Perinatal Bereavement Awareness Day

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Photo caption: Lieutenant Governor for Quebec Manon Jeannotte joins Liberal MP for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Désirée McGraw and psychotherapist Rosa Caporicci in celebrating the passing of Bill 595 to recognize October 15 as Québec Perinatal Bereavement Awareness Day. Photo credit: Désirée McGraw

Quebec takes first step in supporting families grieving the perinatal loss of a child

Taylor Clark
Local Journalism Initiative

Quebec has joined Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Ontario, British Columbia, and Northwest Territories in formally recognizing perinatal bereavement annually on October 15. Close to 23,000 families in Quebec experience the loss of a child during pregnancy, childbirth, and the early postnatal period every year but society has remained largely unaware of perinatal bereavement.

Bill 595 was introduced by Liberal MP for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Désirée McGraw, who has experienced this type of loss on more than one occasion, to bring light to this reality among Quebecers. “With Bill 595, we have launched a national discussion on perinatal bereavement. In the last 24 hours I’ve been overwhelmed by the personal stories of loss from colleagues, constituents, and people across Quebec,” McGraw wrote on Facebook following the unanimous passing of the bill on February 1.

Along with being a proud mother of three boys, McGraw is the mother of a daughter named Catherine, who would have been eight this year. To McGraw and her family, the bill was Catherine’s law.  “This is a key first step, and I feel hopeful that this new law will allow us to implement concrete measures to support families who have lost a baby,” wrote McGraw.

While the bill aimed to bring awareness to perinatal bereavement, it was not accompanied by any specific legislative provision to support the thousands of bereaved families in Quebec. According to a brief by the Centre for Studies and Research on Family Intervention and the Canada Research Chair, Quebec has lagged on the issue. Quebec’s 2008-2018 perinatal policy made several recommendations to improve perinatal bereavement awareness and support families, but medium and long-term support has remained poor.

“A next step is to grant bereavement leave to both parents. Generally speaking, fathers experience the same psychological and physical effects of bereavement as mothers… It is therefore important to look at the needs of fathers who are often more reluctant to seek help,” said Centre for Studies and Research on Family Intervention Director Francine de Montigny in a press release.

For over 20 years, studies have shown perinatal death has real consequences for both parents, resulting in experiences of heavy loss and intense grief. The loss can have significant deleterious effects on both men’s and women’s mental health up to five years later.

“Losing a child is not something from which one recovers, ever, but there are things we can do to cope better,” McGraw told her National Assembly of Quebec colleagues on January 31. “This bill is a call to action for our government to provide parents and families in Quebec with crucial support, both psychosocial and financial.”