This theme has been cropping up since we first heard the devastating news from the ultrasound technician, “The baby’s heart isn’t beating.” At that moment I would have traded my own heart if it meant my baby’s might begin to beat again. But that was not to happen. As the tears rolled down my face I couldn’t help but think that in that very same hospital there might be a woman equally as scared and uncertain as I was at that moment, but her baby’s heart WAS beating – and she was about to ask the doctors to make it stop. This diabolical dichotomy plays out every day in hospitals all over this country. Women learn that the children they longed to hold won’t be born, or if they are born, they are still – the life already gone from their perfect little bodies. At the same time there are women who are waiting to rid themselves of what this society has termed ‘a problem.’ Women who are scared, who don’t know or wont admit the Truth about the life they carry – and are about to destroy. This duality has reaches that go beyond the political issue of abortion.
As I waited for my baby’s body to be born I went to work gathering information and making arrangements so that we could have a proper burial for our daughter. As I went about this task I made some startling and dismaying discoveries.
I learned just how fortunate I was to have a hospital that would honor our request to bury our daughter by releasing her remains to a funeral home. I also learned how incredibly fortunate I was to have contacted a compassionate funeral director who would do whatever he had to in order to obtain the very important Certificate of Fetal Death (also known as Certificate of Fetal Demise).
You see, in most states, unless you are at a private hospital (and even then it might not matter), babies still-born under 20 weeks of gestation, or any fetal remains of a miscarriage or D & C must be treated as medical waste. Yes that’s right, if I had been in some other hospital when I delivered Claire’s beautiful, intact body, she would have been discarded as medical waste. In many places it is next to impossible for parents to obtain the remains of their babies or have them released to a funeral home for a proper burial. Since Life Insurance Policies do not cover Miscarried or Stillborn children the costs of a funeral and all the necessities are often too high for a family who wasn’t expecting to have to bury a baby. (Granted, there are Churches like mine who have Cemeteries and who offer discounts for situations like ours. Likewise, the Funeral Home offered its services free of charge, and only asked that we pay for the Vaulted Coffin – which is required by law – and the headstone.) This leaves women the option of miscarrying at home, which is often what happens before 12 weeks anyway, but in cases like mine there are greater risks of complications. Actually two different people – one a physician, and another a nurse – remarked that I risked my life by waiting to deliver my baby!
Claire was around 15 or 16 weeks old when her heart stopped beating. I was over 18 weeks when I finally checked into the hospital to be induced. Why did I wait? The advice I got at the first ER visit was to have a D & C (Dilation and Curettage – which usually ends up being a Dilation and Suction). The doctor warned me of some of the risks of waiting ‘too long’ – the risk of infection and hemorrhaging (which I have a history of when it comes to delivering full term babies). Then I saw the ultrasound picture. There was my baby. She was perfect. Her body was perfectly formed and totally intact. (Sometimes the body begins to break down.) In my heart I knew there was no way I could do a D & C. I had absolutely no peace with that idea. I saw my daughter. She deserved to be treated with dignity. Her beautiful little body deserved to be buried, just like any other person’s. I would do everything I could to treat her body with the respect she, as a child of God, deserved. The ER doctor told me I could try to wait it out and prescribed some uber-pain killers if I went that route. Just getting handed a prescription paper for Vicodin and Percocet made me shudder. This was going to hurt.
