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Monday, 30 August 2021
Page: 5435


Senator HUGHES (New South Wales) (10:15): Having a baby is one of the most exciting, wonderful and scary times in anyone's life. I know how hard I had to try to fall pregnant, but that was just step 1. My mother had seven miscarriages before I was born, and one came very close to full term; I've only ever heard her referred to as Sally. It's not something my mother really spoke about, and unfortunately I don't have the opportunity to speak with her about it now. But, as you can imagine, after my mother's seven miscarriages, neither she nor I were particularly calm women during my first pregnancy.

Because I was on fertility treatment, everything was closely monitored, so I knew I was pregnant at five weeks. But this silly old rule still exists that you don't tell anyone until 12 weeks because miscarriage is most likely to occur in those first three months. You get through those first 12 weeks, and you hold your breath at every obstetrics appointment until you hear that heartbeat. That sound—every parent knows it—you think, at the time, is the best sound in the world, and that sound is only overtaken when you hear the first laugh and giggle from your child. Those laughs cancel out every sleepless night and nappy blowout.

My beautiful baby was born after being induced. She was quite happy where she was, and, 10 days past the due date, it was time for her to face the world. But during the induction her heartbeat started to go up and down, and there were concerns around the cord. I'd always told my obstetrician I wanted a healthy baby and I didn't care how he got them out, so we went to plan B. Millicent Mae Hughes then entered the world within eight minutes, with a gorgeous big cry as she was lifted over my head into her dad's arms.

Whilst we had a beautiful baby girl at the end of this pregnancy, when we were being taken back to my room, one of the nurses said to Millie's dad that they'd moved me to a different room because the bigger room with the ensuite that I was supposed to be in had been given to another mother—a mother who was coming in to deliver her stillborn baby. As anyone who's ever had an emergency caesar knows, the painkillers coupled with the postpartum hormones can make everything a bit of a blur—let alone having this beautiful baby lying next to you in the crib, learning to feed and having skin-to-skin contact—but neither Stewart nor I have ever forgotten that moment. I think we both held our precious little girl that little bit tighter, knowing how lucky we were to have her.

In some ways, that wasn't the worst stillbirth experience that I saw after I had Millie. As a new mother, you're invited to mothers group. Sometimes you make lifelong friends and sometimes the only thing you have in common with those women is that you're all new mums, but it's a really important experience. You learn from each other, you learn that you're not the only one doing something wrong, and it's a place where hormonal and exhausted tears are supported and usually shared. At the end of the six-week community health path, my group split into two. One decided they wanted to meet at the park and go for walks, in the middle of winter in Orange. Needless to say, that was not my group! Mine decided we would meet for lunch every week.

As Melbourne Cup approached, I asked the mothers group to come to my place for lunch, and one of the girls asked if they could bring with them a friend who had a baby the same age as ours. When Jodie arrived and I had a cuddle with her beautiful boy, I asked her why she hadn't been in our mothers group, since her baby was the same age as ours. Was she perhaps in another group?

Jodie told me she wasn't invited to mothers group as this wasn't her first birth. Two years earlier, Jodie had delivered a stillborn baby girl. The emotion was so raw in Jodie's voice as she spoke to me about it, and all I could feel was building rage. In what world do we exclude a woman with her second baby from mothers group after her first was stillborn? To this day, I still get so upset about it.

We need to bring miscarriage and stillbirth out of the closet and into the light. Every woman who has fallen pregnant—who has felt the butterfly flutters, the gymnastic rolling around and the odd serious kick—is a mother. The loss they experience at any stage of the pregnancy is raw and real, as is the grief. I know that this is something that Senator Keneally understands. I have supported her motions in this area to recognise the tragedy of stillbirth and the awful situation those families face. Sometimes in life there are things you simply can't understand until you experience it. I know what our family's gone through in having a special needs child. People can empathise, but they can never fully understand. So, whilst my heart breaks for all the mothers and fathers who have experienced this grief, I can only stand here in empathy and, quite frankly, in awe. They pick themselves up, and many who are lucky to then have a rainbow baby go on with their family life. As a mum who was lucky to deliver three beautiful and healthy babies, I can say I'm not sure I'd be as strong as them.

Thank you, Senator Keneally, for advocating in this space and being so open about your gorgeous girl Caroline and the contribution she's made to your family. I am pleased that we've taken a step to ensure that there is a clear and consistent minimum standard when it comes to parental leave for parents who experience this tragic loss. These parents would be able to take paid parental leave as they planned, without having to worry about returning to work before they're ready and without facing additional bureaucratic hurdles. I look to this place to support the Fair Work Amendment (Improving Paid Parental Leave for Parents of Stillborn Babies) Bill 2021 currently before us that enables an employee to take compassionate leave if they or their partner experience a miscarriage. We need to bring this into the open and acknowledge the loss that's felt that requires time to grieve.

What we do as a government is legislate the minimum standard. There are over 60 organisations that we know of that provide more generous provisions to parents who experience a stillbirth: organisations such as Bunnings, HSBC, Woolworths, BPAY and Cricket Australia. We commend those organisations and really would encourage all employers to understand the emotions and the psychological and physical impacts of pregnancy loss or a stillbirth and provide extra support, as best they can, to the employees in need. I promise them that loyalty to their staff at that horrific time in their life will be repaid tenfold.

Again, I want to commend Senator Keneally for her advocacy and for working with Minister Cash in close consideration of this bill. By talking about things such as miscarriage and stillbirth, we bring them out of the shadows and we remove any stigma around the issues—stigma that should never have existed in the first place. By talking openly and by government legislating a minimum standard, organisations and employers will be encouraged to think more about this issue: how it affects their staff and how they can best support them through such a tragic event.