Is a miscarriage a disability?
A recent ruling by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario says it is.
A Toronto woman was fired from her job after suffering a major depressive episode she says was triggered by a miscarriage and the death of her mother-in-law. The tribunal ruled in her favour that she shouldn’t have lost her job because of the depression, which they got right. Then they went a step further and said her miscarriage was a disability, which they got wrong.
There are two crucial issues at play here, and both matter. Mental health in the workplace is still a giant ball of stigma, freighted with assumptions and misunderstandings. A report recently released by CivicAction found that in the Greater Hamilton and Toronto Area (GHTA), one in five in the labour force is dealing with a mental health issue, and 31 per cent have coped with it in the past year. Add in how many of us love someone dealing with it, and I doubt many of us remain untouched.
A miscarriage, while truly emotional, is not a disability. I experienced a wanted pregnancy that ended in miscarriage. It was bewildering, stressful and sad. It was also an incredibly common outcome; many women miscarry before they even know they’re pregnant. Your body is a marvel and that marvel frequently makes decisions so organic in nature, you’re fooling yourself if you ever believed you had a say in it.
Many things can trigger a depression, or other related mental health issue. I deal with bipolar disorder, and a manic episode can be fluttering in the wings as surely as a depressive one. Why someone can handle something one time and not another is not the issue; the cause of the breakdown is important only in the sense of diagnosis and treatment, not as a “good enough” excuse.
Shorter answer? Acknowledging the existence of depression and the impact it has on an employee is good practice; labelling the cause of the depression a disability is not.
Loss changes us. It sharpens some parts of us as surely as it dulls others. But the fact remains that life is about loss and we can talk all we like about the natural progression of things, as if there is a sliding scale dependent on age, or the loss of one person superseding that of another. I’ve heard people say they get less support when they lose a parent than a sibling or child because it’s the natural order of things, as if your heart is a deck of cards and one trumps another.
The tribunal has stepped into muddy waters with this decision. Like universities changing curriculums or having to issue trigger warnings on topics that might be sensitive, we’re barrelling headlong down a path of buffering all the hard edges with bubble wrap.
Life is tough. You don’t get to make your way through it wearing a helmet and pads with everyone removing the risks ahead of you. Instead, we need open and honest conversations about dealing with things like depression, instead of thinking we can somehow make it not exist.
Nobody can alter my brain chemistry by making sure nothing hurts my feelings or by not requiring me to show up and participate in the maintenance of my own health. I do not have a disability; I have a diagnosis. When I had a miscarriage, I did not have a disability; I had a loss.
We’re having a hard enough time getting mental health issues out into the open where they can be handled empathetically, practically and to a good end result. Don’t cloud the issue by slapping disabling labels on common — if sad — medical occurrences.