Aussie mum’s parental leave plea after premature son’s birth

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An Australian mother is calling for change after being “blindsided” by her son’s premature birth, forcing her to use all 18 weeks of parental leave and her annual leave from her employer “just to get through it”.

Katherine Averill had had a ‘healthy’ pregnancy until May 15 last year, when – at 28 weeks and 4 days – she suddenly went into labor ‘completely out of the blue’, months before her due date on August 3.

Just 30 minutes later, Katherine was rushed into surgery for an emergency C-section. Her son, Archie, weighed just over three pounds. It was the ‘best and worst’ night of his parents’ lives.

“Your introduction to motherhood is fear,” she told Yahoo News Australia, describing the pain of becoming a mother to a premature baby.

Archie would remain in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for 97 days and in the hospital for 21 weeks. During this time, Archie would undergo three operations – one of which was life-saving.

Archie, born at just 28 weeks and 4 days, lay with his mother Katherine in hospital.

Archie, born at just 28 weeks and 4 days, remained in hospital for 21 weeks. Source: supplied

Katherine spent at least 15 hours a day by Archie’s side during that time and talked about how, despite being excited to see him every day, she was filled with dread because she didn’t know what the day would bring for her “beautiful boy” .

Mental and financial burden on parents of premature babies

Katherine remembers how difficult the 21 weeks in hospital were, with the financial burden weighing heavily on their family at a time of trauma and fear.

“It was a very stressful time, both mentally and financially, because not only are you off work, but you know, it’s expensive,” she said. “There are so many additional costs as a parent of a premature baby that it doesn’t stop when you get home – with all the assessments and appointments with specialists.”

The Sydney mother used all her 18 weeks of parental leave, which was the norm at the time but has now been increased to 20 weeks. She then used her annual leave from her employer “just to get through it” and to ensure she could be with Archie every day.

“I had to be there with Archie every day for as many hours as I could afford to have skin-to-skin contact – because they’re out of the womb so early that they need it,” she said. “It is medically necessary for us to be in the hospital with our babies.”

Archie is now a happy, prosperous fourteen-month-old child, but cannot go to daycare due to his prematurity. This has meant that Katherine has still not returned to work.

Left image is of Archie shortly after he was born prematurely in the hospital.  The right image is now of him, healthy and 14 months old.Left image is of Archie shortly after he was born prematurely in the hospital.  The right image is now of him, healthy and 14 months old.

Archie is now a thriving fourteen-month-old boy, but still cannot go to daycare. Source: supplied

Public petition for better rights to parental leave

Katherine is sharing her story in support of a public petition launched on Monday calling for more paid leave entitlements for parents who have used up their leave entitlement before their baby has even left hospital.

“Parental leave is something I’ve been longing for. Being able to say goodbye at work, have a baby shower, bring my son home and exist in this little bubble…” says Katherine.

Alicia Spittle, associate professor at the Center of Research Excellence for Newborn Medicine at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, says current parental leave legislation does not take into account the time parents of premature or sick babies can spend in hospital.

“As a result, parents are often forced to return to work while their baby is still in hospital, or face leave without pay or even layoff,” she says. “This places an enormous financial burden on families who are already in a traumatic and overwhelming situation.”

Nearly half of premature babies will need to stay in hospital for one to four months after birth and 48,000 babies are born each year requiring admission to a NICU or a special care unit (SCN).

Suggested changes to be made

Under current law, eligible parents who are the primary caregiver of a newborn receive up to twenty weeks of paid parental leave at the national minimum wage. Eligible working fathers and partners (including same-sex partners) will receive two weeks’ paid leave at the national minimum wage.

Miracle Babies Foundation states that this legislation for parents of premature and sick babies does not take into account the needs of parents with babies who arrive earlier than expected and spend the first weeks or months of their lives in a NICU or SCN before they can safely return home come.

They propose the following changes to parental leave rights for families where a baby is in hospital for two weeks or more:

  • That primary caregivers receive one week of additional parental leave for each week that a baby is in hospital for more than two weeks, up to a maximum of fourteen weeks of additional pay, and

  • Recommend an additional two weeks of additional father and partner pay for fathers and partners.

For more information about the petition, click here.

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Yahoo Australia

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