Stillbirth and miscarriage bereavement leave backed by Derry & Strabane Council : ‘Far too long women have felt the need to hide their stories’

Derry and Strabane Council have voted unanimously in favour of bringing forward compassionate and progressive proposals for bereavement leave for miscarriage and stillbirth so employees who have been impacted do not have to use sick or annual holiday leave.
Proposer: Alliance Councillor Rachael Ferguson.Proposer: Alliance Councillor Rachael Ferguson.
Proposer: Alliance Councillor Rachael Ferguson.

Alliance Councillor Rachael Ferguson, who brought forward the motion, talked about her experience.

“My own personal story was that I nearly lost my daughter very early on in my pregnancy and I had to wait six weeks to see if she would survive,” she said. 

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“The first doctor I saw said I was having a miscarriage and said not to get too attached. I was then told ‘did you know the term hysteria comes from the word hysterectomy.

“Luckily, my daughter survived and is turning seven in a few weeks but many women have to go through miscarriages and then just pretend it doesn’t hurt, that they weren’t attached and they tell themselves anything so they just get through it. We need to do better.

“Over one in four pregnancies result in a miscarriage and anyone impacted before 24 weeks is not entitled to leave or protection under the current work legislation, they usually have to take annual leave or sick leave, only exasperating a really emotional and traumatic experience, sometimes not allowing enough time to process and properly grieve a loss. Far too long women have felt the need to hide their stories around miscarrying and I’ve heard many speaking in hushed tones.”

Calling for council to bring forward proposals for bereavement leave for parents, the Faughan Councillor continued: “The parental bereavement bill was introduced in the Assembly last month which aims to bring statutory paid leave to those who have lost a child under 18 or after 24 weeks of pregnancy and if passed it will bring Northern Ireland into line with other parts of the UK.

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“Kelly Armstrong MLA is also bringing a Private Members Bill to extend the leave to those who suffered miscarriage prior to the 24 weeks as this is going through many companies in the UK and Ireland who aren’t waiting for the legislation but are implementing their own policy first.

“I brought this motion to show our support to anyone who has experienced the loss of a pregnancy. I hope this will open up the conversations and no one feels ashamed to talk about their loss and allows people to grieve and process and I hope the council will implement a compassionate bereavement policy which includes still births and miscarriage after and prior to 24 weeks.”

Sinn Fein Councillor Tina Burke thanked Colr. Ferguson for bringing forward the motion saying: “People should have the right to be able to grieve without any added financial pressures that come from having to take time off, leave or sick days over this awful period. Sinn Fein believe that paid leave for the death of a child is a right for all employees and further to that paid leave should be available for all parents who have suffered stillbirth or miscarriage during pregnancy. As a council we have always strived to lead from the front across a number of issues and this should be no different.”

SDLP Councillor Shauna Cusack described the motion as a ‘worthwhile and important issue’ asking if it was possible to include those parents who ‘undergo the pain and anguish of unsuccessful IVF treatments’.

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“Could they be given consideration as they too, have very few, if any rights, to compassionate leave or very basic bereavement support, so if they could be remembered in any sort of way that would be appreciated.”

Aontu Colr. Emmet Doyle said it was ‘a very practical way for us to support the employees of council but also to send a message out that this should be the norm for people who have lost a child’, whilst offering his party’s support UUP Alderman Darren Guy said it was ‘very meaningful and thoughtful and a great addition to the council’.

Describing miscarriage as a ‘hidden trauma’, DUP Alderman Hilary McClintock said: “I think it’s only those who have suffered the loss of a stillbirth or miscarriage can truelly understand the trauma that it causes. A miscarriage in so many ways is the hidden trauma but the results of it can be very long lasting. It is wrong that anyone should be requested to take sick leave or annual leave at this traumatic time, we should be doing everything we can to help them in these very difficult times. As a council hopefully we can go forward with a compassionate proposal to support anyone who has to go through this traumatic time.”

People Before Profit Colr. Maeve O’Neill, who seconded the motion, added: “These rights are essential for women. The loss of a child can be very hidden in miscarriage, it can be lonely and traumatic. These rights within terms and conditions for employers are essential and it’s good to see the more progressive legislation for this coming through Stormont and I look forward to seeing what proposals that council will bring forward.  Council can set the bar with regards how progressive this legislation can be to support those who have miscarried and suffered stillbirth.”

The motion passed unanimously.

By Gillian Anderson

Local Democracy Reporter

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