'So hurtful': Census question leaves readers upset and confused

·5-min read

WARNING - SENSITIVE CONTENT: One question from the 2021 Census stuck out for a lot of people when they were filling it out on Tuesday night, leaving some feeling vulnerable and unprepared.

Just weeks ago in June, Molli Sarafov's son Hunter was stillborn at 38 weeks.

"It was just before the really harsh restrictions started so my family were still be able to be with me at the hospital, and meet Hunter and everything," she told Yahoo News Australia.

"But since then, since being home I haven't been able to leave my house can barely go grocery shopping. My husband's not working so it's been really hard, not to connect with people."

Among the sections of the Census was a question about how many children a woman has given birth to.

For Ms Sarafov, it would have read: "How many babies has Molli ever given birth to?". The question stipulated it did not include adopted, foster or step children.

"It was upsetting to me but it's just so hurtful towards so many people," she said.

Not only was it understandably upsetting for Ms Sarafov, but the wording of the question was confusing.

Molli Sarafov's son Hunter was stillborn, while grappling with the loss of her son, she found the Census question to be confusing and upsetting. Source: Supplies/Molli Sarafov
Molli Sarafov's son Hunter was stillborn, while grappling with the loss of her son, she found the Census question to be confusing and upsetting. Source: Supplies/Molli Sarafov

"Hunter was my first and only child who's obviously no longer living so I'm not sure what to answer for that question," she said.

Ms Sarafov clicked on the link provided under the Census to find out how she could best fill out the question, but she didn't find any information that could help her.

"The information that it gave was telling you that it was for Australia researching the fertility age or something silly like that," she said, saying the question was open for interpretation.

Ms Sarafov said it was a poorly worded question, which could bring up many emotions for people like herself who have experienced stillbirth, or those who have miscarried or lost their a child at any age.

Ms Sarafov says she just wishes the intention behind the question was more specific, though she admitted it would have invalidated people regardless.

She said her husband was adopted, so for his mother, it is likely the question was tough for her to answer because she couldn't validate the son she raised.

One person pointed out on Twitter the question itself excluded a lot of people.

"Just finished census - anyone else find it f**ked up that they didn't include the "have you had a baby" question on male forms considering ABS made no allowance for trans or non-binary people in the sex question?" they said.

The question could even bring up a lot of emotion for those who cannot have children.

Hunter was Molli's first and only child, so she didn't know how to fill out the Census question. Source: Supplied/Molli Sarafov
Hunter was Molli's first and only child, so she didn't know how to fill out the Census question. Source: Supplied/Molli Sarafov

'Most difficult question to answer'

Co-CEO of Red Nose, an organisation which supports bereaved parents, Jackie Mead, told Yahoo News Australia many bereaved parents struggled to answer the question.

Ms Mead suffered a late-term miscarriage herself and she says it's a question which is often asked within the Red Nose community, but it's always a difficult one to answer.

"It reflects that question that so often is asked in our community, which is about, how many children do they have?"

"Of course there are so many women who have no children, but equally for bereaved parents, it is the most difficult question to answer.

"Do you tell people that you have children that aren't living to go with the simple answer?"

Not only would people be unprepared to answer the question in the Census, leaving them to feel vulnerable, Ms Mead said given there was no clarity – people were answering the question differently.

"We know that some women answered including their loss, others chose not to, so we're not sure how that data is actually going to be useful," she said.

Ms Mead said within the Red Nose community there was disappointment, on top of the confusion, for the lack of sensitivity surrounding the question.

Red Nose Co-CEO Jackie Mead said many bereaved parents answered the question differently. Source: ABS
Red Nose Co-CEO Jackie Mead said many bereaved parents answered the question differently. Source: ABS

She said Red Nose could have put information out to brace people for that question

"Losing a baby during pregnancy is something that you carry with you for life," Ms Mead said.

"To be unprepared to see that question in the survey, meant that people were vulnerable in that particular moment because they weren't expecting it."

In a statement to Yahoo News Australia, an ABS spokesperson said in 2011 Census and earlier, women were asked to only include live births.

"This instruction was previously included to collect births information according to the United Nations standard," he spokesperson said.

"However, evidence of the sensitivities of this instruction led to the decision to remove this instruction in the 2016 Census.

"The intent of the question is to understand lifetime fertility which is used in the calculation of future population projections for Australia. A woman who has experienced a still birth may choose to include that in this question; however miscarriages would be excluded from the answer."

Census night was just three days before Red Nose Day, when a lot of people would have been thinking about their loss.

Red Nose has 24/7 Support Line: 1300 308 307. People can get silly for a serious cause and support Red Nose Day - Friday 13 August or donate now: rednoseday.org.au/donate.

Do you have a story tip? Email: newsroomau@yahoonews.com

You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and download the Yahoo News app from the App Store or Google Play.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting