Like many expectant parents, my husband and I are excited to take time following the birth of our baby to bond with and care for them. Unfortunately, we don’t qualify for the same benefits as most Canadian parents do because of the way our baby is coming into the world. Outdated federal policies have created a big equity challenge in supporting new families built by surrogacy, and for the past year Zane and I have been on a mission to get that changed.
Fair warning, this issue is a little technical, but I hope you’ll stick with me to learn just how this problem came about and how easy it is for our government to fix it. To jump to the template letter for your MP, scroll to the bottom.
Let’s start with a quick recap on how post-baby leave in Canada typically works:
Maternity leave, a total of 15 weeks, is available to the birth giver only. It can be accessed as early as 12 weeks prior to the birth.
Parental leave, offered in a standard or extended option, can be split between both parents. While the weeks don’t have to be taken consecutively, parental leave begins only at the week of a child’s birth or the week a child is adopted into a family.
So how does this affect families built by surrogacy?
Simple – since neither of the baby’s parents is the birth giver, children born through surrogacy cannot benefit from the full 55 (maternity + standard parental leave) or 84 weeks (maternity + extended parental leave). Parental leave isn’t just about baby snuggles and mommy-and-me classes. This time is crucial in a child’s development. Countless studies show that the brain development of infants depends on a loving bond with their primary caregiver. Time spent with a primary caregiver has a lasting impact on the cognitive, social, and emotional abilities as well as future mental health. Supporting new parents in staying home with their babies isn’t just good family policy, it’s an investment in the future of Canada.
How do we fix the problem?
The solution is obvious – all babies deserve equal support in their first years. In cases of surrogacy and adoption, providing families with a 15 week ‘top up’ would give all children the same starting point. This idea isn’t novel – the federal government has actually pledged to offer this top up to families of adoptive children starting this year. Why not surrogacy? We’re hopeful is was an oversight, but it can’t be corrected without bringing this to the attention of our government officials.
As a note, adding a top up for parents of adoptive children or children born to a surrogate should not reduce a birth giver’s maternity leave. Maternity leave is in place for the physical and mental health of the birthing person. Pregnancy, labour, and delivery are incredibly taxing and recovery is integral.
What we’re doing about it
While we’ve been taking some meetings behind the scenes with staff in the Minister’s office, we’re pleased that our friend, Jacquie LaRocque was able to publish an op-ed in the Hill Times, which helped to bring this issue to the forefront. While not as familiar to folks outside of Ottawa, the Hill Times is a key publication for public servants and government officials. We continue to take meetings with elected officials and civil servants to raise this issue and ensure that parents via surrogacy are not left behind in the latest EI modernization. We also made a helpful video explaining the issue.
What YOU can do
We encourage you to write to your local Member of Parliament (if you aren’t sure who your MP is, you can search by postal code), write to Minister Carla Qualtrough (email@example.com), and tell your family and friends about this issue. Share this post to help other people learn about how parental leave affects families built by surrogacy.
Dear MP XX,
I am a/an (intended parent via surrogacy/friend/family member) and a constituent in your riding concerned about the latest EI modernization package, set to be launched this year. In the 2021 Liberal platform, and in Minister Qualtrough’s mandate letter, the government commits to updating parental leave benefits by including “a 15-week top up for adoptive parents” but leaves parents via surrogacy behind.
Equitable parental leave isn’t just good policy for families, it’s an investment in the future of Canada. Time spent with a primary caregiver has a lasting impact on a child’s future cognitive, social, and emotional abilities as well as future mental health. Strong bonds between parent and child should be encouraged for all Canadian families, not just some.
MP XX, will you support families built by surrogacy by asking for a 15-week top up to their parental leave benefits?
If you have additional questions about parental leave for parents by surrogacy, or you’d like to join our advocacy efforts, feel free to send us a message on @notmytummy.