It's fair to say that New Zealand bringing in bereavement leave for pregnancy loss has made waves around the world. I found myself converting my office into a studio last night for an interview with Australia's ABC News (above), and the story has also been shared in outlets including:
What's even more exciting is that our news seems to have sparked calls for other countries to update their employment legislation:
I'd love to know if anyone else has seen calls for change from other parts of the world.
I packed my bag and drove towards the airport, not knowing if I was going to get on the plane.
It was Members’ Day in parliament’s House, and the Holidays (Bereavement Leave for Miscarriage) Amendment Bill was due to be read for the third and final time – if the affordable housing discussions, which were being conducted under urgency, wrapped up in time.
I was stopped at the lights when MP Ginny Andersen’s EA rang. The reading was going ahead!
One plane ride, one taxi drive and several coffees later, I found myself going through Parliament security.
I went into The Beehive and temporarily exchanged my bags for a sticker and a lanyard before racing up two flights of stairs and being ushered into the House – a space that’s even more impressive in real life than it is on TV.
Ginny gave an impassioned speech about the Bill, which was sparked when I sent a letter to Clare Curran about the lack of clarity in the Holidays Act for people grieving pregnancy loss. Clare took up the cause and later Ginny drafted the Bill and submitted it to the infamous biscuit tin (the vessel that Members' Bills are drawn from). The Bill could have languished inside the biscuit tin indefinitely, but it was drawn and in the years since Ginny and others have worked hard on the Bill to ensure that people impacted by pregnancy loss can access bereavement leave.
During yesterday's final reading the Bill received cross-party support. Labour, National, Green and Act MPs stood to share their personal experiences and explain what the Bill would mean for them and their constituents. Thanks to Parliament TV On Demand, you can watch the speeches online:
It was heartening to hear so many people in support of the Bill, and I think it’s amazing that politicians are speaking about such private issues on such a public stage. Their actions will help break down some of the taboos around miscarriage and baby loss.
Several politicians from across the House mentioned Ginny’s great work in shepherding the Bill through the House and gaining cross-party support.
All speakers said the fateful words, “I commend this Bill to the House.” This means that there is just one more step – a formality – needed before the change to The Holidays Act becomes law: Royal assent.
Ginny’s EA whisked me away to the Labour Caucus room where, beneath portraits of past Labour PMs, I chatted with some of Ginny’s team. (The fast-paced banter and the beautiful surroundings made it all feel very ‘In The Thick Of It’.)
Ginny and her colleagues arrived and we enjoyed macaroons and sandwiches as we toasted making history!
The celebration was short-lived as Ginny had to return to work (MPs work until 10pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays).
Ginny gave me a brief tour on the way out. I was introduced to the infamous biscuit tin that the Bill was drawn from, and I saw the billiards room and the glamorous Legislative Council Chamber.
Then all of a sudden – it was over. I booked myself into a hotel, head buzzing.
I’d like to say a huge congratulations to Ginny for her success with this Bill, and a huge thank you to Clare Curran who got the process started. Thank you also the Select Committee and everyone who made submissions on the Bill or helped in other ways.
Together, we’ve made a little bit of history!
More about the Bill
More about miscarriage
Releasing two books seems like small fry in the context of a year that also included an operation, an accident, a family emergency, a devastating restructure at work, a security threat that impacted my place of work, oh and the small matter of a global pandemic.
It's hard to know what to make of this year.
On one hand, I'm so lucky to live in Aotearoa and to have been so lightly touched by the pandemic. And I'm even luckier to have so many amazing supporters who pre-ordered my children's book Bruce Goes Outside, and my collection of short stories, Pet, and made the publication of them both possible. Thank you so much!
On the other hand, it has been such a hard and disappointing time. Looking for photos for this update, there are few of me celebrating with others. There are no photos from the Pet book launch, because there wasn't one. The only images in my Pet folder are jaunty invitations to cancelled celebrations.
