Tag Archives: life

One for my Baby: Should Stillborn Infants be issued Birth Certificates?

Scrolling through the news the other morning, I chanced upon this article about an Australian couple seeking a birth certificate for their stillborn son delivered at five months. Since my research—more specifically my dissertation—considers in part the ways we define motherhood and the personal, political, and cultural constructions of maternal narratives, I was naturally intrigued by the ensuing debate.

According to the article, Tarlia Bartsch was five-months pregnant when her baby died in utero. After eight hours of induced labor, Tarlia and her husband, who named their stillborn son Jayden, insisted that they wanted a birth certificate issued because, as Tarlia put it, “without a birth certificate, he didn’t exist.”

I find this issue so fraught with technicalities that it makes my head spin, and I’m not entirely sure where I stand. I also feel compelled to preface any further remarks with the statement that I am not a mother, and I cannot begin to fathom the depth of the Bartsch’s’ loss, particularly the futile eight hours of induced labor to “give birth” to their lifeless son. From an emotional perspective, Tarlia’s desire to reaffirm her son’s existence is the natural reaction of a grief-stricken mother. Objectively, however, the claim that “without a birth certificate, [Jayden] didn’t exist” is highly problematic, not least because according to law, any stillborn delivery prior to twenty weeks is regarded as a miscarriage. Jayden had been nineteen weeks in utero when his heart stopped. This is such a marginal difference that it naturally gives rise to hair-splitting technicalities, but as far as his parents are concerned, Jayden did exist, and they want confirmation of that.

This prompts us to ask, however, do they needconfirmation? For one thing, Tarlia is already a mother—she has another son with whom to share her maternal love. (I don’t mean to suggest that in her grief and her desire to keep Jayden alive, that she is showing parental neglect toward her other son, nor am I implying that because she has a responsibility to this son, that she has no right to mourn the loss of her miscarried child). What intrigues me is the need to make Jayden’s existence “official” in the legal sense. Having carried and ultimately delivered a stillborn child, Tarlia has nothing and no one to legitimate her experience as an expectant mother. From an academic standpoint, her anxiety about Jayden’s nonexistence seems less about her son and more about reaffirming her maternity. To whom does she need to prove that she was pregnant? Who is doubting that she underwent the physical and emotional transformation of carrying a child? If Jayden’s spirit was so alive to her, if he lives in her heart as he once did in her womb, then that alone makes her as much a mother and him as much her son as if he’d been born healthy—at least, in my opinion.

Then, of course, we come to the problem of legality; if Jayden is going to be issued a birth certificate to prove that he lived, he also would, in all technicality, need to be issued a death certificate to prove that he died. No where does the article address the additional consideration of this point.

Finally, and not surprisingly, there’s the fact that pro-life and abortion activists have appropriated this issue to service their own political agendas. In short, altering the law to issue birth certificates to stillborn infants who die in utero calls for a reexamination of the definition of the moment at which life begins. This is fertile ground for the pro-life and pro-choice activists—ground that they’ve been tearing up for decades. I’m not interested here in expanding in detail on my own views about the pro-life or pro-choice debate because, quite frankly, there is too much polarity attached to these labels. It seems, however, that such a change in the law concerning the issuing of birth certificates necessitates standardizing the definition of life—acknowledging that it does, in fact, begin at the moment of conception. Tarlia and her husband obviously believe as much; the naming ritual itself gives their stillborn son something of the identity he might have forged for himself had he lived a full and healthy life.

Though not a mother, I cannot deny that every expectant mother’s report of that first kick bears witness to the budding life that is forming unseen inside her. I cannot disagree with Tarlia in believing that her son lived—in some form. What I remain uncertain about is whether or not there is justification for the legal legitimation of his existence beyond that of assuaging their grief. (And perhaps, some might argue, that is reason enough). Whether this debate simply serves to add wood to the ongoing flame wars between the pro-life and pro-choice extremists, or if it challenges us to reevaluate what we as a society hold to be true about the way we define life, I hope that these parents can find peace in the memory of Jayden and comfort in their remaining son.

Question: should stillborn infants like Jayden be issued birth certificates?

Here Comes the Bride’s Maid (or, reflections on growing up)

After a typical hither-and-thither Sunday afternoon of church and errand-running, I leaned against my kitchen counter and idly scrolled through my cell phone to check for any missed calls or texts, expecting the usual ‘0’. To my surprise, I had not one, but two missed calls from my oldest and dearest friend: two missed calls, but no voicemail or text. With the mind-reading efficiency that comes only as the result of a friendship spanning two decades, I deduced that my Siamese twin (hereafter referred to as S.T) had something to tell me that she deemed of too great importance to communicate in a voicemail or text.

With best-buddy antennae tingling, I settled on the sofa to return her call, with a very clear suspicion of what I was about to hear. After greetings and small-talk were exchanged, I waited in breathless anticipation for what I knew was coming.
“I’m engaged!” (Ha! Girl Sherlock wins again! Seriously, if I could high-five myself in admiration of my kick-ass deductive reasoning powers, I’d be doing that right now.).
“And I wanted to ask you if you’d be one of my Bride’s maids?” Um, hello? Does Colin Firth look hot in a wet shirt?
“Honey, we only planned this about, what, 20 years ago?”
“I know, but I had to ask. Make it official.”