Two days later I ended up back in the ER because I felt like I was in labor and I had other ‘symptoms’ on the “Come Back to the ER If…” list they had given me the first time I had been there. I sat in the waiting room for 5 hours – all the while my labor like pains were intensifying. By the time I was taken into an exam room I couldn’t talk through contractions and I felt just like I did every other time I’d given birth – intense pain that made me pretty much wish for death. The nurse tried to help as best she could. She was just out of nursing school and had no children of her own. She looked at me mid-contraction (they were 2-3 minutes apart lasting 90+ seconds, and were of course, in my back. Back labor is a specialty of mine…) “So how bad are your cramps?” I tried to stay relaxed and whispered, “its not a cramp. Its back labor.” Breathe, I reminded myself. “Ok, um..” she tried again, “so on the pain scale would you say you’re at a 5 yet?” That actually got me to open my eyes. I looked at her and tried my best to not cop an attitude. “No, I answered, I’d say I’m at about a 12.” “Oh. And where exactly do you feel the cramping?” I exhaled as another one geared up. “I do not feel cramping,” I tried to explain. “I feel like 2 giant knives are being stabbed into my lower back and slowly dragged around my sides towards my belly button. Then the knives get mashed around my abdomen, and down towards my legs.” “Oh” she said with wide eyes, “Is that what back labor feels like?” I tried not to look like I felt at that moment – like a giant science experiment. “It does for me,” I answered. “Well,” she said uncertainly, ‘the doctor will be in soon.” Half an hour later the doctor waltzed in. “You’re not in labor. You’re cramping. You only go into labor with real babies.” Thankfully for him I was in the middle of a particularly painful contraction, otherwise I think I would have kicked him. That was when the chills and nausea started. I secretly hoped that I WOULD puke and in my mind, I aimed it right at him. How dare he say that my baby wasn’t real! “My baby is real!” I hissed. “She isn’t alive anymore, but that doesnt make her any less real or less loved.” He scribbled away on his notepad and ordered some kind of medication be given to me. He said once the meds kicked in he’d do an exam. Well, those meds, whatever they were, made me higher than a kite, and they also stopped the contractions. His exam proved disappointing to him, because he “couldn’t easily grab anything out.” Boy did THAT comment make me want to run for the hills! He eventually handed me a cup and baggie. “I’m sure this will all be over by tomorrow. Just catch as much as you can and put anything resembling a fetus in the cup. Make sure the lids on tight and bring it back after you’re done.” He tried to insist one more time that “it wasn’t a real baby.” Lucky for him I was still a little loopy from the drugs.
We headed home dazed and infuriated. I knew one thing for sure, there was no way I’d put my baby in a cup and no way I’d ever give the body of my baby to that man. So we hunkered down at home, scared out of our wits because of my history of bleeding too much. I found a beautiful wooden box and took out my wedding handkerchief. I readied some other items. Then it was time to pray and wait. “Baby Claire,” I would pray, “just let me be able to honor your body and bury you.”
During the next week we waited and prayed. I worked with the Funeral Home and they talked me through some of the finer points of my situation. I spent hours upon hours on the phone with various departments of the hospital trying to obtain a Certificate of Fetal Death so I wouldn’t have to go back or bring Claire’s body into the hospital to be “officially declared dead.” After two days of maddeningly fruitless phone calls – no one seemed to know what to tell me or who I should talk to, I called the Funeral Home in tears, terrified I wouldn’t be able to bury my baby after all. The extremely kind gentleman assured me to not worry and said that he would take care of obtaining the all-important certificate. What a blessing to have that weight off my shoulders. That was when I learned that it is actually Abortion Law that makes it illegal in so many places to obtain the remains of a miscarried or still-born baby under 20 weeks for burial. The Abortion Laws have decided that under 20 weeks, a baby isn’t a “real baby.” The Abortion Laws make it necessary for a Funeral Home to file a Certificate of Fetal Death if you want to bury your child in a Cemetery, and they are hard to get if the baby is less than 20 weeks. The sheer lunacy of these ‘laws’ made my head spin. I was terrified that I would have to fight to be able to bury my baby, or worse yet, not be able to. I was even more scared of experiencing complications at home.
I was stuck in an extremely uncomfortable, crampy, latent labor-like state and was beginning to get concerned about infection and sepsis (of which I only later learned I was at extreme risk). I finally made an appointment with the OB listed on the ER discharge papers. He was the first medical professional who actually listened to me long enough to understand my situation, my concerns, and my desires. He did his own exams and ultrasound and pretty much discounted what both ER docs had said. He immediately recommended an induction. Thank God for this man who worked out the details and got me on the hospital schedule.
That was how I ended up in Labor and Delivery holding my tiny baby after 7 hours of labor. The Funeral Director came personally to the L & D floor and I was able to give my baby, perfectly formed, wrapped in the handkerchief and laid in the wooden box to the extremely compassionate nurse, who in turn gave her directly to the Funeral Director. At that moment, I felt more peace than I had in weeks. A few days later we had a burial service for our daughter Claire. A small group of family and friends gathered at the cemetery for the burial service for our dear little baby. As we drove home, I felt extremely sad, but I had an even deeper inner peace.
Now that I’ve had a few weeks to digest and ponder all that has happened I can’t shake the idea that some of the frustrations I encountered are because our society, and most notably the medical community is not encouraged to be Pro-Life. I actually had a doctor tell me that I wasn’t carrying a “real baby!” I mean, how can you even say that, unless you have skewed understanding of what Life is?
