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Canada lacks support for people coping after a miscarriage, poll suggests

Over the past few years, social media has enabled Canadians to share anything with a wide audience.

Over the past few years, social media has enabled Canadians to share anything with a wide audience.

The information we are exposed to now is more than what we probably would have been willing to reveal in a telephone conversation with a friend a couple of decades ago. We can be bombarded by posts about amazing dishes, immediate complaints about services at airports and stores and, of course, discussions about what sports coaches and politicians should have done, when and how.

Our interactions with family have become an integral part of this new era of communication. Our phones are filled with pictures sent by relatives in different cities. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the inevitable lockdowns, brought a reduction to the number of posts related to weddings and similar gatherings. Still, there is always a chance to talk about kids and babies, even through the extremely polarizing practice of “gender reveals.”

The announcement of a pregnancy is an evidently joyous occasion, but one that is not always attainable for everyone. When Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians about three possible complications related to the process of having children, significant proportions of the country’s residents acknowledged that they have endured struggles.

Fewer than one in 10 Canadians say themselves or their partner have personally experienced infertility or trying to get pregnant for at least a year with no success (8%) or went through a pregnancy that ended in stillbirth, defined as lost after 20 weeks of gestation (3%).

The most significant setback that Canadian couples face when it comes to reproduction is miscarriage. Across the country, 13% of Canadians say themselves or their partner have experienced the loss of a pregnancy before 20 weeks of gestation. About one in five Canadians also know a family member (19%) or a friend (18%) who went through a miscarriage.

The higher incidence of miscarriage when compared to infertility would suggest that the resources available to process this loss would be comparable. This is simply not the case. There is plenty of literature available on the topic of infertility, but miscarriages are usually dealt with differently. Most books about pregnancy devote a few paragraphs to an issue that affects a significant proportion of couples.

At a time when social media affords us the opportunity to discuss ailments and recoveries, the topic of miscarriage remains elusive. For a wide range of reasons, those who have been affected by the loss of a pregnancy may not be ready to behave as openly as they did when they first showed someone blurry ultrasound pictures.

When we asked Canadians who have been personally affected by miscarriage or stillbirth, the results reveal the complexities of discussing this issue with other people.

At least two-thirds of Canadians say they received enough information and support from their family (70%) and friends (66%). The situation changes drastically when we look into the reaction – or lack thereof – of other, less congenial components of our lives.

While 41% of Canadians who experienced miscarriage or stillbirth say they felt they received enough information and support from their workplace, 24% say they did not – a proportion that rises to 36% among Albertans.

The numbers are also not particularly fantastic for the health care system. While 58% of Canadians who experienced miscarriage or stillbirth say they felt they received enough information and support from their family doctor or general practitioner, 30% say they did not. This means that three of every 10 Canadians who went through this ordeal look back at their closest medical adviser as someone who was not there for them, therapeutically or emotionally.

There is at least one jurisdiction in the world that is taking action. Earlier this year, New Zealand’s Parliament voted to pass legislation that would allow couples who go through a miscarriage or stillbirth to have three days of paid leave. When Canadians are asked about implementing a similar regulation in Canada, almost four in five (78%) are in favour of it, including 80% of women, 81% of those aged 55 and over and 83% of British Columbians.

People who experience a miscarriage may not want to share the details of their experience with their supervisors. In addition, they may feel compelled to return to work as if nothing happened due to fear of becoming redundant or using up holiday time. New Zealand has moved in the right direction when it comes to an issue that that requires empathy and care. Most Canadians think our federal government should follow suit.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from May 17 to May 19, 2021, among 1,000 Canadian adults. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.