I don’t think I’ve ever been as emotional about a piece of legislation being introduced into parliament as I was last month.
If passed, it will mean couples who lose a baby during early pregnancy will be entitled to two days of paid leave as part of changes to the Fair Work Act.
It’s a change that I – along with a large and growing community through our Pink Elephants support network – have been championing for the past three years.
And for this community, the legislation brings validation that miscarriage matters, that we are entitled to grieve the loss of our babies.
Because, as the one in three women and their partners who have lost a baby during pregnancy know all too well, despite the very real grief, miscarriage is far too often surrounded by silence.
Far too often, it’s straight back to work, the day after hearing the intensely heartbreaking words: "I’m sorry there is no heartbeat." It’s a moment that rips away the dream of having a baby, often accompanied by feelings of guilt, confusion and shame.
Wearing a brave face, desperately pretending all is ok, crying in the bathroom, staring blankly at your screen.
And it’s not just mothers; partners also feel the pain.
Mounting research shows a clear link between this silence and the accompanying lack of early intervention support for these parents and poor mental health outcomes such as anxiety, depression and/or post-traumatic stress.
I acknowledge some women want to return to work straight after loss. But our research shows the overwhelming majority would access bereavement leave after a miscarriage if it was offered to them.
Paid leave for early pregnancy loss not only breaks the silence, so vital to diminishing the shame that often accompanies miscarriage, but also provides people with the space they need to acknowledge what has happened, grieve their loss and begin to heal.
As one grieving mother said, by providing this leave, she feels that her employer is saying “we understand”, and sometimes that’s exactly what’s needed in these moments.
It’s wonderful to see a growing number of employers – like Westpac and the NSW government – recognising the importance of this issue and taking a voluntary step forward by introducing paid bereavement leave for these parents.
But it’s vital that as other workplaces follow their lead, they do not view this as a simple policy update.
To be truly effective in supporting grieving employees who have suffered a miscarriage, workplaces must also create a supportive, inclusive environment, which normalises miscarriage so it’s no longer the silent, taboo subject of the past.
This includes providing a clear referral pathway for those employees to seek support through organisations such as Pink Elephants, along with cultural change to build an environment in which employees feel supported, and managers and colleagues empowered to best support them by being able to open up those painful conversations in a safe way.
This cultural change needs to recognise that while pregnancy loss is common, everyone's experience of it is unique, informed by the person's life experience as well as family, cultural and community expectations. Taking the time to understand the impact of a miscarriage on a colleague can really help them feel supported.
To help employers, Pink Elephant has created a workplace program that provides a series of educational videos and resources and panel discussions – a program that’s already been adopted by organisations such as PWC, Minter Ellison, Tabcorp, Dexus and Westpac.
I’ve no doubt my emotions will reach even higher heights next month when, as expected, the federal legislation is passed, and look forward to seeing the change ripple through more and more workplaces.
But most of all, I look forward to seeing fewer women and their partners suffering poor mental health outcomes after the trauma of early pregnancy loss.
Sam Payne was awarded a Westpac Social Change Fellowship in 2020 through Westpac Scholars Trust.