Aussie mum who lost 12 babies welcomes 'long-awaited' parental leave changes

Photos: supplied
Photos: supplied 

Samantha Rowe has been pregnant 11 times in six years and still doesn't have a child to hold.

So far, her "complex and devastating journey" has culminated in three stillbirths and seven miscarriages, with a twin pregnancy also ending in tragedy due to cord entanglement.

Speaking to Essential Baby, Rowe says the announcement that parents dealing with a stillbirth or infant death will soon get up to 12 months unpaid parental leave is "such welcome news." 

"The death of a baby is completely devastating," she says. "It's an incredibly traumatic event which changes your life forever. The heartbreak and pain that you feel is unlike any other."

"As someone who has previously been denied parental leave following the stillbirth of my child, I can assure you that this entitlement will be gratefully received."

Melbourne-based Rowe, who is also the founder of Memories of an Angel - a pregnancy and infant loss support network - says the reforms will bring bereaved parents' leave entitlements in line with those of any other new parent in Australia.

The new laws will allow parents to grieve as they need to, protected from employer-focused expectations, with leave able to be taken flexibly up until the child's second birthday.

It will also be easier for parents of premature babies, or babies who need to be hospitalised, to return to work and restart their leave when their child is able to go home.

Rowe says, "This is such a significant step forward as it's the first time that we've seen equal leave entitlements for both parents of newborn babies and bereaved parents. The legislation also importantly acknowledges bereaved parents, their much-loved child and the deep impact that the loss of that child has on all aspects of their life."

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After years of campaigning, the Stillbirth Foundation Australia also welcomed the decision, and thanked the government for acknowledging that parents of stillborn babies are parents too.

"This decision is much-needed, hard-fought and long-awaited. It will give families of stillborn children the same leave entitlements as parents of live born babies," says CEO Leigh Brezler.

Current provisions inadequate

Under the current Fair Work Act, bereaved parents are only guaranteed six weeks leave after experiencing infant loss.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said, "The government understands how devastating losing a child can be and recognises that the current entitlement to just six weeks of guaranteed unpaid parental leave is insufficient for many parents who need more time before they return to work."

"Parents have told us how frustrated they felt by having to use up large amounts of their leave while their little one was in hospital, instead of being able to put it on hold until they needed it," Mr Porter said.

"These changes will give parents that flexibility and ensure they will get to spend quality time at home with their child when they leave hospital."

The changes were prompted by a 2018 Senate inquiry into providing clarity and support around employment, for parents affected by stillbirth, with leave one of the key issues addressed.

The evidence submitted to the inquiry revealed a "hidden tragedy" for parents affected by societal "silence and stigma" surrounding the loss of a baby, highlighting the need for comprehensive reform.

The statistics

Stillbirth

  • Stillbirth occurs 6.8 times in every 1000 births according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, with approximately six stillbirths occurring in Australia each day.
  • 2,200 families experience stillbirth each year.
  • 19.6 per cent of stillbirths are "unexplained," while other common causes are congenital anomalies (29.4 per cent) and specific perinatal conditions (9.3 per cent).
  • The stillbirth rate has not improved in the last 20 years.

Neonatal loss

  • Neonatal deaths occur 2.3 times in every 1,000 live births, with two deaths per day of babies less than a month old.
  • Predominant causes of death for babies less than a month old are congenital anomaly (31.2 per cent), spontaneous premature birth (28.8 per cent) and perinatal infection (10.6 per cent).

Public reaction

Commenters on the Stillbirth Foundation Australia Facebook page are also applauding the reforms, sharing their own stories of post-loss employment stress.

"My hubby was a funeral director at the time we lost our first-born child. As well as living on the premises he was given a week off and they pointed out he was only entitled to two days leave. About time this changed."

"This is so important...my husband had to go back after a week after being pestered by his boss to return."

"Fantastic news! Parents need more than six weeks to physically recover, grieve & heal emotionally before they can attempt to go back to work."

"Awesome. I hope this extends to fathers as well. I believe that a huge part of my healing came simply from a three month period of sick leave."