For many women, the pain of losing a child through miscarriage stays with them forever, but there is not much support available.
Samantha Payne, CEO and co-founder of Pink Elephants, decided to change that.
Together with her friend Gabbi Armstrong, they founded the not-for-profit to help women through pregnancy loss.
Ms Payne is also one of the nominees for NSW Local Hero for the 2022 NSW Australian of the Year Awards.
“It means so much; it’s not about me, it’s about the validation that all of the women who’ve suffered a loss of a baby to miscarriage is finally spoken about in a public debate,” she told Hope 103.2.
“So, acknowledgement in this way acknowledges the loss of all of our babies.”
Changing the law
Ms Payne and her team looked at the Fair Work Act and found nothing for miscarriage prior to 12 weeks, so they collaborated with stakeholders to lobby the government for more support.
In June this year, the Federal Government introduced legislation to add miscarriage to the compassionate and bereavement leave entitlement, with two days of paid leave to be provided to those who miscarry before 20 weeks.
“In our communities, we kept hearing stories of women hiding in bathroom stalls crying or returning to work the same day as a medical procedure they’d had that morning to remove their baby,” she said.
“I [was angry] that I was being left alone to deal with something so traumatic and there was no support, there was no referral anywhere,” – Samantha Payne, CEO and co-founder of Pink Elephants
The Elephant community
The name Pink Elephants comes from the belief that within an elephant community, if a mother elephant loses her baby, the other elephants use their trunks to form a physical circle of support around her.
“That’s about the validation that that mother is a grieving mother, and what those elephants are doing is giving her all the time and empathy and understanding she needs before she moves forward,” Ms Payne said.
“It is at the heart of everything we do at Pink Elephants.”
Pink Elephants comes from the belief that within an elephant community, if a mother elephant loses her baby, the other elephants use their trunks to form a physical circle of support around her.
Ms Payne and her team begin by talking to a woman and her partner and listening to their experiences.
“We partner a lot with researchers and universities to unpack the story of miscarriage so that we can challenge the false narratives that exist out there,” she said.
“We don’t want to criticise but we know that what we do with grief is we try and minimise it and make the person feel better, but evidence shows that that doesn’t work.”
She said people can refrain from saying anything that begins with “at least”, such as: “at least it happened early” and “at least you know you can get pregnant” or “it was God’s way”, and “there was clearly something wrong with ‘it’”.
“We really, really do need to move away from minimising a miscarriage just because a woman lost a baby at six weeks,” Ms Payne said.
“It doesn’t matter to her; she’d lost the future of a baby that she thought would be there.”
“We really, really do need to move away from minimising a miscarriage just because a woman lost a baby at six weeks,” – Samantha Payne, CEO and co-founder of Pink Elephants
A safe space
Women who’ve gone through the program have found it to be a safe space.
For example, they often find it painful to hear other people’s pregnancy announcements.
“It’s not because they’re jealous of them or any of those awful things, it’s because they’re still grieving the loss of their own baby,” Ms Payne said.
“So, what we find is that women that were in our communities, they can share those dark feelings that they wouldn’t normally experience.”
“What we do with grief is we try and minimise it and make the person feel better, but evidence shows that that doesn’t work,” – Samantha Payne, CEO and co-founder of Pink Elephants
For Ms Payne, it has also been a personal journey. In 2015, she lost her baby through miscarriage.
“It was our second pregnancy; our first pregnancy we left hospital with Georgie in our arms and it was a beautiful experience met with so much happiness and joy,” she said.
“And then two years later, we left the very same hospital with no baby in our arms and we were met with silence and nobody wanted to talk about the baby we’d just lost.
“Inside I was devastated, I thought that baby was going to be in my arms in the next six months, just like Georgie was.”
Six months later, she lost another baby and experienced the same feelings but also felt something else.
“I also had anger at that point, anger that I was being left alone to deal with something so traumatic and there was no support, there was no referral anywhere,” Ms Payne said.
How to support a friend
For those wanting to support a friend, Ms Payne said it starts with validation and empathy.
It starts with validation and empathy.
“Acknowledging the loss of their baby is really important to our community. So ‘I’m sorry for your loss; I’m here for you’ is a simple but really impactful statement,” she said.
“Not being scared to mention it to us because we haven’t forgotten, you’re not going to remind us all of a sudden that we’ve lost a baby and put us into floods of tears.
“You’re actually doing something useful by acknowledging the baby that we’ve lost.”
It is just like other types of bereavement, she said, and the same level of support should be provided.
Next year, Pink Elephants will be looking at fostering more action specific to miscarriage across the healthcare system.
There are currently no clinical guidelines for medical professionals on the treatment or support of miscarriage.
Ms Payne and her team will collaborate with different medical bodies and researchers to build change in this area.