Should multiple birth parents get more leave?

There’s been buzz recently about the push for more parental leave for parents of twins, triplets and more. According to this CBC article, a “New Democrat MP is pushing for more leave for parents of multiple birth babies, tabling a private member’s bill that would allow them to take 70 weeks of Employment Insurance (EI) benefits and receive their time simultaneously to allow both parents to stay home for up to 35 weeks.”

In a previous blog post, “Back to School for the First Time“, I mentioned the tireless efforts of the Martins, parents of identical twins Athena and Lucie, who are fighting for that exact thing.

Multiple births account for approx 3% of Canada’s population, same across most provinces. Approximately half of multiple births are preterm (before 37 weeks) and many require NICU stays.

Dispelling myths:

  1. Identical twins happen by chance and the cause is not scientifically proven. Fraternal twins usually run in the family on the mother’s side.
  2. Fertility treatments or drugs do not always result in a multiple birth.
  3. MB parents do not plan on having twins (although some may wish for it). Most just want a child or “one more” if they already have kids.
  4. Having multiples is not the same as having two children close in age. It is one pregnancy, one maternity/parental leave, and truly double the work especially for first-time parents. Even if you are able to care for two babies simultaneously, you basically have to do everything twice.
  5. Many Multiple Birth (MB) families don’t have relatives living closeby and cannot afford to hire extra help. As a result, both parents are heavily involved in newborn care.
  6. EI for Maternity is not a “free ride” for parents of newborns. Many employers who top-up EI benefits for parental leave require employees to sign a agreement stating they will return to work for an equal amount of time they are off. In other words, when parents return to the workforce, they are committed to paying into their EI benefits for the length of time they received them
  7. Maternity and parental leave is not a “vacation”. You won’t hear a MB parents of infant multiples saying they are “bored”. They are very busy.

Extended EI benefits could be used in one of the following ways: mothers could stay home longer with their babies; both parents could split the 70 weeks and take it at the same time; or both parents could split the time to take it separately or overlap. .

There are a few groups of multiple birth families that would benefit greatly from the extended EI Leave proposed in this Private Member’s Bill. The first group are single mothers coping with having 2 or more babies at once. What do they do once the existing 52 weeks of maternity and parental benefits run out? Can they afford to return to work and pay for childcare for 2 infants on a single income? Can they afford to stay home to care for 2 infants with no income?

The second group are MB couples with premature babies who require NICU care. One family had triplets who were born too early and needed to be hospitalized for close to 3 months. The first baby came home while the other 2 remained in hospital. Imagine the stress of one parent returning to work while the other (say, Mom) travels back and forth several times a day between hospital and home while nursing and caring for the newborns. Often, complications which arise from premature or preterm babies continue long after they are released from hospital, requiring time off work and finding babysitters.

The third group are MB families who need more time at home with the multiples for other reasons, such as starting parental leave earlier than expected and the cost for full-time childcare . My family fits into the third scenario.

Before the twins were born, I was put on precautionary bed rest for the last 2 months of pregnancy. As a result, I took extended sick leave from work and started my maternity leave early since it was unknown when the twins would arrive. My husband took 5 weeks of parental leave, leaving me with 10 months of parental leave.

Sounds like a long enough time to stay home with them, right? Not when you are home alone trying to comfort or nurse two infants by yourself all day, every day with no break unless there is a second person present. The year of parental leave also leaves less time for bonding with each baby and taking time for yourself.

We consider ourselves lucky to have family in town. We had lots of help for the first 5 months, after that we’d have helpers once a week.

When it came time to return to work, we realized how difficult it was to find convenient childcare in our area for two infants at the same time. I took an additional 10 months leave without pay until the twins were old enough to qualify for daycare programs that take children over 18 months.

It’s been 2 months since returning back to work, and although we are still adjusting to the new routine, it’s easier because our twin toddlers are sleeping through the night, and the pain of teething is almost behind us. I was lucky to still have my job waiting when I came back.

Many MB mothers have to resign from their jobs and some end up looking for part-time work to help with the expenses. Keep in mind, it’s expensive to have 2 babies at once. You can’t have them share or car seats and cribs like you would if you had children one after the other.

Yes, families with singletons have babies in the NICU too. Yes, Canada already has better maternity benefits than our southern neighbour. But, for many multiple birth families, 35 weeks between 2 parents is not enough. This Private Member’s bill, if passed, should have provisions in there to help those families who need it most and ways to ensure this privilege doesn’t get abused.

About the author

Ambereen is mom to two cute twins Mister and Missy, now with a third baby on the way! She’s Canadian eh, and lives in Canada’s capital with her husband, Mr. Mama. Between travelling and a busy social life, she works full-time in the public sector in IT policy. She enjoys writing short stories interjected with subtle humour about life adventures, sharing recipes, and coming up with fun yet simple activities to do with the kids. After a short hiatus where life got in the way of writing, she is back blogging at 2Cute – Adventures in Twin Parenting. She is looking forward to sharing her experiences here about life with twins + 1. And yes, it’s only one this time!

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