Living in Shades of Grey

*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.

NaBloPoMo 2011

13 thoughts on “Living in Shades of Grey

  1. Zoie, I am sitting here with tears streaming down my face after reading your post. I can’t even imagine going through what you did. I think I would have starting screaming at somebody. Up until now, I thought my stillbirth experience was horrible. Not anymore. I was treated by compassion by every Hospital staff member, save for my OBGYN. Never were the police involved.

    I can’t even grasp at what I feel completely about your story other than to say thank you for sharing it. We need to know. People need to know. That is the only way for things to change.

    • Thank you, Michele. I’m not angry because I understand why they felt. What I’m struggling with (and is causing me to suffer) is my wish that things were not the way they are. I wish that no parent has to experience something like this.

  2. I had a really vivid dream last night about explaining fetal “personhood” in terms of parenting. I don’t remember much about it now… but it made total sense, and still seems like a good metaphor, somehow.

    I’m so very, very sorry that your tragedy was made so much worse by that unfeeling treatment. *hugs*

  3. Oh Zoie, that is horrible. I’m so sorry you had to endure that :(((( I’m so impressed that you have been able to use that experience to open up more facets to this debate.

    • Thank you for those kind words, Kim. It is such a difficult issue. I can understand and empathize with all of the arguments. And I have always appreciated the intelligent discussions we’ve shared.

      And I hope you’re still tan and relaxed (but less muddy)

  4. After going and reading Arywn’s post and now reading here, I realize that I have allowed myself to shut out all these issues for too long. It hurts so much to even read or hear about, but that’s not a good enough reason to fail to speak out or to at least know what’s at stake.
    I can’t believe what happened to you at the hospital.
    I love you, I love your girl.

    • Thank you, Teresa. It does hurt to read about what’s going on. I find I’m less able since having kids. Something that I think is coming up for many of us lately as we choose whether to notice or not. And something I’m trying to put more words into.

      Thank you for saying those. I love you, too ❤

  5. *tears* Zoie, I can only send you my thoughts of peace & healing. I’m so sorry you were treated that way. I hope you can still feel your daughter’s energy & it gives you peace. Thank you for sharing this story. ((hugs))

  6. Zoie, thank you so much for sharing your story. I hope you’re feeling okay about telling it because I think it’s an important story for people to hear.

    The bottom line for me is that invoking “personhood” should be about recognizing our shared humanity and bringing people closer to one another. If it’s being used as a way to punish, rank, or otherwise suspect (in this case, a mother, her motives, her love, her humanity), I don’t think it’s about “personhood” at all; it’s about power.

    I agree that the other side, the “not-a-person” side, doesn’t provide this connection either, and it doesn’t reflect my experience as a woman who has borne and birthed two persons.

    I guess the connection part’s up to us moms. Thank you for all you do to foster those connections.

    • Thank you for your comment, CJ. I adore what you wrote here, “The bottom line for me is that invoking “personhood” should be about recognizing our shared humanity and bringing people closer to one another. If it’s being used as a way to punish, rank, or otherwise suspect (in this case, a mother, her motives, her love, her humanity), I don’t think it’s about “personhood” at all; it’s about power.” This is so true. It takes away the humanity by removing choice and power. I just read somewhere that you should always say the truth and trust the other person by speaking it. These positions are used as a way to disconnect, remove trust, remove personhoods, remove power, remove trust, remove truth… Denial of life.

I love comments and try to reply to each one. I look forward to connecting with you. Namaste

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