Double the pleasure? It’s just as it should be.

A ruling that a couple with twins can get twice the EI benefits may have set a precedent

Double the pleasure? It’s just as it should be.Christian Martin and Paula Critchley now have twice the reasons to celebrate. This past spring the Ottawa couple welcomed the birth of twins Lucie and Athena. And thanks to a recent ruling by the Employment Insurance Board of Referees, they will also be getting twice the parental benefits.

The decision last week to accept the couple’s argument that they should each be entitled to 35 weeks of EI benefits, since they’re both at home looking after a child, may have set a precedent for future multiple-birth families in Canada. It also reveals the power of fertility to re-shape public policy.

On a similar theme, this week a survey published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada revealed that nearly half of all delivery-room doctors would allow a pregnant woman to make her own decision regarding a Caesarean section, regardless of the medical circumstances. This comes in the face of prevailing academic wisdom that C-sections should be limited to cases in which they are medically necessary.

And last week Statistics Canada reported on the trend toward delayed motherhood—half of all births in Canada are to women aged 30 and over. The report spoke in glowing terms of the benefits of giving birth later in life, including the fact older mothers are better educated, have higher incomes and are more likely to own their own home. The physical risks of childbirth at later age were dismissed as “fairly limited.”

Over the past few decades Canada, along with most other Western nations, has become inured to gloomy demographic news. As the national birth rate is below the natural rate of replacement, the future prospects for our pension plans, health care system and economic growth are in serious doubt.

Given that women retain a monopoly on child production, society is becoming increasingly attentive to the wishes of new mothers. Power rests in the womb and we should expect to see that power exercised freely. If multiple EI claims for multiple births make new parents happier and more likely to procreate, then it’s sound policy. If pregnant mothers want to have C-sections for personal reasons, who are the rest of us to argue? And if women wish to delay childbirth for whatever reason, society should be prepared to make that a virtue as well. Anything goes so long as it makes child-bearing more palatable.

Will these accommodations work? This week Canadian demographers delivered a rare ray of hope. According to the latest birth figures for Canada, fertility is on a slight upward trend. In 2007 the total number of births in Canada reached its highest level since 1995. And the average number of children per woman is 1.66, up from 1.59 the year before. While it’s still below the replacement rate of 2.1, it remains a hopeful sign.

It’s often said you should never argue with a pregnant woman. Now it’s good policy too.

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