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Why flexible parental leave policies are key for those facing loss

Ahead of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day on 15 October, a senior legal professional said her experience with stillbirth prompted her to review her workplace parental leave policies to ensure they supported those experiencing loss.

user iconMalavika Santhebennur 14 October 2022 Big Law
Why flexible parental leave policies are key for those facing loss
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NB: This story may be distressing or triggering for some readers. Discretion is advised.

Speaking to Lawyers Weekly ahead of the Women in Law Forum 2022, Holding Redlich partner Alexandra Tighe reflected on her personal experiences with stillbirth, which occurred in 2012.

“When I was pregnant with my third child, I was at around the 24-week mark when I went into unexplained labour,” she said.


“It was unfortunately too premature for our baby to survive, so he was lost at birth. It was devastating.

“I’ve never really got any answers about what went wrong. I fumbled my way through. I still had two kids and my career, so I was just trying to make sense of it all and getting through that initial grieving period.”

Following the stillbirth, Ms Tighe and her husband made further attempts to conceive a third child, but she experienced three late-term miscarriages.

She ultimately connected with a professor in Melbourne who guided her and her husband around their options.

“I fell pregnant, and with a lot of medical intervention and help, we had a daughter in 2015. She was six weeks premature but is perfectly fine and healthy today,” Ms Tighe said.

Throughout these periods of pregnancy and losses (and the period prior to when she got married and gave birth to two other children), she worked at Holding Redlich, which supported her as she dealt with her loss.

“Being in the same workplace throughout gave me continuity, which definitely helped,” she said.

Around 110,000 Australians have a miscarriage every year, while 2,200 endure stillbirth.

Ms Tighe will participate in a panel discussion at the inaugural Women in Law Forum 2022 in November about how workplaces could provide guidance and support to employees who are navigating the trauma of loss in the workplace.

While her own workplace had not implemented a formal policy that specified the rights of employees experiencing loss and trauma, Ms Tighe had a supportive managing partner who allowed her to guide her workplace on the kind of support she required.

She took around nine weeks of leave, which included the government-funded paid parental leave as well as some additional leave.

“It took me around eight or nine weeks to recover and feel like I was ready to face the workplace again,” Ms Tighe said.

“But it is a very confronting thing to go back into the office after being heavily pregnant before and then just having no baby at home and not being pregnant anymore. It was a very difficult thing for everyone involved.”

Setting a baseline parental leave policy

Ms Tighe — who has previously spoken to Lawyers Weekly about pregnancy loss — said her experiences spurred her to undertake a review of the firm’s parental leave policies after being promoted to partner in 2017 and becoming co-chair of its diversity and inclusion committee.

She undertook the review with a particular lens on employee pregnancy journeys, whether that is during the reproductive period or in the context of a stillbirth.

Elaborating on her objective, she said: “I wanted to make sure that people who are experiencing whatever it might be in their journey understand what is available to them but be aware that that’s not all that’s available to them. If people need or want more, we’ll always consider it. But we wanted to make sure that there was a clear baseline in place.

“When I experienced my loss, we had a parental leave policy, but that was on the assumption that your baby was born healthy and you went home to care for them. But we didn’t really have anything in place at that point for the situation that I’d encountered.”

As such, she highlighted that flexibility is critical when designing parental leave policies to accommodate for individual circumstances, she added.

She also advised workplaces to implement a baseline policy around parental leave for the “worst-case scenario” and appoint a primary point of contact who can provide information on the types of support available to employees, and offer additional support should they require it.

“Checking in and asking how the employee is going counts for a lot. Explaining what resources are available to them and assuring them that there are safe people to talk to about what you’re experiencing is really important,” Ms Tighe said.

“Employees who feel that they are well supported are more likely to return and be more engaged and productive than someone who feels abandoned. I personally was so grateful for the level of care that was shown to me, and I wanted to return to my workplace. I knew this was a good place to be.”

To hear more from Alexandra Tighe about how workplaces can embed progressive policies to reduce the stigma around family planning and support those navigating pregnancy loss and infertility, come along to the Women in Law Forum 2022.

It will be held at the Grand Hyatt Melbourne on Thursday, 24 November.

Click here to book your tickets and make sure you don’t miss out!

For more information, including agenda and speakers, click here.

Support for those experiencing early pregnancy loss can be found through organisations such as the Pink Elephants Support Network, Bears of Hope and SANDS.

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