House debates

Monday, 22 February 2010

Private Members’ Business

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day

7:21 pm

Photo of Joanna GashJoanna Gash (Gilmore, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism) Share this | Hansard source

The death of a child at any age is an emotionally debilitating family event, especially for the mother. Equally devastating is infant loss through miscarriage, stillbirth or other perinatal events. The grief felt can be profound and, as part of the healing process, acknowledging the event and confronting the grief provides enormous relief. The impact is probably more extensive than the statistics suggest. In Australia, perinatal deaths are something like 4.7 per thousand. In the United States it is just below eight per thousand. In terms of the impact of the event, you need to factor in fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles and even friends and workplace colleagues. For all intents and purposes, this is post-traumatic stress disorder, whose widespread effects are well documented within the veterans community.

There is a growing acceptance in Australia to adopt 15 October as the official day to acknowledge pregnancy and infant loss. It is already widely accepted unofficially in Australia. The United States and Canada recognise this day officially and in late 2008, Shelley Hancock, of the New South Wales parliament, moved in favour of calling on their government to consider adopting the date in the state’s calendar. I believe there are moves afoot in other legislatures in Australia to adopt this date within their jurisdictions.

What has brought me to move this motion was one of my constituents, Nicole Ballinger, who has experienced multiple miscarriages, and Nicole and Richard are here in the chamber tonight. Nicole came to me because she wanted something done. After the first miscarriage, she and her husband tried a number of remedies. She met regularly with a grief counsellor and complied with the suggestions that were given. She and her husband named the baby, planted a tree in the baby’s honour, wrote a memorial and made other gestures of grief. They did that with each subsequent loss, but the black dog of depression stayed with her.

The 18th century psychologist GH Lewes said that the only cure for grief is action. With that view, Nicole resolved that depression was not going to beat her. She continued her research in an attempt to overcome the blight. Like most Australians, she turned to the net and soon found people on a blog site with shared experiences. Although she participated only a couple of times each week, she soon found that the process was cathartic. She found that the intensity of her grief was lessening. She found that in the course of about eight months she was blogging, and she was coming out of the process at a much faster rate than the previous 3½ years since her first miscarriage.

I asked Nicole to journalise her experience so that I could relay her story to the House. With time constraints I cannot do her story the justice it deserves, but I would like to quote just a single paragraph as a way of emphasising the clinical value of having an official day of acknowledgement. This is what she wrote:

So what made the difference?

Certainly part of it was the passing of time as well, as the fifth miscarriage had not occurred in the meantime. I’m also convinced that I began to heal through identification with others and the normalisation of my trauma.

I shared my story with those on the blog board and was overwhelmed by the amount of care and empathy that I was given. Then other people joined the board, some of whom were in the throes of fresh raw grief having just lost their baby. So I began giving these women what I could, sharing my own experience and hope, encouraging them to ‘hang in there’ because some of them even expressed suicidal tendencies.

Nicole and her husband went on to launch an information based website with both professional and lay contributions, and she has approached her state and federal members of parliament.

This proposal for a pregnancy and infant loss remembrance day is not just a sentimental gesture; there are clinical and therapeutic benefits to be had, and that is why I am calling on the government to support the community and formally adopt this date as a gazetted day of remembrance. How many women out there are confronting a miscarriage, thinking they are alone, when they do not have to be? This day will help reinforce the assurance that theirs is a shared experience, and, like Nicole, who blogged with other women, the sharing of the experience will help rescue them from the depression that inevitably grips the victim.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, ‘Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.’ Nicole has found a way of moving forward. It may not be the way that some choose, but this government can assist the process by raising awareness through the declaration of such a day. I commend the motion to the House, and I thank Nicole and Richard for being here tonight.


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