My books seemed to come out at the worst possible time - when magazines that review books weren't being published, just a few weeks before the Kete book review site launched, and when Level Two and Three restrictions made it impossible to celebrate with in-person launches. I had four launches scheduled for the year (in Dunedin and Auckland) and we were able to go ahead with one.
However, a really positive thing that came out of the pandemic was a change in arts funding that led to my surprise project of the year - a podcast!
Thanks to Creative New Zealand I had the incredible opportunity to work with 17 extraordinary talented actors and the amazing Otago Access Radio (OAR FM) crew to create a podcast for Pet. Creating that podcast and getting to meet so many wonderful people was a highlight of my year.
Other highlights included Steve Braunias and Newsroom coming to my rescue and enabling me to have an online book launch for Pet (thank you!) and the children at Port Chalmers Primary School following up on a workshop I held with them by presenting me with a book of their stories. Another highlight was being asked to be the guest speaker for a School Library Association of New Zealand event. The event organisers made me feel as though I was Stephen King! And my lovely work colleagues organised a spontaneous Pet book launch for me in an office space, complete with flowers and donuts! There is plenty to be grateful for this year.
So, 2020 has left me with a lot of complicated feelings - but here's my 'annual report'. It follows the same format as last year's.
Last year I had a goal to send away 100 submissions. This year I was too busy crowdfunding to write or submit much new work. I made eight submissions to journals, competitions, residencies and funding bodies, and had six declines. I received CNZ funding to create a podcast, and one submission is still outstanding.
Although my number of submissions was small, two of them were for opportunities that I desperately wanted. On the strength of Pet and its reviews I also approached several literary festivals, but haven't been invited to participate in any as a short story writer. Another disappointment was having to crowdfund my books. After the success of Bruce Finds A Home (lovely reviews, and 2000 copies sold) it would have been great to have received funding to assist with the publication of Bruce Goes Outside. And I would have dearly loved to have found a publisher for Pet. Crowdfunding is not a sustainable arts practice - something I might write about in an essay one day.
But as with everything this year, there have been silver linings to my disappointments. I was thrilled to be able to work with the extraordinary team at Mary Egan Publishing to release Pet, and I just love the cover design! The team at Mary Egan Publishing is amazing and I can't recommend them highly enough. And crowdfunding gave me the opportunity to connect directly with people who wanted to read my work! Wow! It blows my mind that there are people out there who are interested in reading what I write. Thank you so much for your support, it has meant the world during this challenging year.
Last year I said, "In 2020 I hope to publish both Pet and Bruce Goes Outside, and get a little further along on my doctorate of professional practice."
So what do I want for 2021? I'm not sure yet. I would love to write and illustrate a third Bruce book, but the sales of Bruce Goes Outside haven't been as strong as they were for the first book, so I don't think it would be practical to do so. I hope to have finished, or be close to finishing my doctorate this time next year. And on the writing front, I'm not sure. Will I focus on trying to become the best short story writer that I can be? Or will I follow the scent of a novel idea? That's something for me to mull over during the summer break.
As I finish this update I hear sirens. I look out my window to see what looks like the third serious house fire in my little town this year.
I hope 2021 is an easier and happier year for us all.
I'm so lucky to have been able to work with director Charlotte Wanhill and her amazing team to bring our myth-busting web series about miscarriage, Misconceptions, to the small screen. A new episode will be added to nzherald.co.nz each weekday until July 3.
Find the Misconceptions web series here.
As a valued stakeholder of 'Kathryn van Beek: writer', please find your copy of my 2019 Annual Report below. The report is structured as follows: submissions, disappointments, successes, a tribute and a summary.
My goal was to make 100 submissions to journals, competitions, funding bodies etc, and I came close this year with approximately 81 submissions made.
These 81 submissions yielded 9 successes and 38 declines. Twenty-three submissions still await their fates, and I withdrew 11 submissions after the stories were accepted elsewhere.
