Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Month – Bears of Hope

ADJOURNMENT

Wednesday 14 October 2020

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Month – Bears of Hope

[6.07 p.m.]

Mrs PETRUSMA (Franklin) – Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise tonight to speak about how October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Month, and tomorrow, October 15, is International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, where bereaved parents from Tasmania, Australia and around the world pause to remember their babies who have sadly passed away.

This annual day of remembrance is a significant one honouring the approximately 106 000 babies who lose their lives to miscarriage, still birth and newborn deaths in Australia every year – with one baby, sadly, dying in Australia about every three and a half minutes.

One in every four pregnancies in Australia tragically ends in loss, but despite these alarmingly high figures, pregnancy and infant loss are still topics that most people are reluctant to talk about.

For those of us who have experienced such a loss, it is often too painful to speak about, and for those who have not, it can be hard to even know where to start or what to say to a bereaved parent, as the topic is so impossibly sad that people tend not to want to talk about it at all.

That is why Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Month and Remembrance Day tomorrow is so very important.  A major goal this month is to get people talking about the issue, to make it visible, and to challenge our reluctance as a society to look this issue in the eye.  As reporter Tim Martain, in his excellent article in the Mercury, states –

For mums and dads, the loss of a baby is not some abstract idea or vague lurking fear.  It is a real thing and it shatters many lives. 

In 2002, my husband Tim and I lost a baby.  I woke up having contractions and significant blood loss far too early in our pregnancy, and after an agonising wait at the doctors and having ultrasounds with the contractions getting worse and worse, we were informed that our baby, our daughter, had tragically died – and the grief was further compounded by being in labour for another 16 hours.

Back in 2002 there was not the support for grieving parents that there is today, that is being offered through incredible organisations such as Bears of Hope Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support in Tasmania, which provides information on counselling, grief support and organising a funeral, as well as a teddy bear to take home, so that parents’ arms are not empty when they leave the hospital.

These bears are a gesture so simple and yet so meaningful, and serve as a link between bereaved families, a symbol of shared pain and understanding and acknowledgement that even in their darkest time these parents are not alone.

Bears of Hope was cofounded by Amanda Bowles and Toni Watson, two women who understand that pain and the need for connection only too well.  Like me, what they found many years ago was that there was very little assistance available that was targeted specifically towards the grief and heartbreak that families experience, especially as we live in a culture in which people still rarely speak openly about miscarriage or stillbirth.

Bears of Hope helps to fill that gap, so that parents are less alone and less isolated.  This is also vitally important for something as culturally entrenched as what Amanda Bowles calls the ‘magic 12-week barrier’, which has its roots in extremely old and outdated attitudes that the loss of a baby earlier than 12-weeks’ gestation is not really the loss of a proper baby.  For this reason, many women who miscarry in the early stages are subject to the assumption that their loss is not that big a deal, because it happened early in their pregnancy.

For that mum, that dad, they still had hopes and dreams for their baby.  They probably had a name picked out, and grieved the loss of that baby as keenly as any other bereaved parent.  Tragically, many of the surrounding events that occur after the loss can also leave parents further traumatised.

For me, I had a close friend who gave birth to their beautiful baby daughter the day that we lost ours, which made the loss even harder when we were together, as I was still in grief, but at the same time feeling incredibly guilty that it was so hard for me to hold her baby and to look at my friend’s baby without wanting to cry at the same time.

That is why this month is so important, as it educates us all to never underestimate or minimise the ongoing trauma of losing a baby, whether early or full term, and to beware of using phrases that begin with ‘at least’.

I have had so many well-meaning people say to me, ‘at least’ you can always have another baby, ‘at least’ it happened early, ‘at least’ you already have other children.  Yes, at the time I did already have two children, and yes, I did go on to have another two more children, but none of these words give any comfort.  They just cause more pain.

As Tim Martain stated, ‘while parents might get stronger and more practised at carrying their grief, its weight is never any less’, and it is well documented that women suffer post‑traumatic stress disorder and post-natal depression as their emotions are triggered by many unexpected things.  Anniversaries of the loss, their due date, babies with similar names – or for me, despite the fact that I was very blessed to fall pregnant again three months later and our family is so very blessed with another beautiful daughter, there is not a year goes by when I do not think about our other beautiful daughter, Danielle Joy, on her birthday, who I look forward to seeing again one day.

A bereaved parent is still a parent.  They are still a mum, they are still a dad, and they still love their baby even if they cannot hold them.  This is why in 2015, this Government officially launched recognition of loss certificates in Tasmania, which families can apply for, for free, from the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

Our family has one for Danielle, and every time I look at it, like her middle name, it brings me a lot of Joy.  For these certificates, I acknowledge the advocacy of Maria Bond in her role as Tasmanian coordinator for Bears of Hope.  Back in 2014, alongside Dr Vanessa Goodwin, myself, former premier Will Hodgman and other MPs such as the member for Clark, Ms Ogilvie – and I am sure other members in this House – we worked to formally recognise these babies that are lost in early pregnancy, therefore helping parents through their difficult grieving process.

This remembrance month is usually marked with fundraising walks and remembrance services.  However, due to COVID-19, these have now moved online, so I ask people to check out the Bears of Hope Facebook page, which features the annual Wave of Light remembrance event, which will be happening tomorrow night, where people are encouraged to light a candle and to share their photos on Facebook.

Finally, I commend Bears of Hope, SANDS, and all the other great organisations that provide support to parents at their time of utmost grief.