Anyone who has experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth or other type of pregnancy loss—or the death of a young child—knows that one of the most common struggles to follow is that of silence. Tell someone your infant died and you may be met with awkward glances, platitudes, and the less-than-subtle shift of conversation. These types of losses have been taboo for generations across the societal fabric of our culture.
A new policy in Ontario aims to change that. Yesterday, Bill 141, titled the “Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness, Research and Care Act,” was welcomed into law, taking an unprecedented stance across North America. What many Ontario families, The Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, and advocating parties hope Bill 141 will accomplish is the province-wide eradication of that feeling of isolation.
The legislation will initiate research, investigation and analysis into the support of bereaved parents and families. It will also see to the creation and further development of meaningful programming. The Ministry has been mandated the allocation of resources to accomplish this, along with proclaiming an annual day of remembrance and celebration. For years, October 15 has unofficially been known as “Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day” around the world. Thanks to the new law, this designation is official in Ontario.
Just this past October, the mid-month celebration saw a plethora of independent global events, from candle-lighting ceremonies to the projection of pink and baby blue hues on tall buildings and bridges in city centres. The Pregnancy and Infant Loss Network, known as PAIL, hopes that other provinces will join with Manitoba and now Ontario in achieving such legislation regarding these public demonstrations of awareness and support. And not just for the one day alone. Michelle LaFontaine, the president of PAIL Network and a loss mother herself hopes that the precedent for ongoing advocacy and research approved in Bill 141 will spread across the country.
It is beyond debate that there is a tangible need for such nation-wide legislative shifts. Twenty percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Annually, there is one stillbirth in every 1,000 births in Canada. In Ontario alone, these numbers equate to roughly 37,000 families affected every year.
Statistics can be abstract. But your perspective will change if you or someone you know must hold her 16-week miscarried fetus and count his or her tiny toes, or deliver a full-term stillborn child and weep for all the dreams never to be lived, or plan a memorial for a child whose breaths you could count on your fingers.
Bill 141 marks a significant step in removing the painful stigmas and isolation around these experiences. It is an excellent start, and one hopefully to be followed by a greater societal dialogue and empathetic response. After one of the greatest, most soul-shattering yet prevalent types of losses, no one should be left to feel alone.