Lawyer who lost baby at 22 weeks is campaigning for paid miscarriage leaveJuly 22, 2022
A lawyer who lost her IVF baby just 10 days before the legal right to paid maternity leave is fighting to have the law changed.
Keeley Lenghton lost her baby boy, who she had named George, at 22 and a half weeks in March 2022. Under current UK law, she had no legal right to take any time off work.
If a baby is stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy, or dies shortly after birth, employees are legally entitled to maternity or paternity leave and pay.
If someone suffers a pregnancy loss before 24 weeks, it is up to the employer to decide to provide any paid leave.
Not wanting anyone to have to face the pain of returning to work straight after miscarrying, 39-year-old Keeley began supporting the Miscarriage Leave Bill, which was drafted by SNP MP Angela Crawley.
The Bill would give parents three days of leave if they suffer a miscarriage at any point of the pregnancy.
Angela presented the bill in the House of Commons on July 6.
She said: ‘Keeley’s story makes it clear how important miscarriage leave is in dealing with such a devastating circumstance of physical and emotional loss.
‘This policy will ensure all firms are required to adopt a policy that helps individuals and families to cope with one of the most difficult experiences that they will go through in their life.’
The bill will go through a second reading on September 16, and Keeley is supporting it the whole way.
Keeley, who lives in South London with her 42-year-old husband William, also suffered two miscarriages in early pregnancy before she lost George.
When George was born, the last thing on her mind was work.
She says: ‘I gave birth to a fully-formed baby. George had hair, fingernails, fingers, toes, everything.
‘The fact that some people have to go through all of that and then go back to work the next day is unthinkable.
‘You’ve got to have some time to grieve your baby’s loss. I can’t believe we’re at a stage, in 2022, where we haven’t got anything as simple as this in place. It is only three days.’
Currently, if you are offered any work leave, it will likely be as annual leave, unpaid leave or come under a compassionate leave policy.
Keeley also experienced heartbreak a few years prior.
In early 2020, she discovered that she had lost a pregnancy at 6 and a half weeks, when she began bleeding at work.
As a lawyer and a children and care practitioner, Keeley specialises in working with parents who are accused of injuring or killing their children or have had children removed due to suspected neglect or abuse.
But she was shocked to learn that there was no statutory requirement for paid leave while recovering from a miscarriage.
‘I took that day or two as sick leave but then came straight back to work. I wasn’t pressured but felt I needed to come back to work quickly,’ she continues.
‘Until you have had a loss, you do not realise the lack of support and protection in terms of employment. I just had no idea. I did not know any better.’
When Keely moved jobs to work at Taylor Rose MW, she campaigned for paid leave in her workplace.
She says: ‘I drafted a baby loss policy based on the New Zealand model – which gives both parents the right to three days’ paid leave if they suffer a miscarriage at any gestation – sent it to my HR director, Rachel Reeve, and she enacted the policy in January across Taylor Rose.
‘Unfortunately, I was the first person to use it.’
In February 2021, Keeley discovered she was pregnant again when she felt extreme pain during a work Zoom call.
She was taken to the A&E department of the Princess Royal in Farnborough, and told she was pregnant but that the embryo had developed in her fallopian tube.
Embryonic pregnancies are fatal for the fetus and life-threatening for the mother – and two days later, one of her fallopian tubes ruptured.
Keeley was alone, due to Covid restrictions, at the Early Pregnancy Unit of the Princess Royal. Recalling the event, she says: ‘I was actually working at the entrance to theatre. I was on the phone trying to get something finalised for court with a barrister.
‘The anaesthetist took my phone off me and said: “We need to get you into theatre or you are going to die in the next 24 hours.”‘
Doctors told her she would have to use IVF to get pregnant again – and Keeley was delighted when she fell pregnant on the first attempt in September.
She recalls: ‘I had five eggs taken out but only one embryo survived. I felt so lucky that it stuck.
‘I was delighted to be pregnant. My 12 week scan went really, really well. My 20 week scan the same. That was on the Tuesday and on the Friday into Saturday my waters broke.
‘I was admitted to hospital and told my baby wouldn’t make it. My son George was born sleeping the following Thursday.’
As well as the emotional anguish, Keeley had to face the physical trauma of giving birth to George for more than six hours, while the placenta took a further seven hours.
While grieving their child, Keeley and William raised £20,000 to support baby loss charities Sands and SiMBA – who provided clothes for George, a memory box, a certificate to commemorate his life and a bereavement suite at the hospital where the couple could spend time with their son in a cold cot.
She says: ‘After losing George, things were difficult. We had to arrange a funeral, had debriefs with the hospital and there were lots of things we had to do legally in terms of having George cremated.’
Her work well surpassed the three-day minimum and granted Keeley seven weeks off. Will was given six.
Keeley was floored by the realisation that, had her work not granted her the time off, she would have had to work right away.
She says: ‘I am in a very fortunate position where if I hadn’t got paid, I could have stayed off work for a bit. Not seven weeks, but some time. Imagine if you have no money, you have just given birth and you’re expected back in to work the next day.
‘That is unimaginable. And that is why I am so passionate to put this law into place. It’s just three days. That’s all it is.’
Having a formal policy is integral to ‘workplace wellbeing’, Keeley says.
She adds: ‘It sends a clear message that there’s support available throughout the pregnancy process and is particularly important in the first 12 weeks when many women prefer not to tell their employers or colleagues.
‘I do it for George. It’s all for George. If something good can come out of this for someone else then it would make the whole process of losing George and my two other babies that little bit easier to accept.
‘I need to make a difference. I want George to make a difference and have a legacy that helps other people in the workplace. Just to make it that tiny bit easier to suffer a loss.’
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