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A ‘life-shattering’ loss: the debate on miscarriage leave

For Taylor Watkins, two days at home after her second miscarriage was not enough time for her to be able to recover and return to work.

“[The] miscarriage was life-shattering; I think I cried every day for a month straight and it was the hardest thing I have ever been through emotionally,” she says.

“I don’t think it’s something that I will ever truly recover from, to be honest.”

Australia’s Fair Work Act was amended last year to give parents who experience a miscarriage two days of bereavement leave. 

But Watkins says that from her experiences, it’s nowhere near enough.

The devastating toll

Red Nose, a national support organisation for families affected by the death of a baby or child, say that 110,000 people have miscarriages in Australia each year.

One in five people who know they are pregnant will miscarry before 20 weeks, but most occur within the first 12 weeks. Many miscarriages occur before a pregnancy is even suspected.

Each day in Australia, 282 people experience a miscarriage, and six babies are stillborn. 

Some women will have several miscarriages in a year. At 24, Watkins, experienced two in the space of eight months from late 2021 to early 2022.  

She says she wished she had more time to recover and process her losses.

“I was unemployed for my first miscarriage and had all the time to truly come to terms with what was happening,” she says.

It was a different story for her second miscarriage, where she had two days off and then worked from home for the rest of the week.

“[A week] at minimum that would be the time needed because it gives the body time to process everything that it’s going through,” she says.

A 'life-shattering' loss: the debate on miscarriage leave

Dr Alex Polyakov

Melbourne IVF and fertility specialist Dr Alex Polyakov also recommended a week’s recovery.

“If it’s a straightforward procedure and a curette is done, I think a week recovery time would probably be sufficient.”

This could all depend on the procedure that was done to treat the miscarriage. If the pregnancy was further along – around 15 weeks – that would mean a different recovery time.

“Miscarriage is an all-encompassing term, there are different circumstances for different women, for some women two days is enough, for other women they need much longer, it’s tricky to give a time frame that is appropriate for everyone,” Polyakov says.

“It’s extremely variable and depends on the woman who has had the miscarriage.”

After her first miscarriage Taylor said her mental health was the worst it had ever been.

“Mentally I don’t think you ever truly recover,” she says. “I noticed with my second one it was almost like being as traumatised as the first one.”

Impact on mental health

Nearly 20 per cent of people who experience a miscarriage become symptomatic for depression or anxiety, an symptoms often persist for one to three years.

A US study found rates of attempted suicide was significantly higher in people who had experienced fetal loss.

“It has a significant impact on mental health. It’s usually very distressing but some people tolerate it better than others,” Polyakov says.

A 'life-shattering' loss: the debate on miscarriage leave

Support is a crucial factor. Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Watkins says having a counsellor or therapist to help you through the experience of those emotions is crucial. “You definitely need some sort of support system whether that be professional of from a partner,” she says.

Partners also have access to the dedicated miscarriage leave.

“It is obviously harder for the women since they are going through the physical changes but having that support system there makes a big difference, and it is only fair for partners to get the same amount of time,” Watkins says.

The decision on two days of leave

Fair Work was contacted on decision to offer two days of leave, but said it doesn’t comment on matters of policy.

Employee organisation Australian Industry Group (AIG) says it supports the change to two days of miscarriage leave.

AIG’s head of national workplace relations policy, Stephen Smith, says the group is often consulted by government on workplace laws.

“We were consulted by the government about this legislative change before the Bill was introduced into Parliament and we expressed support for it,” he says.

If it is collectively decided that two days is not enough, then it’s a matter to be discussed, he says. Any proposals would be considered on their merits.

“We are always seeking to improve workplace laws to create a more productive, flexible, and fair workplace relations system.”

The ACTU was asked for a comment from a union perspective, but not respond.

Recovery time varies

Polyakov, who has worked in IVF for more than 15 years, seeing more than 30 women a day, says he often diagnoses miscarriages.

Watkins says that if a miscarriage happens very soon after a period is due, it will just look like a heavier period. Some people don’t know they’ve had a miscarriage.

“It’s a very difficult time for the parents, some handle it better than others,” she says.

Watkins says it took more than two weeks to recover physically and mentally.

“My body stopped bleeding and I returned kind of back to ‘normal’. My first cycles were pretty abnormal for the first two or three months.”

These days she says she’s a proud stepmum. One day, she hopes, she’ll get her rainbow baby.


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