10 September 2013

5: Something Old, Something New - New Laws for Stillborn Babies under 20 Weeks Gestation in SA

Commemorative Certificate for Stillborn Babies Under 20 Weeks Gestation
New laws in South Australia are currently being considered as part of new legislation.  The debate is far from over with different groups lobbying against the bill.  It was all brought about by a courageous mother who suffered a terrible loss when her baby was born stillborn nearly 2 years ago at 19 weeks gestation.  She has been trying to change the current laws from only recognising life at 20 weeks gestation, in order to recognize the birth and, therefore, death of her son.  If he had been stillborn a week later he would have been legally considered a 'person' and had a birth and death certificate issued.  Although this may sound unimportant to some, to a mother and family who have just lost their precious baby it is extremely important.
Although the new laws are not yet passed, it has been recommended that in the interim parents of children who were stillborn between 12 and 19 weeks gestation can now apply for a 'commemorative' certificate to recognise their child.  It is a certificate only and not to be used for any official purposes, however, it does feature the date and location of the birth, the baby's weight if known, gestation and any names of parents and other siblings.
For some parents having this official acknowledgement that their child did indeed exist, means a lot.  There are other groups debating that if this was to become law it would affect women's rights to abortions.  Although women should have the right to choose to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, that is their choice and this law should not interfere with that process.  However, this legislation is not designed to hinder the right to choose abortion, it is about women and families who have lost a baby and are suffering from an overwhelming loss and grief.  About acknowledging that their child was indeed 'alive' and was a real person. 
When you lose a child through miscarriage there are no avenues available for formal grief.  There is nothing to bury, no official death certificate to show your baby even existed.  Although there are some women that may not become attached to their babies until they are born, a large majority of women fall in love with their babies and are connected to them in ways that can not be explained.  They and their family look to the future and imagine a full life for them well before they step foot on the earth.  The news of a baby coming means many plans need to be made, expectations for that life have already commenced.  Any siblings are excited, names are picked, clothes bought and a room is set aside in the home.  When those plans all of a sudden drastically change, forever, there are no words for the grief that follows.
Other people don't know what to say, or how to act.  Kind well wishers may attempt to try and say 'never mind you can try again' or 'it was obviously not meant to be'.  Even though these are empty words no mother really wants to hear, at least the people that say these words are trying to be kind and are acknowledging there was a loss.  However, these comments are only very fleeting, most people move on quicker than the parents themselves are able to.  No one wants to speak of the 'loss' in fear of upsetting the parents, but in not doing so the 'child' does not become acknowledged and the parents grief is brushed aside. 
No matter how small their baby was, or the fact that they could never have survived outside the womb, for the parents their 'foetus' was a baby.  Sometimes the parents have already felt their baby move, or seen their moving image on an ultrasound monitor.  When they see this moving child, complete with all the organs necessary to sustain life, heart beating strongly, they are reassured their child is real, a baby.   If someone has a heart beat and then it stops, then they must have died.  If they died, then they must have lived!
The word miscarriage doesn't do justice to the process of losing a tiny perfectly formed human being, the word foetus is an insult to those who know they had a baby.  When a mother loses a baby, no matter what the gestation, it will always be a 'baby' to her and therefore a 'life' that has died.  She and her family suffer a loss.  A loss that should be acknowledged, a life that should be cherished.
At the very least, if the commemorative certificate is the only thing that is given to parents in the future, at least this is an acknowledgement that a human being existed, that they were loved and given a name by parents who wanted them.  In that process they lost, they can grieve and they can hopefully move on and always remember how special that little person was to them, no matter how short a time they were in their parents lives...
 "There is no foot so small that it cannot leave an imprint on this world"
Author Unknown
... forever in our hearts Amelie Minnie Martin
11/2/08 - 25/4/08

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