Mother 'robbed' of maternity leave after giving birth to triplets

Karen Stirrat has now joined a campaign for mothers of premature babies to get more maternity leave.

Triplets: Karen Stirrat gave birth this year. STV

Karen Stirrat was six weeks into her pregnancy when she discovered she was having twins - or so she thought.

With her sister already the proud mother of one set of twins she knew it was a possibility but when her doctor picked up not one or two, but three and then four tiny heartbeats she couldn't believe it.

"It was a massive surprise," she says, but the family quickly settled down to preparing for their little arrivals.

Karen, 31, from Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire, was working as a junior accountant at the time and dutifully approached her employer to tell them her news.

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The doctors had already warned her that with carrying so many babies, she was likely to go through a premature birth, but what Karen did not expect was just how early they would arrive - or how much the employment system would cause her a problem.

"I liked my job a lot but I started to get sick during the pregnancy," she says.

"I had a pretty big bump early on because of all the babies and that made things harder - I tried to hold on as long as I could but work become too difficult."

Caleb, Poppy and Alicia Stirrat. STV

Karen ended up in the maternity ward 13 weeks early, successfully welcoming her triplets Caleb, Poppy and Alicia into the world. Sadly, the baby with the smallest heartbeat didn't make it to term.

"They were absolutely beautiful," says Karen. "Poppy is the very demanding one and my dad says she's just like me with her little temper tantrums.

"Alicia cried constantly at first but now she's a bubbly wee soul just filled with smiles and Caleb, he's the quiet placid one - until he wants fed."

The triplets grew in weight and were eventually allowed home, though the two baby girls remained on oxygen.

It took a lot of months of treatment and there were still many hospital visits to come to make sure their health remained steady.

The current maternity leave of 52 weeks kicks in from the day after a baby is born, regardless of whether that baby is premature or not.

"You just don't get to know your babies until they're home," says Karen.

Karen ended up in the maternity ward 13 weeks early. Karen Stirrat

The triplets still needed a lot of care, there were many more health checks and appointments to go to given their premature birth .

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Karen's husband took on extra hours to support the family. He still works overtime each week and is not able to see his children as much as he would have hoped.

Karen went online to seek employment advice and stumbled instead upon a campaign seeking more rights for the parents of premature children.

She has now become an ambassador for the group.

The triplets still needed a lot of care. STV

Launched by London mother-of-two Catriona Ogilvy, after her own son, Samuel, was born 10 weeks prematurely, the group hopes to have a bill passed in parliament which would mean employers could be obliged to delay the start of maternity leave and pay to begin only after the period for which the premature baby is under hospital care.

Catriona's baby boy had to be resuscitated for six minutes after he was born in 2011 and it was six days before she was able to hold him.

When the pair finally arrived home, the former neonatal worker was surprised to discover the statutory maternity leave had kicked in straight away.

The triplets are now home and thriving. STV

"It was a complete shock to the system," Catriona said in a BBC interview this week.

"Having worked there, I thought I knew all there was to know, but all those families were using their maternity leave sat in a hospital.

"It really kicks in when you get home and you can be a mum to your baby for the first time. Then all that time is taken away from you and you have to go back to work when they are so tiny. It is a bitter pill to swallow."

Her campaign now has more than 100,000 signatures including those of Scottish mother Karen.

"We're hopeful more support will follow," says Karen.

"As a family we're just going to manage on now. I felt I was put in a position where something had to give and it had to be work - family is too important and I hope we will soon have the support we need that reflects that."

Note: For clarification, this article originally published that Ms Karen Stirrat had to leave her employment while on maternity leave which is inaccurate. Instead, she handed in her notice to quit whilst pregnant as "she knew her children were going to be born premature and that she would have to return to work early if she stayed".

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