MP Ginny Andersen with the members’ bill
MP Ginny Andersen with the members’ bill

ParentsAugust 10, 2018

Bereavement leave for those grieving after miscarriage is an overdue change

MP Ginny Andersen with the members’ bill
MP Ginny Andersen with the members’ bill

Yesterday, MP Ginny Andersen’s Holidays (Bereavement Leave for Miscarriage) Amendment Bill was drawn from the members ballot in Parliament. It amends the Holidays Act 2003 to make it clear that women and their partners can get three days’ bereavement leave after a miscarriage. Kathryn Van Beek writes about why she pushed for this change, and why she hopes you’ll support it.

Mental health, family violence and bowel cancer have become mainstream topics of conversation because people who’ve wanted to make positive change have stood up and talked about them. But there are still plenty of topics that aren’t discussed openly. Taboos hide around us in plain sight. And about two years ago, I smashed right into one when I had a miscarriage.

A miscarriage is a strange, secret birth that is also a death. One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, but I had a strong sense that it wasn’t polite to mention mine. That’s the power of a good taboo. And I didn’t want to be a downer.

But I was also desperate to talk about it.

So many things about miscarriage made me angry. I was angry about the lack of joined-up medical care. I was angry about the absence of miscarriage information (even in pregnancy books. When else are you going to have a miscarriage except when you’re pregnant?)

And I was angry that the Holidays Act doesn’t specify miscarriage as a reason to take bereavement leave.

Angry people get stuff done. I poured my feelings into covertly improving miscarriage support. I wrote a few blog posts under a pseudonym. I appeared on The Project as a black silhouette with a digitally altered voice.

But there were also times when I had to front up. Like when I showed up in Clare Curran’s office after she was the only MP to respond to my letter about amending the Holidays Act.

Good employers do support their staff through tough times and in my case I’d been given the leave I needed. But I couldn’t believe it when I spotted the gap in the act, and when MBIE told me that it’s up to the bereaved person to convince their employer that their baby is worth grieving.

Not all employers understand how hard miscarriage can be, and I’ve heard story after story about women and their partners being denied bereavement leave (and in some cases, basic empathy) by their employers. Not everyone wants or needs bereavement leave after a miscarriage, but those who do felt the same way I did – shocked and disappointed that the act didn’t already cover them. Clare listened to these stories, and asked me to gather community support for the proposed changes to the act.

It took about a year for me to get back to Clare. My procrastination worked my favour as in the meantime Labour had come into power and new list MP Ginny Andersen was interested in championing the cause.

Ginny kept my expectations low. She drew up a members’ bill, submitted it to the infamous parliamentary biscuit tin, and warned me that it might never see the light of day.

But yesterday, the bill was drawn!

Does this mean it will receive support from across the House and become legislation? If Ginny set my expectations low, the parliament website knocked them even lower. “Very few members’ bills become law, with most not passing the first reading stage,” it says, encouragingly.

Over the next few weeks the bill will be read and debated, and there’s no guarantee it will get any further. But already, stories about the bill have popped up in the media. People are talking about miscarriage, and talking about how we support those going through it.

So now I’m fronting up again. For justice, and for people like the woman who contacted me this morning, and in broken English said “If u can help me I broke heart”.

If you’d like to help improve miscarriage support, please visit our petition to express your support.

Kathryn van Beek is a writer, communications professional and momager of New Zealand’s third most famous cat.

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