I think what makes me furious is that my story is far from unique. I’ve had a couple of people tell me I am brave for “risking my life” so that I could bury my baby. It sounds like I should feel like some sort of hero. I mean heroes risk their lives, me? I’m just a mother who desperately wanted to do right by her child. I felt like the only thing I could do for her was bury her. I’m no hero, I’m not brave. I’m furious! If I had been 14 weeks pregnant and walked into a Planned Parenthood Office asking for an Abortion would I have been treated the way I was in the ER? Would I have been given the brush off? No. I would have been swept into an office and “cared for.” (At least that’s the way they try to make the women who come into their offices feel.)
What if I had been in labor with a full term, healthy baby? Would I have been forced to wait in a waiting room for 5 hours? Would nurses have tried to convince me that I wasn’t in labor? Would my baby have been dismissed as being “not real?” Of course not!
What if I had delivered an extremely premature baby? Wouldn’t the doctors have done everything they could to save him or her? Wouldn’t that baby be given special care until he or she was healthy and strong? Would any doctor say that a tiny prematurely born baby, fighting for life wasn’t a “real baby?” No way!
Why then, did I have the experience that I did? Why do women all across our country have similar, or worse experiences, when all they want is medical care during a scary, uncertain, extremely sad time. Why are their babies dismissed and discarded as “medical waste?” Why is it so hard for parents to simply bury their children?
We need to be more Pro-Life, and truly Pro-Woman. The biggest deception that the pro-abortion lobby has forced upon us is that they truly care about women. Women have a “right to choose” they like to tout. They like to float these phrases “women deserve access to quality medical care.” Yeah that sounds reasonable, but all they really mean is “access to abortion.” When it comes to truly receiving medical care – do you think we get it? You know what? WE DON’T. We don’t have the “right to choose” to bury our babies if they die in the womb before 20 weeks. Women often do not have the right to quality medical care and supervision during a miscarriage – not if they want to be able to bury their child or their child’s remains. Do you call being dismissed and handed a cup “quality medical care?” I was appalled to learn just how at risk I was of some severe and life-threatening complications. Is that quality care? How is forcing women to choose between receiving medical care and being able to bury their babies an advancement for women? How is that protecting a woman’s right to choose? Why can’t women choose to receive quality care AND be able to bury the remains of their babies?
This is a Pro-Life Issue, because it is abortion that has muddied the waters of medicine. Abortion, which is supposed to be so freeing and liberating to women, is tying the hands of the women who just want to honor the babies that they will never hold.
It is abortion that has perpetrated this fraud upon us – telling us that if your baby dies in the womb “Its not a real baby.” How else could abortion survive? The minute the medical community admits that “it IS a real baby,” abortions’ days are numbered. When the medical community finally gets its act together and treats all babies with respect – born, pre-born, still-born, or deceased in the womb – abortion is finished.
This is perhaps an untapped portion of the Fight to be Pro-Life. We (and rightly so) concentrate so much on abortion that we, as a Pro-Life people, often overlook the smaller battles of the same war. Until I lived through the nightmare of losing a baby I had no idea that women and parents all over the country were silently suffering because they were denied the right they have as parents to properly mourn and bury and their children. In a country that likes to brag about how tolerant and accepting it is, this is a travesty that simply cannot be excused. In this “great and progressive country of ours” you have the right to murder your child. But not to bury your child.
Yes my friends, its about being Pro-Life. Perhaps as a Pro-Life people we should seek to correct this egregious wrong. In doing so we will be advancing the Pro-Life cause, securing the right of parents to bury their babies’ remains, regardless of gestational age, and therefore witnessing to the fact that the babies themselves have a Right to Life, and they also have the right to be buried – to be treated as the beautiful tiny persons that they are.
**A Special Note from the Author**
I wrote this piece several years ago for my personal blog when we lost our daughter, Claire. Since that time I have become part of the Guiding Star Project. Guiding Star was the very first organization I found that seeks to offer women that “quality care” I discussed above. Including peri-natal hospice care as an part of Guiding Star’s services made my heart sing! Finally! An organization that understands that building a Culture of Life means treating ALL life – born and pre-born – with dignity! Finally! An organization that would empower and support grieving parents! Finally! A place where women could go to be presented with REAL options and REAL care, REAL support, and REAL life-affirming, woman-affirming services! I continue to be so honored to be part of the Guiding Star Project and working to “Light the Way to a Culture of Life!”