Of those 38 declines, I would say that 35 were 'oh well' moments, while the other three led to full-blown 'what is the point in going on I should just impale myself upon my pen' crises.
I am also disappointed in myself for not finishing the illustrations for the second Bruce the Cat book (working on them now!).
A tribute to David
Writing the 'Best Book in the World' piece was one of the highlights of my year, and a real testament to the wonderful man behind the series - talented journalist and really nice bloke David Loughrey. Unfortunately David passed away recently. I don't know what to say except David, in the short time that I knew you, you really enriched my world. Thank you.
Summary ... and hopes for 2020
Though I didn't get the exact feather in my cap that I really wanted this year, I did pick up a bunch of other very nice feathers.
In 2020 I hope to publish both Pet and Bruce Goes Outside (my second children's book), and get a little further along on my doctorate of professional practice.
A huge thank you to everyone who has supported me this year. I love Aotearoa's literary scene - everyone I've met has been so generous and kind. Wishing all of you a happy and successful 2020.
It's likely that the Holidays (Bereavement Leave for Miscarriage) Amendment Bill will have its first reading next week.
The current wording of the Holidays Act makes it ambiguous as to whether bereavement leave can be taken in the event of pregnancy loss.
The Bill, which is being championed by Labour MP Ginny Andersen, would make it clear that the unplanned end of a pregnancy by miscarriage or still-birth constitutes grounds for bereavement leave for the pregnant person and their partner or spouse, and that the duration of the bereavement leave should be up to three days.
The Bill came about as a result of a letter I wrote to Clare Curran about the ambiguity in the Act.
If this change goes through (after the first reading it needs to get through two more readings and two committees before being put forward for Royal Assent) it will be a small change for employers, but a huge improvement for people bereaved by miscarriage.
Miscarriage is still a taboo subject and this is reflected in how we talk about it (it is barely mentioned in pregnancy books) and in the standard of care that people who experience miscarriage receive (most do not receive the support of a midwife).
I hope that this change will help people bereaved by miscarriage feel supported by society at what can be a very lonely and isolating time.
I also hope that by talking more openly about miscarriage we can help remove some of the stigma from what is unfortunately a very common experience.
If you would like to show your support for the Bill, please add your name to the Change.org petition.
If you or someone you love is going through miscarriage, you can find helpful resources on the Miscarriage Support website.
Miscarriage isn't talked about a lot - particularly the details. What is it, what should you do when it's happening to you, and how do you cope afterwards? I've spent the past few months working on an article about miscarriage that shares five personal experiences (including the experiences of a dad), plus information from infertility and baby loss counsellor Megan Downer. A huge thank you to The Spinoff for publishing this story today - and to the people who agreed to be interviewed for the article. I hope I've done your stories justice.
Read The Loneliness of Miscarriage on The Spinoff.
In this post I'd like to share a bit more information about miscarriage - Megan's tips on dealing with grief, information about the different types of miscarriage, and links to places where you can get support.
Coping with grief after miscarriage
Tips from infertility and pregnancy loss counsellor Megan Downer.
Types of miscarriage
Management of miscarriage
If a miscarriage begins unexpectedly, you are advised to seek medical help. You can speak to your GP, your midwife (if you have been formally registered), visit an urgent care or after-hours medical centre, or call Healthline on 0800 611 116. If the bleeding is heavy, you are advised to go to hospital urgently. You may need to call an ambulance.
Visit the Miscarriage Support website for more information.
You can also join the private Miscarriage Support Facebook group to chat to other women who have experienced miscarriage.
Alicia Young is pretty much the worst pseudonym I could have chosen. I didn't even google it. I was walking through the fog of infertility treatment and probably not thinking clearly. I wrote a short series about undergoing IVF and having a miscarriage, and it was published on The Spinoff under Alicia's name.
