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Ontario budget provides funding to pregnancy-loss support initiative

Bianca Colle endured three stillbirths in three years, moving her dad, Liberal MPP Mike Colle, to push a private member’s bill to support women who have experienced these losses.

Chris Young/The Globe and Mail

The Ontario government is allocating $1-million in new funding to support women whose pregnancies end in miscarriages or stillbirths – a horrendous experience for so many that is met with silence and, often, shame.

For Mike Colle, the Liberal MPP for Toronto's Eglinton-Lawrence riding, this is a bittersweet victory. He successfully championed a private member's bill to support women who have experienced these losses – a bill, he has said, he didn't want to introduce but felt compelled to bring in after his daughter had three stillbirths in three years.

"After the third one, it got to the point where we didn't know what to do," Mr. Colle said. "She has gone through hell and there was no answer, no explanations as to why it happened. … She has been really devastated by it."

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His bill, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness, Research and Care Act, passed into law in December and was recognized in Thursday's budget.

About $1-million is being provided to "fund support services for those affected by pregnancy and infant loss, including resources to train volunteers and support parents and families who have experienced loss," according to the budget.

It is estimated that one of every four pregnancies will end in a loss.

Bianca Colle is 38. She and her husband have a three-year-old daughter – Ms. Colle's first pregnancy was perfect. The next three, however, ended in stillbirths, at 23, 31 and 18 weeks.

"The first time it happened to me, I was lost," Ms. Colle said in an interview on Thursday. "You kind of leave the hospital with a pat on the back and you don't know what to do." She remembers a doctor telling her: "Don't worry just try again."

She can't forget, either, sitting for five hours in the emergency room of a downtown Toronto hospital "before anyone would tell me the baby died."

"There's no sensitivity," she said, adding that it depends on the individual nurse or doctor as to how a woman will be treated.

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As difficult as that is, the silence is even worse. "You basically have a child that you have to bury and no one wants to talk about."

After her second pregnancy loss, Ms. Colle searched the Internet for help. She also talked to her father about her experiences, and Mr. Colle went to work to figure out what he could do, discovering there were no programs or standards for care.

"I realized this is an incredible area that needs attention and nobody is talking about it," he said.

The funding allocation in the budget is neither large, nor guaranteed to continue past this year.

Mr. Colle said, however, that this is at least a start. "It's not even the money or it's not even the amount, but the fact is that it is finally recognized in a provincial budget."

Ms. Colle is thrilled. "This bill was just introduced and passed at the end of the year, so it's like we squeaked in. … I think we're very fortunate that we made our way [into the budget]."

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But Mr. Colle is now looking at building on this so that there is a standard practice of support and medical care for women who experience pregnancy losses across the country.

In addition, he wants to identify best practices nationally to try to prevent some of these losses occurring.

Stillbirths account for one-third of all fetal deaths, according to testimony during the debate of the bill. In Ontario in 2011, there were 5.6 stillbirths for every 1,000 live births.

The statistics, however, don't tell the personal stories behind those losses.

"People are bad with grief in general," Ms. Colle said. "But when it comes to the death of a baby ... people don't even know what to say, so they don't say anything at all. And that's just really isolating."

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