Proof of Life
By Natalie Sullivan
It says, “IUFD at 37.3 weeks.” And elsewhere in the records, “DIU at 37 weeks.” If you check my medical records, that’s how you’d know that our daughter existed. I’ve never looked it up, but I assume it involves terms like “death,” “intrauterine,” and “fetal.” We know her differently. Her name was Anna Elizabeth, and she was our first child. Our only pregnancy. Our only daughter. She died in my belly three days before her birth and eight and a half months after becoming a very important part of our lives.
After our daughter was born and buried, we went through a difficult time. For me, I just couldn’t wrap my arms around not having a baby to wrap my arms around. It was the emptiness, the lack of something physical to pour all of our emotions and attention into. Our daughter was stillborn, so we didn’t get a birth certificate because, according to officials, she had never lived. We didn’t get a death certificate either because, in the traditional sense, she had not really died because she had never lived. It hurt. The hospital did their best. They gave us a lock of her hair and a hospital certificate listing all of her statistics and bearing her foot prints. It wasn’t enough. We were lucky because, unlike parents who lose their babies much earlier, we had a body to hold and bury. We have photos; we have a grave to visit. It still isn’t enough. It never will be. But, a birth certificate will help.
For those who think parents would not want proof that their child died, they are mistaken. The birth certificate for a child, including a still born child, is proof that the child existed. Proof that he or she WAS. Proof that he or she was expected, awaited, anticipated. Proof that life sometimes takes an unexpected turn, sometimes for the worse. When the NY law allowing for birth certificates for still born children was passed in late 2011, my husband and I had just completed our adoption home study and were awaiting news of a birth mother who might want to meet us. By March 2012, when the law became effective, we were awaiting the April birth of our son. And yesterday, when I randomly thought to research the legislation, our son turned eight months old. With us since the very beginning, we completed his adoption a couple of weeks ago and are awaiting, ironically, his birth certificate in the mail from our attorney’s office.
Prince William and Princess Katherine of England announced their first pregnancy this week, after she was hospitalized for acute morning sickness. The condition, now increasingly recognized as hyperemesis gravidarum by those who had never before heard the term, has been described by the media as rare, serious and often indicative of twins. It can also be fatal to mother and/or child. My husband and I suffered from this condition for the duration of our pregnancy and, we hold it and its related conditions responsible for the stillbirth of our daughter. My husband, who doesn’t generally partake of entertainment news, came home today and told me with a serious look, “Princess Kate has hyperemesis.” He said it knowingly, with familiarity and almost in a way that made me feel like we were talking about a family member. I weighed a lot more than Princess Kate when I was diagnosed with the condition that plagued our 8 ½ month pregnancy, so I was able to sustain the loss of almost 60 pounds during that time. I look at Kate, thin- really too thin- and I say a prayer for a fellow hopeful mother.
Sometimes I wonder when the pain of our own hyperemesis, the stillbirth of our daughter and the adoption of our son will all sink in completely. But this week, the convergence of all three events- the immediate availability of both of our children’s birth certificates and the draw of attention to hyperemesis- was too much to ignore. I pray for Kate and William and their unborn child(ren). I pray for all the mothers and fathers, the unborn babies, the babies born and the babies yet to be conceived who will face this devil of a demon. As I get older, I’m learning that the vast majority of women have a very personal story to tell. Stories that are often tucked away through the passage of time, eclipsed by the arrival of children or hidden by the painful facade of avoidance. Stories of why, how, almost, never and forever. For me, it all lends tremendous veracity to what we hear so often that it’s almost a cliché, “My baby is a miracle.” Because, trust me…all babies are.
*For more information about hyperemesis gravidarum and to support efforts for more research on the condition, please visit The HER Foundation at www.helpher.org.