New Zealand voted on Wednesday in favour of paid bereavement leave in the case of a miscarriage or stillbirth. The legislation would allow pregnant people and their partners to take paid time off work in the case of a miscarriage, which was already required of employers in the event of a miscarriage or stillbirth after 20 weeks or more. The new bill will extend these benefits to anyone who loses a pregnancy at any point in their pregnancy, rather than having to use sick leave.
"I felt that it would give women the confidence to be able to request that leave if it was required, as opposed to just being stoic and getting on with life, when they knew that they needed time, physically or psychologically, to get over the grief," Ginny Andersen, the Labour member of Parliament who drafted the bill, said.
As New Zealand prepares to pass the measure into law in the coming weeks, this more inclusive legislation should be an example for how other countries, like Canada, might handle paid leave for matters of reproductive and sexual health going forward. According to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, 15 to 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriages. Between 2015 and 2019, more than 3,000 pregnancies were affected by stillbirth here.
Currently, in Canada, if your pregnancy ends at or after 20 weeks, you could be eligible for maternity benefits whereas if you have a miscarriage before or at week 20, you could receive Employment Insurance sickness benefits which provides up to 15 weeks of financial assistance from the government. However, not all employers have a plan in place and there are no federal regulations for providing paid time off for pregnancies lost earlier. This also does not take into consideration women who work part-time or do not have job security.
The issue is not only medical but psychological as 29% of women who experienced early pregnancy loss after one month exhibited signs of post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression, the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found. People who experience miscarriage or stillbirth should not have to rely on paid sick time during their healing process. Instead, reproductive health issues deserve their own labour policy so that individuals can have space to grieve and recover physically and emotionally from the loss before worrying about their return to work.
"The two most common things I see women for after a miscarriage is trauma, grief or both," Tessa Sugarbaker, a gynecologist who now works as a therapist with people who have experienced pregnancy loss, told The Washington Post. "I think the trauma can come from feeling helpless that nothing could be done, from doctors not being sensitive to the experience of the woman, and from society not recognizing it as a loss."
Canada is viewed as a progressive country when it comes to matters of healthcare but women living here may have a different opinion. The conversation around navigating the workplace through a miscarriage can be taboo topic. But, it shouldn’t be.
If you’re in need of resources for miscarriage or stillbirth, please visit Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada for a list of organizations.