Today I am posting a moving account by Brianne Kraus, a friend and mother of three beautiful children who has been active with a grassroots organization, Still Parents NY, that is pressuring Albany to assign stillborn babies birth certificates to honor them as babies rather than treating the stillbirth as a non-event. Right now the baby is not acknowledged in this way.
My view is that the lack of a certificate — even, as Brianne notes, a certificate of still birth — is probably, if unconsciously, part of the need of the medical establishment to resist acknowledging the being-ness of stillborn babies because of the related unconscious need to resist the beingness of terminated babies. (This is my view — I am speaking for myself here – not for anyone else mentioned in this post.)
Those of you who follow my work know that I am strongly pro-choice — for the first trimester — but that I object to the pro-choice movement’s (and the medical profession’s) tendency to deal with political and legal needs by depersonalizing the fetus and the in utero baby. I do believe all are on the spectrum of humanity and deserve recognition. You should look at my 1995 piece “Our Bodies, Our Souls” (the only place I could find a complete copy is here) for the full teasing-out of my position, which is nuanced. But Brianne’s story is powerful in its own right — apart from any other issues — and many parents have shared her experience, and I am impressed with the way a group of citizens — I believe led by bereaved moms — with no legal or legislative specialized training took it upon themselves to ask for a change from Albany….
“So….let me start off by telling my story as it happened.
In August of last year Bill and I found out that we were expecting our fourth child. We were very much surprised! I knew in my heart though, that there was something not quite right with the pregnancy from day one. Because of a change in insurance I could not attend my regular OBGYN and had to go to a completely new hospital. The first few months of pregnancy were a living hell for me. Having had three children before I thought I knew what I was in for with the typical pregnancy symptoms. This time I was completely and totally drained constantly. I have never felt so bad for so long. There were days that it took all I had just to get out of bed.
Our first ultrasound was in the office at about 8 weeks. The second was a month or so later in Albany. I was supposed to have the triple screening done that day, where you have an ultrasound to verify gestational age and then a blood draw. The 2nd ultrasound showed that we had missed the window of opportunity for that and that the dates were wrong somehow from the 1st ultrasound. In December we went for a 20 week ultrasound and found out we were having a girl. That ultrasound also showed the baby’s growth rate was off again and I was told that was nothing wrong. I went as instructed to all of my Doctor appointments and would tell them that the baby was not moving like she should be. I asked if the placenta was in the front of the uterus and that was the reason why I didn’t feel her. I asked every question I could think of and was told everything was fine.
On Thursday January 22nd I noticed no movement from the baby at all. I was just about 25 weeks pregnant and had just gotten back from picking out some things for her arrival at the mall. I talked myself into believing the doctors and thought that she had turned so I could not feel her. From that point denial set in even though my heart knew so I bought her a christening dress. On Friday night Bill and I had the discussion on what we were going to do if there was a major problem. I told him that the next morning I was going to the hospital. I asked him to watch the children and tried to assure him as well as myself that I would be back after a couple of hours. After all, your supposed to be “safe” after the 1st trimester.
When I got to the hospital they decided to use the Doppler on me. The noise of that thing still echoes in my head as they searched for what seemed like forever for the baby’s heartbeat. All they found was mine. The nurses tried to be kind in telling me that sometimes babies of this age are hard to find. I knew better. My heart was beating so fast that they kept mistaking mine for hers. All the nurses left and after about an hour they took me down for an ultrasound to radiology. The doctor was supposed to do it herself in my room but was apparently too busy. The tech would not let me see the screen. After words we went back up to maternity and after another 1/2 hour I am asked to go back to radiology for another ultrasound. I still was not allowed to see the screen even after I asked. So I sit in my room alone and scared.
It was a long time before the doctor came in. She was not particularly nice or warm in telling me that my daughter had died. I called Bill and asked him to come up to the hospital right away. My Mom and Dad had come to watch the kids and he came. I was admitted and really had no confidence at all in the hospital at this point. A nice grief nurse came in to talk to me on what I wanted to do in the late afternoon. Her name was Tina. I told her about how I was not allowed to see my own ultrasound and how distraught I was. She asked the Dr to (FINALLY) come in and give me an ultrasound so that I could be absolutely certain that they were right. The last piece of my heart broke when the Dr showed me that my daughter had no heartbeat.
The Dr. told me that she would be VERY small, less than a pound. She also told me that she had been dead for over a week. I knew better than that. And with that I was induced to vaginally deliver my dead daughter. The induction took about 24 hours. Shift had changed and (thank god) we had a different doctor to deliver for us. Her name is Dr. Mays. She cried as I pushed. It was very sad that the new nurse had not even set up the cart for my delivery and was out of the room doing that as I pushed. I wailed for God to please help me. My daughter was born at 4:52pm on January 26th 2009. We named her Alyssa Kaitlyn.
She had her brothers nose and her sisters mouth and blonde sprigs just starting to grow. She was perfect. They bundled her up and put her in the bassinet across the room. And then everyone just….left. They took the baby with them to go and do the tests I had requested. I finally buzzed to see her and got to say my hello and goodbye. They took her to the morgue and the next morning I checked out. It took every once of self control I had not to grab my baby and run so that she would not have to be cold and alone.
When we got home we had to talk to the undertaker about the arrangements for Alyssa. When you have a stillbirth you are required by law to have the body properly taken care of and you can get a death certificate. You are not allowed to have a birth certificate. The hospital had sent us home with a memory box instead of a baby and I was in a daze. I had to tell a 8, 5, and 2 year old that their sister had died. The day after I got home I realized that I did not know how long my baby was. They had told me she was 1lb 7oz but never her length. I called the hospital and they do not keep records on babies that are not born alive. They did not know.
Many of my friends did not call or bother with me at all and I sank into a very deep depression that was exacerbated when my milk came in. Alyssa was cremated and brought home. As I was wandering around the web one day looking for information on stillbirth I came across a site called Still Parents NY. They were talking about a bill that would allow parents such as myself, to receive a certificate of birth for their child. I was in touch with Paige Ricci and asked what I could do to help. She asked me to call the my county’s elected officials and tell my story. So I did.
Isn’t it bad enough that I did not get to bring home my baby? Or worse yet that I had to incur the expenses of burying her with out her being considered a real baby. It is my opinion that the way stillbirth is looked at now is akin to Cancer. I was the host and she was a bunch of cells that did not survive outside of my body. But I would encourage those who think that way to take another look from the mothers perspective. My heart has been smashed into a billion pieces and one of them is lost. There is a hole in me that will never be repaired. Would it be so much to ask that I receive a certificate from the state just recognizing all that I had gone through? Even if it was only that she was born dead?
Still birth is 10x more common than SIDS and yet there is very little research on the specifics of why it takes place. Often times mothers walk away never knowing what happened to their child. It has been 8 months since my daughter was born still. I still cry for her. There are mothers I have spoken to that many years later are still grieving. Isn’t it time to recognize those families that never were able to hear a first cry or see a first breath?
© Copyright 2013 Naomi Wolf | http://naomiwolf.org