Honoring a life and loss
Sacramento Bee Columnist (Sacramento, California)
Published 12:00 am PDT Wednesday, April 4, 2007
When a child is stillborn, parents are left devastated, but in California, they depart the maternity ward with nothing but a death certificate.
"The government recognizes the death of our son," says Sari Edber, 27, who lives in Los Angeles. "And the government mandates final disposition of the remains.
"I want them to recognize that my son was born. He was real. It would be easy to forget."
In 17 other states, bereaved parents can choose to receive a certificate acknowledging the stillbirth. But not in California -- not yet.
Edber and other members of the Mothers in Sympathy and Support (MISS) Foundation, a group dedicated to aiding families after the death of a child, are determined to change that.
"I wish you could've sat in on some of the meetings we had with these women," says state Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, who's introducing legislation to give grieving California parents the option of being issued a "Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth.""When they bring out their albums of pictures, with their hands holding their baby's tiny hand -- my Lord. It's just hard."
Stillbirth occurs an estimated 3,300 times each year in California -- across the country, up to 39,000 times. That's a surprising statistic in a country more accustomed to assuming that every wanted pregnancy has a happy outcome.
"I have four children," says Maldonado. "To see what these women have gone through is hard. They had a baby. They went through the whole process."
And they were left crushed by the loss.
When I wrote in January about a young woman named Catriona Harris -- whose son, Brady, was stillborn and who gave birth to a second child, a daughter named Reilly, last summer -- I heard from dozens of people whose lives, too, had been touched by stillbirth.
One was a man whose first child was stillborn in 1971. The hurt, it seems, never really vanishes, even when healthy babies come along later.
Sari Edber's son, Jacob, was stillborn July 20, 2006.
"He had my nose and my husband's features," says Edber, a teacher and volunteer lobbyist for MISS. "He was a perfect combination of us. He was our firstborn.
"Jacob's a part of our family. We'll have other children, but he'll always be their big brother."
In states where the certificate of stillbirth is already available, more than 70 percent of eligible parents elect to receive it, says Maldonado.
With the "MISSing Angels" bill, he says, "I don't want to say it will provide closure. These parents will never have closure. But there should be a recognition."
A validation, if you will, of their babies' brief existence.
Stillbirth is defined as unintentional fetal death after 20 weeks or more of gestation. The bill specifies that the new certificates aren't meant as proof of life.
"This isn't a pro-life, pro-choice issue," says Maldonado. "It's a personal issue that's important to women who've gone through this."As common as stillbirth is -- affecting as many as one in 100 American pregnancies -- it's amazing that we don't talk about it more. Maybe we'd rather not think about it. But some people don't have a choice."I could talk for hours about why this bill is important," says Edber. "This bill recognizes the fact that I had a son. I gave birth. He was born. He existed."
Under the bill's provisions, California parents who choose the certificate would pay a fee for it.
Catriona Harris would like one.
"Absolutely, it's something I'd want," says Harris, 28, a public relations executive who grew up in Folsom and now lives in Florida. "It's another way of saying our child had a life, even if he only lived inside the womb.
"Right now, we only have one legal document with his name on it. His death certificate."
About the writer:• Anita Creamer's column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays in Scene. Reach her at (916) 321-1136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back columns: www.sacbee.com/creamer.
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Thursday, April 5, 2007
Honoring a life and loss
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