*There is a trigger warning on this post for stillbirth and hospital treatment*
This is a response to Arwyn at Raising My Boychick’s powerful piece entitled, “Reproductive Rights: Personhood Shouldn’t Be The Question.” Please read her post first and come back here, if you choose. But, please read her post either way.
The issues being argued around the personhood bill had been tickling something in me all week that I could not put my finger on-mostly because I was avoiding poking at this particular issue. It wasn’t until I read Arwyn’s post that my swirling feelings froze in place.
I’ve written about my daughter’s horrible but glorious stillbirth here, among a few other places. I have never shared with anyone what happened at the hospital where we took her body. I birthed my little girl at home unassisted after the arbitrarily defined timeline for stillbirth. She had already passed on before labor began in earnest, but it was the length of pregnancy until actual birth that mattered to the hospital. If she had been born earlier, she would have been classified a miscarriage.
I arrived at the hospital gripping the cardboard box containing my daughter’s body in my arms. She and her still attached placenta were nestled inside receiving blankets. I had also placed a note requesting that she remain attached to her placenta if possible. And insisting that she and her placenta be cremated together.
When I arrived, I was asked why I was there and immediately we were whisked in so that a nurse could verify that this was a stillbirth. She examined my daughter and, once the police officers arrived, began asking me routine questions probing into what had happened.
They were making sure I hadn’t killed my baby. Not once did they treat me like a grieving mother. Not once did they refer to my daughter as a baby or even as a body. I was a suspect until proven otherwise. My daughter was referred to as “the tissue,” which I found gruesome in light of the fact that they wanted to make sure I hadn’t murdered “the tissue.”
I was in a disconnected state of mind because of the birth and grief, but two voices in my head were screaming that my daughter and I were human beings, not things to be poked at with judgment. I understand why they were asking me the questions and I understand why they were treating my daughter so. It did not make it easier. I passed their tests enough to be shuffled to the next tier of bureaucracy. As they pushed my daughter’s box aside, I grabbed it and hugged it tight as I walked into the grey rooms behind the heavy doors.
It became more and more difficult not to crumble to dust as we met with person after person who verified and checked each answer. They would open the box and make notes. They would ask me the same questions I had already answered. Because I had had her at home, unattended, I was under extra suspicion. We had been instructed by our midwife not to disclose that we already had a child and if pressed, not to share where he was staying in case the decision was made to move him to CPS while we were at the hospital.
Never once was my daughter or my grief acknowledged. Never once were we treated as anything more than a supplier of answers for the scribbling pens.
I became more and more numb. After opting out of a strongly pushed for pelvic exam, only by disclosing a history of abuse, an orderly came to take my daughter away. For the first time, someone said, “I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m sorry I have to ask for her body now. I will treat her with gentleness.”
I said goodbye to my daughter and noticed that the police officers were no longer outside the room. I suppose we had finally been cleared enough of suspicion that they weren’t watching us anymore.
It did not matter that we had ultrasound results and a letter from our midwife explaining the physical anomalies that led up to her death and subsequent birth. It did not matter that even looking at her swollen body, it was obvious her body was not viable. There were protocols to uphold that superseded the individual case of my family.
This story brings me to why the personhood movement offends me on both sides of the argument. Yes, my daughter was a person who deserves to be treated as such. Yes, she was wholly dependent upon my body for survival and as such, it is up to me, as her mother and as the body providing her life, to decide how best to provide that life. I would give my life for my child without a second thought. But, it is up to me to make that decision-not someone else.
For lawmakers to decide that there should be criminal investigations for the death of an unborn baby like those in the personhood movement is to belittle the hell I went through. It is to relegate my experience and the intense love I have for my daughter to dust. It is to decide that I cannot be trusted to make the decision for myself.
For opponents of the law to proclaim that my daughter was not a person is to do exactly the same thing to my daughter and myself.
Neither of these polar opposites are voices that I want to speak for me. I withdraw my support of any who spout such rhetoric. Both are life-negating positions.
When I walked into the hospital, one of the first answers they wanted to know was whether she was stillborn after 20 weeks or miscarried less than 20 weeks. One put me in a category as a suspect to be watched by police. The other put me in a lesser suspect category that didn’t require police presence. Neither of these took into account my humanity or my daughter’s. It is when we look at arbitrary labels and all or nothing ideals that we move away from the human freedoms that we cherish-whether we have them or not.
Reality is living in shades of grey.
I don’t have a question for you on this post. But, I welcome your voice to speak, if you wish. As always, I would love to hear from you.
- An Empowering Unassisted Stillbirth (touchstonez.com)
- Empowered Birth: From the Personal to the Universal (touchstonez.com)