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Parents hope new California law can influence pregnancy loss leave in Canada

Canadians who’ve experienced pregnancy losses are hoping a recent piece of legislation in the United States can influence lawmakers north of the border.

California recently passed legislation that allows employees to take off up to five days of work following a reproductive loss.

The Miscarriage Law, which comes into effect Jan. 1, 2024 in the U.S., applies to miscarriages, stillbirths, failed adoptions or surrogacies and unsuccessful assisted reproduction, including in-vitro fertilization. The leave is not required to be paid, but it does protect employees from any retaliation as a result of taking the time off.

“It is very important because it encapsulates all of the different types of profound losses that can occur along the journey to becoming a mother,” said Zoe Klein, who experienced several chemical pregnancies before giving birth to her daughter. A chemical pregnancy is a form of early pregnancy loss where the embryo is unable to grow after being implanted.

“The expectation to go about your daily life and be effective at work is not always reasonable … I think something where women can take three to five days and really be able to find their footing and be able to grieve is important.”

In the 2023 budget, the federal government signalled plans to introduce new paid leave for federally regulated workers who experience pregnancy loss. However, movement on the legislation has remained stagnant since.

“This measure will provide better labour protection for approximately 955,000 federally regulated sector workers, particularly women, by ensuring they have access to the time they need to recover from the physical and psychological trauma resulting from a pregnancy loss,” according to the government’s website.

In Saskatchewan, the miscarriage or stillbirth must take place within 13 weeks of the due date for an employee to be eligible for the 19 weeks of maternity leave.

Nova Scotia introduced a new end-of-pregnancy leave that came into effect in January. The unpaid leave does not require employees to disclose why a pregnancy ended and the reason does not impact eligibility.

In Prince Edward Island, employees who experience a prenatal pregnancy loss or stillbirth are entitled to bereavement leave in the same manner as those who have lost an immediate family member, which is one paid day and two unpaid days of leave.

In Alberta, employees can take up to three unpaid bereavement days for pregnancy loss. If a miscarriage or stillbirth happens within 16 weeks of the due date, the employee is entitled to 16 weeks of unpaid mat leave. Similar legislation in Ontario allows employees up to 17 weeks of unpaid mat leave if a pregnancy loss occurs within 17 weeks of the due date.

Aditi Loveridge, CEO of the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Centre in Calgary, was a key stakeholder in Alberta’s Bill 17 that expanded bereavement leave to include miscarriages and stillbirths. The bill includes both employees who directly experience the loss and employees whose spouse experienced a miscarriage or still birth.

“When you're going through reproductive loss of any kind, they might express it differently and society holds those losses very differently for the non-birthing partner versus birthing partners,” Loveridge said.

“I advocated a lot for them to change languages so it was inclusive of parents experiencing pregnancy loss in whatever capacity that might be.”

Loveridge called pregnancy loss leave a “non-partisan issue” and said it can have negative economic impacts if parents are forced to go back to work immediately following a loss.

“We see so many clients accessing our centre where return to work is such a key issue. A lot of people end up leaving the workforce altogether. So we're losing very skilled people in the workforce, which is costing the economy so much money,” she said.

“Why wouldn't we want to make it easier for these couples that are going through this?”

Between 15 and 25 per cent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Theresa Morrison experienced a miscarriage and a stillbirth within one year of each other.

She was eligible for maternity leave after her stillbirth, but she was not offered any type of leave following her miscarriage.

"I had never felt grief like I did when I lost that baby,” she said.

“Had there been a pregnancy loss leave available through my workplace, I would have felt comfortable probably disclosing to my coworkers or to my workplace what was going on."

Instead, Morrison said she kept her miscarriage to herself and pretended she was alright. She said her feelings of grief did not feel validated until she found others in the community who experienced a similar tragedy, which led her to co-found Bridget’s Bunnies, named after her stillborn daughter.

“We started Bridget's Bunnies because we felt so incredibly alone with our loss,” Morrison said.

“Given that this is our reality, it just feels like something that we can do to honour her memory and to kind of like light the path for other people.”

Bridget’s Bunnies gives comfort kits to parents who experience pregnancy loss. The kits include stuffed bunnies for parents to hold to help with “empty arm syndrome” as well as books, journals and other resources.

“The other piece of all of this is when you do experience loss, your head's not in the right place to really be looking up what's available to you,” Morrison said.

In a statement to CTV News, a spokesperson from Employment and Social Development Canada said the government "remains committed to introducing legislation that would provide for a leave related to pregnancy loss. More information will be shared when available."

Both Morrison and Klein believe California’s law is a positive step in raising awareness around the issue, bringing change to policies and validating parents’ grief.

“With this type of legislation in conjunction with better conversations, I think we can do better for the women affected by these situations because their needs should not be swept under the rug and we need to do better than pleasantries,” Morrison said. Top Stories

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