by Jennifer Walker
Any time some policy related to pregnancy/abortion is brought up, discussion almost immediately gets heated. This doesn’t have to be the case, though, especially if we work towards humanizing the preborn.
An example of a bill that would help towards recognizing the personhood of the preborn is Pennsylvania House Bill 118. Almost immediately there was a blatantly false post making the rounds claiming that any woman who miscarried would be forced to pay for a fetal death certificate and burial — and that if they didn’t, they would be fined. This is absolutely not true.
The actual context of the bill simply states that the mother can request a fetal death certificate and burial, but if she does it is at her expense. If the mother chooses to not do anything, then this does not apply to her at all. The fines apply to hospitals and facilities that refuse to offer this option.
I understand the individual who introduced the bill has made some less-than-stellar remarks and that some people think this kind of language is a slippery slope. But as a loss mom, this kind of thing is important.
We were fortunate that we had no issues with being able to access Joseph’s remains for burial. My OB knew what form I needed to fill out, we easily found a funeral home familiar with the process, and the funeral home was able to work directly with the hospital and cemetery to give Joseph a dignified burial. Because a lot of cemeteries and funeral homes have funds for this kind of loss, the only thing we had to pay for was a donation to the church/priest and the cost of a headstone (should we choose to get one).
Some moms aren’t so fortunate. It is a traumatic and difficult time. When I first learned Joseph’s heart had stopped beating, I literally couldn’t form words. It wasn’t until I was home and talking with my husband that I even started to think about the logistics. Because I had prior losses (when I unfortunately didn’t know as much) I was equipped with information about what questions to ask and who I might need to talk to. Someone who hasn’t experienced loss or doesn’t know people who have likely doesn’t even think about asking.
They might not know that having the remains for cremation or burial is an option. They might not have a doctor familiar with the process to obtain remains. Or they might not want to.
But I know people who had a huge fight on their hands when they wanted to bury the remains of their child. It was difficult for them to get the hospital to release remains for a variety of reasons, but often it was because funeral homes and cemeteries can’t accept the remains without a certificate of life (or death). If a mother chooses to take the remains or release them to a third party, having the ability to request the certificate will make the logistics of burial and funeral planning attainable.
Legislation like the previously mentioned bill ensures that all mothers have this option. They won’t need to know to ask for it or have to fight for that right. Should they want to bury their child on their own, they will have that access/permission. It does not impact the individual who chooses to do nothing other than have the procedure. It isn’t forcing any woman to do anything she doesn’t want to do. There probably is some scary legislation out there that might cross lines, but this bill isn’t it.
I believe a large part of the issue is how we have dehumanized babies who are in utero. When I had my first loss, it was early. Most people didn’t know I was pregnant, and those that I told about my loss weren’t exactly supportive. I heard time and again things like “at least you know you can get pregnant,” or “there must have been something wrong with the baby,” as if that somehow made my loss acceptable or should make me feel less grief.
After my first loss, I carried a twin pregnancy to term. When I joyfully shared updates on their growth and development, people shared genuine excitement with me. They knew things were progressing in a healthy manner, so somehow that made it acceptable to add more dignity and value to my children’s lives. But what if after sharing that update and excitement something went wrong? Would people still be willing to hear me talk about them? Sadly, probably not. That pregnancy was an odd experience because some of my joy was robbed by knowing that loss is a very real and possible thing that frequently occurs in pregnancy.
When I had my second loss (around when my twins were two), I was more aware of the types of things people might say. But I was also more educated in the resources that are available for grieving moms. Stanley was another fairly early loss, but that doesn’t mean I don’t honor and remember him or celebrate his would-be due date. After losing him, well-meaning people said things like “at least you have the twins,” or “some people can’t even get pregnant at all.” Somehow his brief life was no longer meaningful or deserving to be remembered or talked about.
I was genuinely shocked by some friends and acquaintances who were baffled about our decision to give Joseph a dignified burial. He may have only been around 11- or 12-weeks gestational age, but even at that small size (about the size of a LEGO mini figure) he has hands and feet, eyes, ears, a mouth and nose. He was just starting to learn to move and roll around. Yet somehow it was strange that I would want to remember and honor his life. There is such an odd disconnect with how we are willing to talk about what size of fruit or vegetable our baby is at any given week of gestation, but if that baby happens to die, many would prefer that we forget that life existed. If we are allowed to talk about and celebrate a baby’s growth milestones while their heart is still beating, then we shouldn't consider their life any less important or significant because it stopped.
This is why certificates of life/death are so important. They officially recognize the personhood of that tiny baby. They may never have taken their first breath, but their life mattered.
Before you automatically share content that claims House Bill 118 is punishing those who have miscarried, please consider it from the perspective of those who have experienced loss. That little, short-lived life was (and is) valuable to my family and deserved a dignified burial since that was our desire. I fully support hospitals being required to provide the option (not requirement) for families to obtain a certificate of life/death and access to remains.