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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Certificate of Birth/Death/Whatever

Greetings, KuKd Mommas and Inquisitive Guests!

I don't like to get into politics here, but I'm just going to say this because it's bugging me. You've probably heard about the recent controversy surrounding birth certificates for knocked down babies - specifically, for stillborn.

And there's a somewhat heated debate going on here, for example.

Physicians for Life brings forth some recent stillbirth stories:

"The 'devastated' couple got some 'stunning" news.' 'We could get a death certificate, but no birth certificate. It was like something out of an absurd dream. How can you have a death without a birth?'

Another bereaved mother from Arizona phoned the Bureau of Vital Statistics to request a birth certificate but, 'The woman on the other end said, 'You didn't have a baby, you had a fetus.'

Pro-abortion organizations, while professing sympathy for such mothers (of stillborns), nevertheless oppose the issuing of such a birth certificate, for it might inadvertently lend support to the right to life lobby.

Another view:
"The concept of stillborn birth certificates are not new; it's only new as a government issued document. Certainly couples are free to memorialize their lost child any way they wish, but are people so fragile that they require emotional assistance from the government? If a stillborn baby can get a birth certificate, can an aborted fetus get a death certificate?"

I don't know. For whatever reason, I just haven't been very interested in this debate. I can't help but wonder if this is something that a lot of people honestly care about. Is it? Seriously, is it?

Is it something everyone feels angry and upset about now, and I've been somehow left out of the loop? Or am I just turning into an old, apathetic, quiet person who has lost all interest in politics?

I tried to muster up some interest by looking up "birth" on, hoping to shed some light on whether stillbirth actually IS birth. That seems, to me, like a rational starting point for figuring out if stillborn babes should receive birth certificates. The unhelpful definition provided for "birth" was:

"the act of being born."

So I looked up "born," which was equally unhelpfully defined as:

"brought forth by birth."

Gee thanks, Smug bastards.

If I were pressed to partake in this debate, that is if somebody cornered me and demanded that I issue an opinion on the matter, I'd have to say that I really can't imagine stillbirth being the same thing as birth. Can you? Really now. It's totally not the same. And if it's totally not the same, then a "birth certificate" seems hardly appropriate.

I suppose it's the same in that there's a roughly six-pound infant lookalike coming out of your body, and your boobs kick into dairy mode, and you bend over to look at your "down there" region in the mirror and wonder what the hell just happened to your vagina. It's the same in that your man stands by your side, holding your hand and looking at you with grave concern and intense love. It's the same in that you lose a lot of weight in a short period of time, but the belly flab stays cruelly in place.

But other than that, how is it the same?

This is precisely why I refer to my own son's stillbirth as his "dirth" (death + birth). It's seems more like death than birth to me. I could understand the argument of "how can you have a death without a birth," if it weren't for my own mental picture of what "birth" really means. Birth, to me, means more than the sperm and egg colliding and a clump of cells forming. It means more than a fetus growing into an unborn baby. It means: A LIVING BABY CREATURE COMING OUT OF THE MOTHER'S BODY, HATCHING FROM AN EGG, OR DROPPING FROM A STORK'S MOUTH.

I know that sounds like a simplistic view of things, but it's honestly what I think of when I think of the word "birth." And stillbirth is none of those three things.

The real point I'm getting at, though, is that I don't feel strongly enough about this issue to actually ARGUE about it, to write letters to the state of Washington to profess myself for against birth certifcates for stillborn babes. Heck - if a KuKd couple wants a birth certificate, sure - give 'em one.

In fact, I admire any KuKd mommy or daddy who has/had the energy and enthusiasm to pursue such a thing. It's the kind of I might have cared about more if this swirling controversy were happening closer to my son's DIRTHday, but nowadays I see this kind of story, read the first few lines, stifle a yawn, and meander off to sit on the edge of the bathtub and clip my toenails.

Even back in the throes of my knocked downage, I don't think I would have cared, because I was so fixated on surviving, on making sure Kevin survived, that I'm fairly sure I hadn't the brain power left to write a letter to my congressional representative. The baby was gone, and a little piece of paper with an official stamp certainly wasn't going to make it any better.

All of that said, I can tell you when I will start caring about this issue. I'll start caring if any anti-abortion groups try to obviously, obnoxiously, publicly spin the birth-certificate-for-stillborns concept into hateful anti-abortion rhetoric and use crumpled stillborn birth certificates to construct makeshift bombs parts for abortion clincs. THEN I'll start cranking out letters to congress.

But fortunately so far, those groups seem to have been on their best behavior, so I'll just keep being my cautiously apathetic self about this.

