It might seem like a regular Tuesday, but for millions of parents around Australia, it represents beloved children’s birthdays they didn’t live to celebrate.
International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day commemorates the death of a newborn, serving as a day to remember fluttering heartbeats which suddenly stopped.
Stillbirths: Australia’s health policies ‘failing these babies and their families’
Kristina Keneally, whose daughter Caroline was stillborn in 1999, has been open about the loss which changed her, telling the Senate in her first speech that Caroline “never drew breath” but “enlarged my understanding of love and loss. She taught me to survive. She made me brave, almost fearless.”
Two decades on, Keneally is still fighting for parents who share her experience. Part of that fight is having more companies standardise paid parental leave for those who have lost a child, to bring it into line with the time afforded live births.
The Stillbirth Foundation, for which Keneally was formerly a patron, has created a register for those Australian companies which offer the same amount of paid parental leave, but many of the nation’s largest employers still do not.
Hi Kristina, we’re committed to supporting our people, through all personal circumstances. In addition to our paid leave options we offer a range of additional support mechanisms for people experiencing loss and grief, including miscarriage and stillbirth. Best, ^Matt
The move would not cost companies anything additional, given they have already provisioned paid parental leave for applicants. In a bipartisan report handed to the Senate, the committee recommended the Fair Work Act be amended to include provisions for the parents of stillborn children, and that those provisions be “clear and consistent” across all employers.
Keneally said it was a question of compassion for parents who have suffered an unimaginable loss.
“While I can understand that people may instinctively think there’s no need for paid parental leave if a baby has died, I would invite them to consider that it is parental leave, not baby leave, and parents of stillborn babies are parents,” Keneally said.
“The mother has given birth and must recover physically. The parents have parental responsibility, like organising autopsies, funerals and burial or cremation. They also are dealing with a singular and profound grief.
“The simple fact is that parents of stillborn babies are often physically and psychologically incapable of working or working at any productive capacity in the weeks and months after their baby’s death.
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“The Stillbirth Senate Inquiry heard some gut-wrenching stories of mothers who were required to return to work in incredibly short time frames – in one case, 11 days after giving birth to a stillborn baby.
“Not only is this the right thing for the private sector to do, but it also makes economic sense for a company to help parents recover from their baby’s birth and death.”
Australia’s stillbirth rate has remained largely steady since the 1990s, despite advances in medical treatment and technology.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s reported last year that between 2013-2014, 6,000 babies died during the perinatal period, with 4,400 still birthed. One in four pregnancies are estimated to end in miscarriage.
To commemorate International Pregnancy and Infant Loss day, senators Keneally, Jacqui Lambie, Larissa Waters, Malarndirri McCarthy, Hollie Hughes and Catryna Bilyk will move a cross-party motion marking the day, those who have suffered a loss, and acknowledging the government’s coming national stillbirth action plan, due for public consultation early next year.