The new laws validating pregnancy loss with compassionate leave are not good enough.
The monumental loss felt from experiencing a miscarriage can be world shattering and for the 110,000 Australians per year that face early pregnancy loss each year, it can reshape their whole worldview.
Grief stricken and mourning the loss of their pregnancy – often in silence due to society’s inability to discuss complex and difficult subject matters – these women can and do, go through hell. Additionally, death, grief, and trauma are often swept away by hollow platitudes about healing, closure and reflecting on the positives in your life. Such misguided optimistic suggestions only isolate women further, as the pain engulfs in a peculiar way, making women feel as though they’re floating through the days that follow in a bubble of pure misery.
Based on these findings, landmark changes to the Fair Work Act came into effect last year, entitling full-time and part-time employees (not casual employees – is a pattern emerging here?) to a whole two days of paid compassionate leave if they have a miscarriage. The Australian Federal Government introduced the miscarriage leave changes as part of its Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill on 24June 2021.
This bill was celebrated by miscarriage awareness and support group Pink Elephant, who’ve been lobbying for change to the bereavement leave legislation for years. Through their Leave for Loss campaign, CEO Samantha Payne campaigned tirelessly to get paid leave for the one in five women who have a miscarriage before 20 weeks each year in Australia. Payne says that the policy gives ‘validation’ and ‘is less about the amount of leave given to a couple and more about saying your baby died … to validate miscarriage as bereavement’. Payne also believes the new legislation ‘will go a huge way to challenging the stigma, taboo and silence and ensuring miscarriage is no longer a disenfranchised grief experience.’
But this landmark legislation that was put to the federal parliament in 2021 is lacklustre and narrow minded. And more importantly, why are the two days being celebrated? Is it because it’s better than nothing? Two days of leave assumes that a person’s healing time after their loss is brief and manageable, like the death of a much-loved goldfish. The effects of a miscarriage are not the same for every woman and can have complex physical and psychological repercussions. A miscarriage can occur overnight or over a matter of weeks, and while this is happening, there can be significant amounts of pain, blood loss, cramping and the emotional toll it takes to endure this experience.
Once again, rose coloured glasses have been thrown on by the government when addressing this issue. For years, the Fair Work Commission didn’t recognise a loss prior to 20 weeks and there was no provision in place, despite 98% of losses occurring prior to 12 weeks. That’s 103,000 couples each year not receiving acknowledgment and support after their loss. And how has this been resolved? The Coalition Government have given women two days off work. Two days to heal, grieve and not worry about returning too soon. What a cruel joke.
It can take weeks for a woman’s body to miscarry. Often with the need for medical assistance and support either through a dilation and curettage (D&C) procedure often undertaken with general anaesthesia, which is also no joke and comes with the usual risks to health and life.
The Australian Government needs to rethink and prioritise the way in which we support and help vulnerable people healing and grieving from the loss of a pregnancy. They need to address the long-term consequences of this experience and realise that grief and miscarriages shouldn’t be treated like a hangover. Something a day or two in bed will knock on the head. We need to alleviate and reduce the pressure that women feel to return to work and give them the time and space to heal and connect with support services. A miscarriage shouldn’t be something people are forced to get over and move on from. Women need more help and support, and culturally we need to start more conversations about loss – to ease the isolation felt by women experiencing grief, often alone and in silence.
If reading this article has raised any concern with you or you’re seeking further support and assistance, please contact some of the following services:
Miscarriage support on pinkelephants.org.au
Lifeline on 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636