Alicia came out again recently when our PM revealed that she is expecting and I knew that a certain group of women (and their partners) would be juggling some mixed feelings about the announcement. The piece must have tapped into some kind of zeitgeist as it was picked up by The Herald Online and was printed in The Herald the next day.
It felt weird and exposing and a bit self-indulgent to share such personal feelings, but the comments I received made me feel as though I did the right thing.
"It was refreshing piece you wrote and I just wanted to say thanks. You helped me."
"Thank you for putting some of this into words. Know that you are not alone there are many of us feeling as you do, and we are grateful that you have had the courage to write this."
"Oh god, yes it hurts. I think she'll be due around the week as I was."
"Thank you for writing this."
Thank you to everyone who has expressed support for changing Section 69 of The Holidays Act so that those who experience miscarriage are entitled to take bereavement leave. I have talked to a very supportive local MP who may submit this as a Members’ Bill.
Along with gathering your support, I’ve also reached out to organisations:
I will wait a few weeks to hear back from these organisations and will keep you in the loop. In the meantime if you would like to lend your support please get in touch or comment at the bottom of this post.
I have also written a letter for the publishers of The New Zealand Pregnancy Book asking for more information about miscarriage to be included in the upcoming new edition. Sands may also be interested in supporting the letter, which you can read here.
I’ve been trying to get some action on both of these issues since December. What I’ve learned is that the wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly – and that just when you think you’ve found the right person to talk to, they tell you that the right person to talk to is someone else!
I listened to a great Freakonomics podcast with Trevor Noah yesterday, in which he said that trying to make change when you're angry is not effective. It was a great reminder to take a deep breath and play the long game.
I’ve also discovered that even submitting a Members’ Bill is no guarantee that anything will change. The Bill might not ever get heard in Parliament. At the very least though, it may influence further changes to the Holidays Act in the future. Based on the advice I’ve received, submitting a Members’ Bill seems to be the best way to proceed. I think it’s worth a shot!
There are five brochures about HIV in my local medical centre. Every year around 200 people in NZ will be diagnosed with HIV.
There are no brochures about miscarriage in my local medical centre. Every year around 20,000 women in NZ will experience miscarriage.
When I saw the brochure stand at my local medical centre I got really mad. It's great that there is information available on HIV, pregnancy, prostate checks and all sorts of other things. But there seems to be a cone of silence around miscarriage.
Unfortunately I suffered a miscarriage late last year. As a result of my experience I realised there is very little medical information about miscarriage available to women in New Zealand. And having a miscarriage doesn't even count as a reason to be bereaved under our Holidays Act!
I would like to use the power of the pen to change these things - and you can help.
Amending the Holidays Act
I've spoken to a local MP about amending the Holidays Act. She has suggested putting this forward as a private member's bill. But first I need some more support from other people. Have a read over my letter here, and if you agree that people who have suffered miscarriage should be able to take bereavement leave, drop me a line or leave a comment below. I'll include your comment and your initials in my next letter.
Providing more information to women
I have a lot of thoughts around this, but one simple thing we can do is advocate for more miscarriage information to be included in the NZ Pregnancy Book, which is soon to be updated. Have a read of my letter here, and if you agree that the country's leading book on pregnancy should also include information about miscarriage (an event that only occurs in women who are, duh, pregnant), get in touch (or leave a comment below) and I will include your initials in the letter to the publisher.
This is going to be slow going. I'm doing this around work, writing, maintaining my cat's social media presence... and I'm soon going to be running a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign for my children's book. But I will post updates as I go, and I'd love to have your support.
2023 Burns fellow Kathryn van Beek has an MA from Victoria University Wellington - Te Herenga Waka’s International Institute of Modern Letters. She is a winner of the Mindfood Short Story Competition and the Headland Prize. Her collection of short stories, Pet, is available as a podcast, and her work has also appeared in Overland, takahē, Newsroom, and the Sunday Star-Times. She lives in UNESCO City of Literature Ōtepoti Dunedin with her two rescue cats.