'She taught me to survive': Kristina Keneally's fight for parents of stillborns

‘She taught me to survive’: Kristina Keneally’s fight for paid leave for parents of stillborns

Kristina Keneally
In Australia, around six babies every day are stillborn with the stillbirth rate remaining largely unchanged for two decades.

It’s a brutal reminder for thousands of parents who have suffered one of the most unimaginable losses.

Labor Senator Kristina Keneally is one such parent. Her daughter Caroline was stillborn in 1999– a tragedy which she has spoken bravely about throughout her time in Parliament.

During her first speech to the Upper House, Keneally told her colleagues that while Caroline “never drew breath” she “enlarged my understanding of love and loss. She taught me to survive. She made me brave, almost fearless.”

But despite the strength she drew from such a harrowing experience, Keneally knows all too well the strain that families encounter after stillbirth; much of this emotional, but also financial.

That’s because most organisations in Australia don’t extend their parental leave policies to cover employees recovering after a stillbirth. Keneally’s quest is therefore to have more employers standardise this as part of their framework; a change that would not impact a company’s bottom line given they’d already accounted for that employee’s  leave.

“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 told The Guardian. 

“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.”

Despite this, many parents are expected to resume work shortly after experiencing the loss of their child with Keneally referencing “gut-wrenching” statistics heard at The Stillbirth Senate Inquiry last year. In one case, a mother was required to return to work just 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,” said Keneally.

To mark International Pregnancy and Infant Loss day, parliamentarians Kristina Keneally, Larissa Waters, Jacqui Lambie, Hollie Hughes Malarndirri McCarthy, and Catryna Bilyk will move a cross-party motion in support of families who have suffered a loss, and recognise the government’s coming national stillbirth action plan, due early in 2020.


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