my manager for time off. I would have known it’s a no-judgment zone, that I would have access to what I need.”

Sonali likens the trauma of pregnancy loss to an iceberg. What you see is just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface, “their whole world might be collapsing” even if it’s not visible on the outside. Signposting support through formal workplace policies can make all the difference.

Healing herself, helping others

Sonali’s story has a happy ending. After a high-risk pregnancy, she is now the proud mother of a 20-month-old daughter.

But she’s acutely aware of how lucky she is to have a living child. Not everyone who experiences repeat pregnancy loss gets a baby at the end.

That’s why Sonali has started telling her story in public. She wants to be there as a resource to other people going through pregnancy loss, who might be feeling as alone and broken as she once did. 

She's also taking a career break in order to focus on her own healing and growth. As a mother, Sonali realises how important it is to take time off and to rediscover her own sense of self.

“I come from a line of really strong, amazing women. That’s how I want to raise my daughter. But at one point, I ceased to exist as a person. I lost my identity. That’s why I’m choosing to work on myself, so I can be a healthy role model for my daughter by prioritising my own wellbeing.”

In fact, Sonali is already a role model—thanks to her courage, her resilience, and her desire to help others.

For support and resources related to pregnancy loss, Sonali recommends The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust and Tommy's.

Oliva therapist photograph

5 tips for handling pregnancy loss

by Oliva therapist

Katie Brown

Give yourself time to grieve

The loss of your baby, your relationship with them, and its imagined place in your future need time to be processed. Take time to honour your grief—it can’t be rushed.

Share your feelings with loved ones

It’s important not to feel more alone at this time than you might already. Sharing your experience helps close friends and family to support you. You could also reach out to support groups or a counsellor to help you understand your bereavement.

Tell your employer what happened

Sharing your feelings won’t just help you get support—it’ll also let work know that you need time and space to do things differently for a while.

Employers: be available to your employee

It’s important for employers to be aware that miscarriage is not just the loss of a longed-for baby—but also the loss of hopes and dreams. It can cause depression & anxiety, and it can also severely impact an employee’s relationship with their spouse. Take time to listen and to appreciate the severity of the situation.

Employers: create a pregnancy loss policy

A proper policy lets your employees know they won’t be judged or dismissed for the life-changing event that has occurred to them. It’ll also make them feel less self-critical of their performance at work during this difficult time.