July 15, 2008
Law Grants a Piece of Life to Families of Stillborns Parents Can Now Get a Certificate of Birth to Help Them With Grief.
By JAKE ARMSTRONG
ATLANTA-Life was rolling along for Allie Brokhoff.
She and her husband Andrew had just settled into their Richmond Hill home, and a trip to the doctor's office in mid-August 2007 confirmed she was three weeks away from adding a third healthy boy to their brood - Ethan Isaac Shark Brokhoff, a name their two sons helped choose.
Days later, she noticed the unborn baby wasn't moving much. She ate a bowl of Cocoa Krispies, which usually elicited a flurry of activity from the boy, but still felt nothing.
Brokhoff's slowly growing worry dissipated some on a return visit to her doctor's office, where an ultrasound picked up a heartbeat.
Then came the bad news: That heartbeat was her own.
Ethan Brokhoff became one of the roughly 1,000 babies stillborn in Georgia each year. His grieving mother was later told she was not entitled to a record showing that he entered the world, only a certificate showing he died as a fetus.
"When you carry a child, you have all kinds of expectations and hopes and dreams - and they just end," Brokhoff said recently. "And for some people to not recognize your child as a child is just an added insult."
A new law seeks to alleviate the psychological pain of stillbirth. The No Heartbeat Act took effect July 1 and allows parents of stillborn children to obtain a certificate of birth resulting in stillbirth, a vital record proponents say will help console parents and aid researchers studying the phenomenon.
A stillbirth occurs when a fetus dies after 20 weeks. Though 25,000 babies are stillborn each year in the United States, the cause of death is unknown in about half of all cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Doctors were unable to determine why Ethan died, Brokhoff said.
Joanne Cacciatore-Garard, a doctor who researches stillbirths at Arizona State University and founder of a nationwide stillbirth- support group, the MISS Foundation, said infant deaths have been reduced in the past 20 years, largely because of increased monitoring.
Yet the number of stillbirths remains unchanged year to year because the deaths are not being recorded as such in many states, stymieing efforts to address the causes, Cacciatore-Garard said.
"This is a real public health problem and we have been systematically ignoring it," she said.
The issue caught the attention of Marcia McGinnis, who runs a grieving-parents support group, and she and a handful of group members got Sen. Dan Weber, R-Dunwoody, to carry a bill through the General Assembly.
"It became clear to me as we were walking through all this we need to find answers as to why babies die," McGinnis said.
Georgia became the 23rd state to enact a law allowing parents to obtain the certificate.
The Department of Human Resources previously tracked stillbirths along with the roughly 10,000 fetal deaths recorded in the state each year.
In some states, the push to recognize stillbirths has drawn opposition from pro-choice advocates who fear it is an attempt to whittle away at abortion rights by establishing fetal personhood. That proved no obstacle in Georgia, and the No Heartbeat Act sailed through the General Assembly with only three votes against it.
Like many parents who experience stillbirth, Brokhoff and her husband keep a memory box that holds a picture, a lock of hair, footprints and ultrasound images of Ethan.
She expects her son's certificate to arrive soon from the state Vital Records Office, and hopes the law helps other mothers recognize their stillborn children.
So far, about 20 requests have come in to the Vital Records Office, which processes requests, but officials expect to receive more as the law gains notoriety.
"It's going to make it so much easier for women in the future," Brokhoff said.
For more information about certificates of birth resulting in stillbirth, call the Vital Records Call Center at (404) 679- [email protected], (404) 589-8424
(c) 2008 Florida Times Union. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.