If you were to ask my grandmother to describe me as a child, that is what she would say. Apparently, I was a teeny-tiny peanut and I had more skin than I could fill out. (Boy how things change with time, right?!?)
I secretly hoped, as I grew into my skin, that the look of my hands would change. I always hated my hands. Short, stubby fingers and palms with creases and wrinkles so abundant, any elephant would be proud. (If you don't believe me, just zoom in on that picture!) I don't think anyone ever really knew just how self-conscious my hands made me feel.
But that changed when Victoria was born. My first child had my hands. Hers were identical to mine, completely creased and wrinkly. As I think back, I am certain no hands have ever been more beautiful. I have grown to love my hands. Not because they are mine, but because they are hers.
I recently learned that New Jersey does not consider a stillborn infant to be a person. You suck Jersey, you suck bigtime. Let me tell you how I know a stillborn infant is a person.
I felt my daughter grow and kick inside of me for 8 months. I labored and delivered my firstborn with no pain medication of any kind. I can assure you she made her presence known with every contraction, with every moment of her journey into this world.
A head full of jet black hair. Tiny toes. Precious little ears. Wrinkled palms. Absolute perfection.
Her father bathed her. He took her handprints, and footprints. He trimmed a piece of her hair. It was the only haircut she would ever have, that's true. But how do you trim the hair of a child who never existed? We dressed her, we held her, we rocked her.
Later, the nurse came and took her from us. Took our firstborn child to the morgue to be exact. I thought I might vomit. The next morning when they brought her back to us, I was on the verge of sheer panic. She was wrapped completely and I just kept saying, "She can't breathe, she can't breathe, unwrap her." I felt my motherly instincts kicking in full-force.
Unfortunately, the hits just kept coming for quite some time. You leave the hospital without your baby. Your milk comes in, because for all your physical body knows, you have a child to feed. But, your heart knows all to well that there is no baby to nurse. And, you have to bury this infant, this little tiny person that up until just days before, you thought God had entrusted into your care.
Her grandparents held her, she was the first grandchild. When she was flown to Mississippi, her great-grandfather stood waiting for her on the tarmac with a police escort so her little body would not be alone. Her great-grandparents gave her a "spot" in the cemetery right beside her uncle. Loved ones and friends gathered, releasing balloons and giving comfort. My brothers carried their niece's casket to its "spot".
None of our hurt was in vain. Neither you, New Jersey, nor any other entity can tell me my child was not a person! Well, I guess you can tell me, but I will never hear you.
In 1996, when Victoria was born, we left the hospital without any paperwork confirming our child's existence. I know, without doubt, that only added to our pain and suffering.
Twelve years later, I don't really feel the need for any type of paper confirmation, but in the moment, in those darkest of hours, parents desperately need some validation. It is a matter of respect and dignity. You understand that no piece of paper will ever bring your child back, but to have the chance to hold something, to see her name on an official document, would have made me feel less crazy... in the moment... less like I had to prove to everyone how much she mattered.
A child born at 19 weeks, "pre-viability", that is miraculously able to take just one single breath, is counted in our infant mortality rates, and the parents are given documentation showing this child existed. A child born at 40 weeks, who dies one millisecond prior to exiting the birth canal, is considered to be a fetus. This infant may be fully developed, weighing nine pounds, but will not be considered a real person. In many states, the parents are given no record of the child's birth/death. These babies are not included in our infant mortality rates.
Thankfully, due to the efforts of the MISS foundation, many states now provide parents with a "Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth". This is an honorable organization, working relentlessly to help ease the suffering of parents whose children are born still. MISS works to bring peace to families who have no opportunity to share a future and make memories (in this life) with their child, sibling, or grandchild.
Unfortunately, there are several states choosing instead to make this a political matter. Needless to say, that absolutely disgusts me. New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson, vetoed his state's proposal of the MISSing Angels Bill, even though it passed with near unanimous votes. Not surprisingly, this happened in 2007, as he was beginning his bid for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.
Planned Parenthood of New Mexico objected, as did state chapters of NOW, NARAL ProChoice America, and the ACLU. Richardson had to show just exactly how pro-choice he is. He had to gain the support of these groups. He did so at the expense of innocent fathers and mothers. A spokesperson for NOW had this to say:"We're always concerned about measures that elevate legal status of the fetus."
So there you have it. In New Mexico, and many other states, grieving parents who leave hospitals without their babies will not be given a simple piece of paper that states: "Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth". Oddly enough, New Jersey issues the certificates, but they don't consider stillborn infants to be human.
My daughter was BORN. She was STILL. And, there was piercing SILENCE. But she was born, nonetheless. She was and is real. My heart knows, my mind knows, my memories know. But as time passes, if I ever begin to doubt, I'll just take a look at my hands.