'I didn't have the flu, I'd lost my baby: Australian women call for paid miscarriage leave

Women who have miscarried are calling for paid miscarriage leave to be introduced in Australia and increased awareness of the impact of having to return to work after a pregnancy loss.

Kristen Fillery is determined to start a family, but she has experienced some setbacks.

The 31-year-old from Sydney has had two miscarriages this year, her second just last month.

Though her employers were supportive, both times she was back at her desk, where she works in marketing, the very next day.

"I didn't have personal leave to take, and didn't want to take annual leave for it because it was a different situation,” she told SBS News.

“I thought it would be a good distraction being back at work, which it was, but it's still really hard to get up that day you've just had a loss and you've still got to go to work."

Kristen Fillery has had two miscarriages this year.
Source: SBS News

One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage and most happen in the first 12 weeks.

Each day in Australia, 282 women report pregnancy loss before 20 weeks gestation, and one in three pregnant women over the age of 35 will experience pregnancy loss. 

Under the Fair Work Act, women are entitled to special maternity leave if they miscarry after 12 weeks, but it is unpaid.

Early pregnancy loss support group The Pink Elephants Support Network is trying to change that. 

The charity’s CEO Samantha Payne spoke to SBS News this month, which is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.

Samantha Payne co-founded The Pink Elephants Support Network after experiencing her own pregnancy loss.
Source: SBS News

She wants the Fair Work Act amended to provide two days paid bereavement leave for parents experiencing a miscarriage at any stage. 

"We believe a woman and her partner who lose a child to early pregnancy loss are grieving the loss of their baby and therefore they need bereavement leave, not sick leave,” she said.

Ms Payne co-founded the group after discovering a lack of support after her own miscarriages. 

“When I had my losses I wasn't sick, I didn't have the flu, I'd lost my baby. I deserved bereavement leave.”

Government considering proposals

The Pink Elephants Support Network has spoken about their proposal with Attorney-General Christian Porter.

In a statement provided to SBS News, the Attorney-General said: “The government acknowledges the grief and emotional trauma experienced by parents in miscarriage situations.

“As you would expect, submissions from stakeholders on changes to the industrial relations system have covered a range of issues and circumstances and are being considered in detail before a formal response is provided.”

NSW Greens Senator Dr Mehreen Faruqi is encouraging the federal government to carefully consider the proposals. 

“There is already a sense of taboo around talking about miscarriages; many women suffer in silence,” Dr Faruqi said. 

“So there is definitely merit in talking about a legislative right to miscarriage leave and I hope that the government really does consider this seriously.”

Mehreen Faruqi is encouraging the federal government to consider miscarriage leave.
Source: SBS News

New Zealand's parliament is considering a similar proposal for three days paid miscarriage leave, which will be debated next year. 

Maurice Blackburn principal lawyer Jennifer Kanis said the law can be changed by an amendment to the Fair Work Act by parliament. 

“The process is not a difficult one, it’s more about political will to make that change,” she said.  

Ms Kanis said it would be a process of consultation that involves agreement from the members of parliament that the change is necessary. 

“We see changes take place all the time, for example … domestic violence leave being included in various acts of parliament.”

Starting a conversation

Sydney University academic Melanie Keep realised something was wrong early on in her pregnancy in January.

Scans confirmed what she had suspected from sporadic bleeding, known as spotting, and she called her husband Richard to let him know she had miscarried.

The pair took personal and sick leave to attend medical appointments and to grieve.

Mel Keep and her husband Richard said miscarriage leave would help acknowledge loss.
Source: SBS News

The couple said a special category of bereavement leave could help to remove stigma around early pregnancy loss.

"It opens the doors to them talking to other people: ‘Oh did you know that there’s this leave, let’s look up and see how common it is'," Ms Keep said.

"It just enables us to have a conversation and that in turn helps couples feel far less lonely."

SBS Voices: How to support your friend after a miscarriage

Mr Keep said the leave being extended to partners would also help. 

“It’s a bit more of a validation and acknowledgement that these things do happen much more commonly than you’d know or expect,” he said.

“So I think putting [the leave into that category] would change the perspective.”  

The Attorney-General’s office said it is working through the development of a response at present.

For information and support visit miscarriagesupport.org.au

Published 13 October 2019 at 8:45am
By Emma Lawson, Hannah Sinclair