Today marks the third birthday of my grandson, Elijah. My daughter Bekah has determined to celebrate his birthday every July 29, even though this year the party will include masks and physical distancing.
What makes these celebrations bittersweet is the fact that Elijah cannot attend. He was stillborn.
A week before his due date he stopped moving. Bekah became slowly cognizant of this fact, to the point where she was panicking as I traveled with her to her regular midwife appointment. You can read the story here, as seen through the eyes of a family friend.
Because Elijah never took a breath of air, he didn’t get a birth certificate. Because he “legally” never lived, a death certificate wasn’t issued. In fact, there is no legal documentation of his existence.
All forms of infant/child loss are tragic. But here in Canada, a stillbirth is exceptionally difficult because unborn children have no legal status. In fact, according to We Need A Law, “Canada is the only democracy in the world which provides no legal protection for pre-born humans.”
Despite what Canadian law says, or doesn’t say, Elijah made his presence known. Until that terrible Tuesday, he was a “mover and shaker”. He was also a swimmer, a punter, a long-jumper, and a hiccupper. Non-entities don’t try to poke holes in their moms’ tummies.
As my husband says, “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s not a platypus.” Multiple routine medical tests, including doppler heart monitors and ultrasounds, led doctors and midwives to describe Elijah in terms of human anatomy (“10 fingers and toes!”) and as a living being (“He’s grown 4 cm. this month.”)
How can our legislators justify turning a blind eye to a medical reality? Laura Klassen’s (Choice42) cheeky video, The Magical Birth Canal, offers a look at what must be their alternate universe.
When it was time to deliver her “born still” boy, Bekah wanted to be surrounded by family and friends. As we passed the swaddled bundle from embrace to embrace, all 20 or so people were well aware that this was a person – a little human being.
Another mother of a stillborn child said of her experience, “you’re not a mom, but you’re not not a mom.” This is how it might feel for so many parents whose babies are not deemed human, as if they never existed, because a careless and scientifically bogus law says so.
Today we will again remember Elijah’s presence, affirm his existence, and draw inspiration from his short life. And we will dream of a day when his personhood – and that of millions of others who died before their birth – will be etched in law as well as in our memories.
(Photo credit: The Bear & the Butterfly – Ottawa Family Photographer)