Centrelink called out by grieving mum over 'absolutely disgusting' rule

Adelaide woman Patty gave birth to her stillborn son at 19 weeks but a technicality means she's not eligible for financial aid. She wants that rule to change.

Patty van Duijn with partner Lee Simpson
Patty van Duijn and her partner Lee Simpson lost a baby at 19 weeks, but are ineligible for Centrelink's stillborn baby payment. Source: Supplied

A grieving mum still coming to terms with losing her baby says she's being forced to return to work less than two weeks later because of an "unfair" Centrelink rule which prevents her from receiving financial aid.

Patty van Duijn was just over 19 weeks pregnant with her son Mason when, due to complications, she "had no choice" but to terminate the pregnancy earlier this month, only then to experience the "trauma" of giving birth to her stillborn son.

"I'm still going through this whole process of giving birth and holding a baby that's not alive. It's very traumatic and really hard, but now I have to think about going back to work," Patty from Adelaide told Yahoo News Australia.

The 29-year-old said she'd applied for Centerlink's stillborn baby payment — a one-off lump sum payment of $4,059.17 — to help tie her over for some time, she also tried for the parental leave pay. But because she was six days short of the 20-week requirement, she isn't eligible.

According to Centrelink, to be considered stillborn, a baby has to have a gestation period of at least 20 weeks or have weighed at least 400 grams at birth. Mason was just 230 grams when Patty delivered her son and was 19 weeks and one day — this means, by definition, her baby isn't considered a "stillborn".

Patty van Duijn  and her partner Lee Simpson.
Patty van Duijn is still grieving the loss of her baby but is forced back to work. Source: Supplied

Patty, who works in hospitality, said the rule is "absolutely disgusting" and believes it is "unfair" she's experienced the same "trauma" and "grief", but is not able to access the help available for grieving mothers in her position.

"It shouldn't matter how big or small or how long... it's my baby with arms, ten toes, fingers," she said through tears. "I'm just unsure of who made this decision, and if they actually know what people go through, but a week shouldn't be a difference because it's still the experience, the trauma and everything that comes with it".

When contacted by Yahoo, Services Australia said the 'stillborn' policy is set by the Department of Social Services. It's understood that Centrelink can not grant leniency based on individual circumstances, such as Patty's. A representative will be in touch with Patty to discuss other options that might be available.

A spokesperson for the Department of Social Services said, "the Australian Government recognises the tragic loss and trauma of miscarriage.

"While a medical professional must certify a stillborn child was delivered for families to receive Stillborn Baby Payment, other supports are available through Services Australia including counselling and support to connect with local services," they continued.

"And depending on an individual's circumstances and employment, they may also be entitled to paid or unpaid leave following a miscarriage."

Patty said that while she tragically experienced the same complication during another pregnancy last year, she didn't expect "something like that would happen twice" and so she and her partner Lee Simpson hadn't planned for it.

Due to her long history of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), the Adelaide woman was losing blood and also water from the amniotic sac holding her baby, meaning the infant was unable to survive. Thankfully, the 29-year-old has the support of Lee, 42, but says they can't survive off his chef's salary alone.

"It's only been a week and a half and now I have to think about going back to work because we can't afford to pay bills and rent if I don't work," she said. Lee is trying his best to offer support while working longer hours to help cover the bills, all while dealing with grief of his own.

She has set up a GoFundMe page to help raise "a little something [to help] us grieve" without having to worry about earning money.

Now, she is calling for the rule to change and for it to consider other mums in her situation. "It's very wrong," she argues. "I want it to be looked into, not for us now, it's too late, but for other people going through this, so they don't have to go through what I am right now."

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