N.S. private member's bill seeks solace after still birth, miscarriage
Nova Scotia MLA Tim Houston is urging the province to proclaim Oct. 15 as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. (Twonix Studio/shutterstock.com)
Brett Bundale, THE CANADIAN PRESS
Published Wednesday, October 11, 2017 2:59PM ADT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 11, 2017 8:10PM ADT
HALIFAX -- A Nova Scotia woman who miscarried after contracting a serious infection and later lost a young child is urging the province to establish a day of awareness about miscarriage, still birth and infant death.
Paula Harmon said families are often forced to suffer with the painful loss of a pregnancy or young child in silence and isolation.
"This is a pivotal opportunity to improve awareness around the issues related to still birth, miscarriage and infant and early child loss," she said of a private member's bill introduced by Progressive Conservative MLA Tim Houston Wednesday seeking to proclaim Oct. 15 as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day.
Harmon said the awareness day would honour grieving families and help break down the taboo of speaking about pregnancy loss and infant death -- something she knows all too well.
She was 17 weeks pregnant with twins when she got sick.
She called her local hospital in rural Nova Scotia and said she might be miscarrying.
"I was high-risk with twins and told them my symptoms," she said. "The nurse told me that because I wasn't yet 20 weeks, the pregnancy wasn't viable ... Their advice was that I should take a warm bath."
Instead, Harmon called the IWK Health Centre, and was told to go immediately to the women's and children's hospital in Halifax.
"When I got there the weaker twin had already died," she said. "It turned out I had the worst infection you can get when you're pregnant, listeria."
Her daughter, Grace, was born at 26 weeks, and although she survived numerous complications, she later died of an infection at age 3.
"The physician later told us that when we left the hospital that night, she felt like she was throwing us to the wolves," Harmon said.
She struggled to cope with the loss of her twins and to find information and resources. Over time, she learned that almost 3,000 babies are stillborn in Canada every year, 1,800 die before their first birthday, and one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage.
"I also discovered the stigma that exists for parents who lose a child and how important it is to moms and dads to validate their child's existence, to say their name and hear their name from others," Harmon said.
A similar bill was passed unanimously in Ontario in late 2015, proclaiming Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day on Oct. 15 and promising better resources, support and research on the issue.
The proposed bill has received widespread support across Nova Scotia, including 28 municipalities that have agreed to proclaim the day.
Houston said it's the third time he has introduced similar legislation in a bid to recognize families mourning a death.
The bill falls short of promising new resources for bereaved families, but he said that his last two attempts to pass more sweeping bills failed.
"This is a slightly different, kind of watered down version," Houston said. "We're just asking for the government to show some respect and some compassion."
Health Minister Randy Delorey said that for a decade the province has recognized Oct. 15 by passing a resolution in the legislature.
"I think it is important for those individuals that have been through a situation like this, that they do know that the members of the legislature ... do recognize that this important," he said.
Delorey wouldn't commit, though, to supporting the Tory bill, saying he hasn't seen it yet.
Houston is hopeful the bill could help build momentum to provide bereaved families with better support to deal with such tragic experiences.
Raylene MacPherson, who has suffered through two miscarriages, said there is a lack of adequate support for families coping with the loss of a pregnancy or infant.
"The sad reality of losing a pregnancy is something many families experience," she said. "These families go through many stages of grief and oftentimes they do so alone with minimal support. Instead of being sent home from the hospital with an empty heart and lots of questions, families could be guided to a place to help them heal."
-- With files from Keith Doucette