Easter, tomorrow! It's all about eating spiral-sliced, honey glazed ham at my parents' house. A nice reward for the hours I wasted messing with my blog design this week, when I should have been grading student essays and Windexing the glass coffee table.


Hope's Mama said...

In Australia, we get a birth certificate, but not a death certificate. So the opposite argument - go figure. Yes she was born, but she was also dead when she was born, so why not two certificates? I do like to think of my birth the same as others though - just minus that ever so crucial heartbeat. I feel like a big enough freak as it is, I don't want to feel TOO different to all those perfectly normal friends of mine where nine months ALWAYS ends in happily ever after.
Hope's birth certificate came, I looked at it (it has the word STILLBIRTH slapped across the top - gee thanks, in case I ever forget that) and tucked it away in a box somewhere. It is not something I feel hugely attached to, yet I will say I am glad I have it. There was 40+ weeks of my pregnancy and an 8 pound baby at the end of it. I guess a piece of paper was the least they could give me, given I couldn't take her home and raise her.
Lovin' the new look on your page, by the way....

"numb_was_better" said...

I feel much the same way about this. I've never felt the need to get a birth certificate because I've never been that clear how I would define what happened. As you know my wife and I lost our baby earlier than many kukd parents so perhaps I would feel differently if we had been closer to our delivery date. I will never understand why people get so passionate about social issues that don't affect them.

Monica LeMoine said...

Hope's Mama - Yes, I agree that any kind of keepsake memorial they can give you at the hospital would be priceless. I know what you mean about feeling like a freak. I think later we were mailed a certificate of something, just not sure what that something is. Didn't bother reading it - just put it in "Zach's corner" of the closet for future reference.

Numb Was Better: The thing about social issues is, I believe in picking your battles. Jump on the things you really feel strongly about, and back off the others. Otherwise you could drive yourself bonkers.

Sarah said...

I have nominated you for the Sisterhood Award becuase you are so very honest! You were one of my first blogs to follow and have helped me on my journey! Thoughts and Prayers to you!

Cara said...

See now- I'm middle of the road on this one as a self-proclaimed non-politico.

Our SHARE group ordered 'unofficial' certs of birth and offers to fill them out, with fancy writing of course, for parents who really want one, but - for obvious reasons, don't want to battle it out sloshing their way through red tape.

Most people find this just as affirming, even without the fancy seal - because, let's face it, our job IS to support them emotionally through their process. Lucky the poweres that be passed on that job, huh?

As always Mon - thought provoking post!

jessicat said...

After losing our son in January, I've gotten very involved with the effort to enact legislation for "certificates of birth resulting in stillbirth" in my home state. In my shock, grief and naivete, it didn't occur to me initially that anti-abortion groups could spin this issue in their favor. Now one of the things that keeps me awake at night is worrying that they're going to hijack my (ardently pro-choice) energy for their own purposes. You're absolutely right, stillbirth just isn't the same as birth. But having the state acknowledge our experience is very important to me -- it wouldn't change anything, but at least it would name what happened to us honestly, accurately, openly. And hopefully, not at the expense of a full set of options for other women. Fingers crossed...

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

Options are the key for most parents. That is, the option to receive one if it is, in fact, important to them. Obviously, there are differing opinions in the world of mothers and fathers who have experienced the death of a baby to stillbirth. Our task, as we lead the discussion and yes the battle for the CBRS, is to validate the choices of all.

As for your definition of birth, having done so five times, I could not disagree more.

Monica said...

Joanne - thanks for piping in here. I'm really sorry for your five losses, and commend the work that you do.

Totally agree that options are the key. Same with how we choose to define "birth." Really, anything we call anything related to death - or anything we do or don't do - is for us, and not the dead. We tap into whatever vocabulary and actions/rituals that make us feel better. And I'm definitely all for whatever works for other people - including your definition of "birth" if it helps you.

At the same time, consider this: an equally important voice is the one that says: "this particular ritual that everyone is talking about doesn't do me any good." That's important to hear if you're a cynical bitch like me, someone for whom most vocabulary/certificates/actions/rituals haven't made things better. If anything, they've made thing worse. Whether you're a practitioner working with dead-baby-mommas or a dead-baby-momma herself, sometimes it's good to hear that you're not crazy for thinking the way you do.

And one more important clarification about this blog. The thing about a personal blog (what makes it different from a large non-profit like MISS or SHARE) is that it's a space for a writer to put forth her thoughts and perspectives, regardless of whether they validate or don't validate others' choices. That's my role. Someone like you, on the other hand, are an important and influential leader in this strange subculture of stillbirth. So for you and the big organizations, yeah - validating choices is your (very important) role.

At any rate, here's to peace and strength to anyone losing a baby in any way - and whatever choices help them the most.