Congratulations were given, dates were discussed, and the call ended far sooner than either of us would have liked, but adult responsibilities called. Gone were the days of spending hours on the phone inventing elaborate contraptions that did everything from math homework to unenjoyable chores. Speaking of being an adult: holy shit, batman, my best friend is getting married! And I’m not talking about Game-of-Life-add-a-little-blue-plastic-dude-in-a-car getting married. I’m talking about an actual wedding, with an actual bride and groom. This is the same girl who split granola bars with me at lunch; who read my teeny-bopper fanfiction (not that I wrote teeny-bopper fanfiction); who dutifully remembered the secret code name of every single boy I had a crush on; who inadvertently saved the life of a classmate while impersonating the “lice lady” and finding a tick in her hair. If you want to put our friendship in quantifiable terms, between the two of us, we’ve held about 8 million conversations, shed nine thousand buckets of tears, and consumed a rough estimate of 84 million calories in brownies and ice-cream. Most of the sleep debt I accrued before graduate school is probably the collective result of every single Siamese twin slumber party we ever held.

Still cradling my phone in my hand, I sat on the sofa and gazed out the window as a slideshow of memories rolled in my brain, amazed, and feeling supremely blessed, to have kept that solemn oath of friendship made with clasped hands on a school playground long ago: “One for all and all for one…and a partridge in a pear tree!”

Considering the fact that I fell asleep that night and had a very strange dream involving Livia Firth designing me a sustainable bride’s maid dress woven out of something resembling palm-tree branches and a pair of shoes made of recycled Coke cans, this whole experience is going to offer significant amounts of blog fodder.

Question: Have you ever been in a wedding party?

Here’s an Eye-Opener

A friend of mine posted this story to an e-mail list I participate in, and while the story itself is fictional, it’s moral is a powerful one.

There was a blind girl who hated herself because she was blind. She hated
everyone, except her loving boyfriend. He was always there for her. She told
her boyfriend, ‘If I could only see the world, I would marry you.’ One day,
someone donated a pair of eyes to her. When the bandages came off, she was
able to see everything, including her boyfriend. He asked her,’Now that you
can see the world, will you marry me?’ The girl looked at her boyfriend and
saw that he was blind. The sight of his closed eyelids shocked her. She
hadn’t expected that. The thought of looking at them the rest of her life
led her to refuse to marry him. Her boyfriend left in tears and days later
wrote a note to her saying: ‘Take good care of your eyes, my dear, for
before they were yours, they were mine.’

Even reading this at 6:30 AM, as I did, bleary-eyed and undercaffeinated, I sat drumming my fingers against my desk, thinking about why it was that the
story gave me pause. I felt, somehow, that God was tapping me on the shoulder, asking me to take a moment–just one–to take a good look inside myself.
I might credit myself with being nothing like the blind girl in this fictional story, but as someone who’s lived with that particular “disability” since
birth, I’ve been on what I sometimes feel is more than my share of the receiving end of help. For one thing, I never want to inconvenience anyone; for
another, the independent streak in me flairs up in resentment at being hindered. I don’t know what–or who–I resent most; myself for having to be beholden
to someone else? The helpful person–be she friend or stranger–for standing in my way? God for burdening me with this cross? Rationally, I know it isn’t
any or all of these, though in moments of frustration I find myself thinking along such lines.

There have been, the truth forces me to admit, times when I’ve accepted help reluctantly, even ungraciously, from those who’ve offered it. At other times
I’ve taken, even embraced the hand that reaches out. Yet whether I accept or refuse the help, I don’t think I’ve ever really taken the time to consider
what it costs the person who’s come to my aid. I talk about not wanting to inconvenience others, but there’s quite a difference between inconvenience and
sacrifice. It’s an inconvenience when someone drives ten miles out of his way to offer me transportation; it’s a sacrifice when he does so even though
he doesn’t have enough money to put gas in his car. (I feel compelled to say, perhaps defensively, that I almost always do offer to reimburse people for
the cost of gas, but that is neither here nor there). The point is, I think, that all too often, we accept help from others without truly feeling the gratitude
due them for their service, however seemingly small and insignificant. A truly kind person would never call someone’s attention to how greatly he’s being
inconvenienced, or what he’s sacrificing, to offer help, and it’s for this very reason that we ought to be more conscious of what others might be sacrificing
to help us.

For those of us who face the challenge of living with a so-called disability, the balancing act between independence and accepting assistance
is all too familiar, and unfortunitley it doesn’t get any easier with time. There are moments when it’s best to accept help, and others when we would profit
more by finding our own way. Still, whether we accept or refuse help, we should pause to consider how far out of the way someone has gone to offer it.
I know the next time someone offers to help me, I’ll think of the boy in this story, and whether I choose to take the offered helping hand, or merely press
it in polite decline, be sure that I don’t let that hand be withdrawn feeling more empty for having given something to me.