Senate debates

Tuesday, 24 November 2015


Bears of Hope

7:59 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | Hansard source

I rise this evening to speak about a charity called Bears of Hope, which supports at least 30,000 bereaved parents across Australia every year. Across our nation it is estimated that one in four women will experience a miscarriage. Every 3.5 minutes a mother loses her baby to miscarriage. In my home state of Tasmania there are 40 stillbirths and 20 newborn deaths every year. This devastating, crippling and emotionally complex experience leaves parents' hearts aching with a pain that they struggle to put into words. For the outside world they put on their bravest faces, but nothing can ever prepare them for their loss and the waves of emotions that will wash over them in the following months and years.

The pain from this kind of loss is not confined to women, but too often is felt in silence, because it is not something we tend to talk about openly. This should not be the case. We should feel that we can talk about this openly, because it is something that so many of us are touched by in our lifetime, whether through personal experience or that of someone we know. Slowly, infertility has turned from a taboo subject into something that is open for discussion—people are publicly talking about their experiences of loss and pain as a way of supporting others in similar circumstances. But very little is shared about pregnancy and infant loss. The number of babies lost through stillbirth and newborn death is greater than the number of people lost to road accidents in Australia, so why aren't we talking about this?

Last week I was fortunate to meet the Tasmanian coordinator for Bears of Hope, Maria Bond, who selflessly works to provide a voice to Tasmanian parents who have previously been unable to express their grief about a subject that is not often spoken about. Bears of Hope supports at least 30,000 bereaved parents across Australia every year. The charity helps to support families grieving the loss of a child in two ways. Firstly, they provide a bear of hope and resources to families at their time of loss to guide them through choices and decisions and to help them make the most of their short time together. The second way they assist is through their Beyond the Bear support, which comes in many forms, from private online support groups to free phone, email and face-to-face counselling, psychologists' facilities, support groups and special events.

Bears of Hope empowers families to seek help and to not be afraid, embarrassed or ashamed to speak of their grief or their love for their child. By educating the wider community on the impact the loss of a baby has on a family, Bears of Hope is also changing perceptions, opening up conversations and slowly breaking down barriers of communication around this subject.

The efforts of Bears of Hope extend further. Earlier this year they successfully advocated for and championed the official recognition of the death of babies in the early stages of pregnancy. In May this year the Tasmanian government moved to give official recognition to babies lost during early pregnancy in Tasmania. Now parents who lose a baby before 20 weeks gestation, or a baby that weighs less than 400 grams, will be able to apply for a commemorative certificate under a new administrative process. I particularly commend the Tasmanian government on this move and, of course, Maria Bond, the Tasmanian coordinator for Bears of Hope. I am sure this official recognition will make it easier for people to talk about their loss and will give parents validation and the opportunity to say: 'My baby mattered.'

The campaign for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day in Australia began in 2008. This brings me to another huge effort being spearheaded in Tasmania by Maria Bond: the campaign to declare 15 October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day in Tasmania for families who experience the loss of their baby. Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day is currently recognised in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, New South Wales and Western Australia, and I believe that it should be a national day of recognition.

But these are not the only things that Maria Bond is involved with. She is a very active advocate for this great cause, but she also goes into hospitals and works with staff to enable them to help parents who have lost their baby and give them the guidance and support that they need. No matter how well trained our hospital staff are, there has still been this gap of being able to be reassuring, to be able to comfort and to be able to assist these parents who are grieving. This is such a great initiative, which, once again, has been spearheaded by Maria Bond.

It is unfortunate that, in the past, when she has sought to meet with state ministers they have refused to meet with her. I say to them: 'Shame on you that, as a minister of the Crown of the state of Tasmania, you wouldn't even take the time to sit down and listen to Maria Bond—to talk about the issues, to find a way forward.' I am always the first to criticise any government that is not doing the right thing by the people of Australia and of my home state of Tasmania. But tonight I give credit to the Tasmanian Liberal government for taking up this initiative. It may seem irrelevant to some people. I have been very fortunate not to have lost a baby. I cannot even imagine the grief it causes.

As a mother, I know how precious my two daughters were to us. We were not meant to have any children so they were a blessing. But to lose a baby in this way, to either lose it during your pregnancy or to have it stillborn must be so devastating. So anything we can do to assist those families has to be a step in the right direction to educate our community and to have a certificate that publicly acknowledges that you have lost a child and that that baby is still remembered.

A very good friend of mine, unfortunately, has gone through tragedy themselves. They have demonstrated to me that you can and should acknowledge the baby you have lost. I take my hat off to her. I do not have to say who it is. But so often I hear this friend of mine talking about her baby son and I think that is wonderful. I think it is really important for a family to come together and to acknowledge that their brother or sister has been lost to the family.

I had another friend many years ago whose baby daughter was born with enormous health issues. To deal with the situation that they had been confronted with—and we have to remember there is no right way or wrong to deal with grieving—they had a photo of their baby daughter connected to all the machines on their television, so you saw it as soon as you walked into their lounge room. It was confronting to see their baby daughter in this state. The father, our very good friend, had to make the very tough decision to switch off the machine that kept that little baby alive because his wife was not in a state to make such a decision. My heart went out to them.

So we will do whatever we can and if it means that we have to continue to lobby for this day of recognition then I call on my colleagues in this chamber to help me, along with Senator Bilyk, to ensure that we get the recognition that these babies deserve. It is the very least that we can do. These families need this sort of support.


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