“Sometimes love is for a moment.
Sometimes love is for a lifetime.
Sometimes a moment is a lifetime.” Author unknown
October is International Pregnancy Loss and Infant Death Awareness Month. All over the world, bereaved parents light a candle on the 15th October every year, creating a Wave of Light on Remembrance Day. Balloon release, Butterfly release, A Walk to Remember, The Empty Cradle Walk, Say their Name Ceremony and many more commemoration ideas can be found on www.october15th.com.
As a Funeral Director, I am confronted with death on a daily basis. But it is the little ones, the tiny feet that tiptoe through my heart…
I can still remember, when I first joined the funeral industry seventeen years ago, my heart wept every single time a little baby was admitted to the facilities. I used to tell my colleagues: “Please bring the little ones to me, I will wash and dress them.” I was fascinated by their perfectly formed bodies – these beautiful babies, born asleep. Why were they created, nurtured for nine months in their mothers’ womb, only to never see the light? The Birth of Death, they call it…
The bond between a mother and her child, starts with a thought: “I want to have a baby.” Then comes the Pregnancy Test: POSITIVE! The sonars nowadays are 3D and 4D, you can actually visualize what your unborn baby is going to look like! The Stork Tea follows, gifts and good wishes shower on the new mother-to-be. A Baby Room is being assembled, perhaps by the proud father-to-be.
And then, those dreaded words: “We cannot find a heartbeat…” “Sorry, we’ve tried our best, but…”
In South Africa, a miscarriage is the spontaneous end of a pregnancy at a stage where the embryo or fetus is incapable of surviving up to the 26th week of gestation.
Stillborn, in relation to a child, means that it has had at least 26 weeks of intra-uterine existence, but showed no sign of life after complete birth.
In real life, however, a mother does not refer to her unborn baby as a ‘fetus’ up to six months, and thereafter call it a baby from 26 weeks!
Why then, do I ask, is a stillborn baby born after 26 weeks of gestation afforded a dignified funeral, where parents and grandparents can create memories, but the one born at 25 weeks and six days are thrown away in a red anatomical bin as medical waste?
I made this horrific discovery when I was called to a Private Hospital in Pretoria to fetch a pair of triplets, born at 20 weeks of gestation. The medical practitioner agreed to sign the Notification of Death, but the babies were missing. “How is this possible?” I asked. They then informed me that the medical waste truck had already collected the babies. Needless to say, the Unit Manager at the time had to get into her car and drive to the medical waste plant to search for the babies. She did find them, between amputated limbs, organs, blood and other medical waste.
A person is a person is a person, no matter how small!
In 2011, my own daughter had a miscarriage.
With the triplets on my mind and my daughter’s miscarriage, I felt like screaming it out to the world: “Somebody said somebody should do something about this. And then I realized I am somebody.”
In 2012, I raised a Parliamentary Questionnaire about this issue.
I was also a Guest Speaker at Legacy Parks, near Stellenbosch where we planted a tree in commemoration of the little babies who never got to be buried/cremated, because they were not regarded as viable after birth.
In 2013, I was invited to be a Guest Speaker at the Healing Concert in Artscape during August (Women’s week) where I addressed a huge audience on the topic.
In 2015, I decided to proceed with a Constitutional Challenge. I formed a Non-profit Company, Voice of the Unborn Baby because I realized that as an individual, I will get nowhere. A cause was also registered on https://www.causes.com/campaigns/323-let-the-mother-of-a-miscarried-baby-have-choices-with-regards-to-burial-cremation and over 2000 signatures in total have been collected in support of this legislative change so far.
My legal team, consisting of Renaldi Ingram, Admitted Attorney and Advocate Donrich Jordaan, an expert in biolaw and human rights have been appointed to take on this Constitutional Challenge. We want expecting parents across all walks of life who suffer pregnancy loss and wish to say goodbye to their hoped-for child in a dignified fashion, to be allowed to do so.
Expert Opinions are currently being interviewed by my Counsel, who has also invited the various Ministers of Home Affairs, Dept of Health and Dept of Environmental Affairs to a round table discussion before the Application is launched with the High Court.
Should this Application on behalf of The Voice of the Unborn Baby succeed in the High Court, the Constitutional Court must still ratify it.
Recommended Reading: When Hello means Goodbye, a book written by Paul Kirk and Pat Schwiebert is a guide for parents whose child dies before birth, at birth, or shortly after birth.
Unborn babies, irrespective of gestational age, are NOT medical waste!
Click here to view a Facebook post about funerals for unborn babies.
Click here to view a related article as it was published in Rapport Newspaper.