A grieving mother, devastated by the death of her baby daughter, was forced by her employer to return to work a few weeks after enduring a traumatic stillbirth.
The mother, known only as Lauren, has told A Current Affair about the loss of her daughter, Fiyori, at 35 weeks gestation, and the heartless email she received from her employer following her death in April, 2017.
It comes as the federal government faces mounting pressure to amend the current Fair Work Act, to afford parents of stillborn babies the same rights as parents of living babies.
In Australia, six babies are delivered stillborn every day — a rate which has remained unchanged for over two decades.
‘A HUGE GAP IN OUR FAMILY’
In a standard pregnancy, expectant mothers will usually initiate their maternity leave two to three weeks before their due date.
But Lauren had been 35 weeks pregnant when she noticed Fiyori wasn’t moving as much as usual and decided to see her doctor.
“I went for a check-up and was advised that my daughter had passed away,” Lauren told ACA.
Lauren still had to give birth to her baby girl, a process that is mental and physically devastating.
She described her ordeal as “an extremely difficult time”.
“I don’t think it had truly sunk in, the enormity of the loss,” she said. “My daughter had gone and there was a huge gap in our family.”
FORCED BACK TO WORK
The grieving young mum had previously applied for the 13 weeks paid maternity leave, which she was entitled to by her employer, as well as a year of unpaid leave to spend with her new baby.
But several weeks after Fiyori’s death, Lauren received an email from her employer that left her utterly speechless.
After hearing the news of her stillbirth, the distraught mum’s employer had drafted a legal letter and sent it to her inbox, notifying her that her maternity leave package had been cancelled.
The email also requested she return to work several weeks later.
“I was denied the 13 weeks paid maternity leave that I was expecting to take and also the 12 months unpaid leave,” Lauren said.
“I straight away went to the Fair Work website to see if this could really be legal, and it was.”
FAMILIES LEFT BLINDSIDED
Lauren said her employer’s heartless email left her feeling completely “silenced” which, in turn, magnified her own grief.
“I had small children I had to help through this grief, I had to recover from the delivery of my child, I had to make funeral arrangements,” she said.
“It was just shocking.”
Six weeks after her traumatic ordeal, Lauren returned to work.
Under the current legislation, private companies are not required to honour their employee’s paid parental leave if “the pregnancy ends other than by the child being born alive”.
Stillbirth Australia CEO, Kate Lynch, told ACA that employers must be stopped from forcing their grieving staff back to work after such a monumental loss.
“The tragedy is completely unexpected, and families talk about being blindsided,” Ms Lynch said.
A Senate Select Committee was established early last year to investigate stillbirth research and education, in an attempt by the federal government to reduce the national stillbirth rate.
The committee tabled their report in December last year, prompting the government to pledge $ 52.4 million in peri-natal services and support.
In a statement released today, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said all of the committee’s recommendations were agreed to, in one form or another.
“This will help prevent, reduce and assist more than 2000 families affected by stillbirth each year,” Mr Hunt said.
The government has also announced it will develop a national stillbirth action plan, aimed at reducing the stillbirth rate.