We, as bereaved parents, know that from the very moment we lose our baby, a fear that he or she will be forgotten by others quickly sets in.
After all, our babies who have died are not visible to the world and people just forget that they existed.
These fears are further endorsed in Ireland by the Irish Government because the Stillbirths Registration Act, which came into force in 1994, sets it into law that the stillbirth register is closed to the public and only the parents can easily access their baby’s stillbirth certificate.
I had twin girls in 2015. Emma was born well and healthy, but sadly, her twin sister Mia had a heart problem called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, and she died four weeks before she was born.
The hospital informed us that we needed to register our twin’s arrival at the Office of Registrar of Births, Marriages, and Deaths. I remember the day so clearly when we, as a family, drove to the Office of Registrars to register our twins.
We registered Emma first for a birth certificate, and that was straight forward enough. It was more or less that same process as we had gone through for Alice, the twin’s older sister, four years beforehand.
Then it was Mia’s turn. The staff told us that because Mia was not born alive, she would not be able to receive a birth certificate like her twin sister, but instead, she would be listed on a “special” stillbirth register for stillborn babies.
I decided to do a bit of research. Unlike all other registers, the stillbirth register is closed to the public. Unfortunately, only my husband and I can have easy access to a copy of Mia’s stillbirth certification from the General Registers Office.
Mia’s siblings cannot, and neither can any other relatives or future descendants.
The General Registration Office currently processes applications to obtain a copy of a stillbirth certificate from other family members when they are satisfied that sufficient evidence has been produced to demonstrate knowledge of the stillbirth in question.
This means that when I am gone, no one will have easy access to Mia’s stillbirth certificate, and future descendants probably will not even know to look there.
This needs to change.
The only saving grace is that on Emma’s birth certificate it says, “multiple pregnancy – twin 1”. Hopefully, future descendants and researchers will see this and realise that there is a “twin 2”.
But they will have to do a lot of searching which will not be an easy task.
The Stillbirth register in Ireland needs to be open to the public to bring it in line with all other registers in this country. This will not cost the Irish Government anything as the systems are all already there.
In addition to this, stillborn babies should in future receive a birth and death certificate, so that they can be registered on the birth and death register and can receive the same state records of their existence as everyone.
Parents whose babies are currently listed on the stillbirth register should be allowed to have their babies placed on the birth and death register instead and to receive a birth and death certificate for their babies.
Parents just want their babies to be acknowledged, remembered, and counted as one of their family.
The opening of the stillbirth register would be a significant step forward in the right direction.
It will help parents with the grieving and healing process.
Niamh Connolly-Coyne is mother to three daughters Alice and twins Emma and Mia. Mia passed away a few weeks before she was born. She had a heart condition called hypoplastic left heart syndrome.
Niamh lives in Ireland. She set up an awareness / advocacy group for bereaved parents who have experienced loss in a multiple pregnancy called Peas in a Pod: loss in a multiple pregnancy @peasinapodireland. Niamh hopes also to create more awareness and inclusion of the needs of parents who have lost a baby from a multiple pregnancy through campaign and lobbying work.