A Bond of Death

What I realize is that though we don't agree on much, we do agree on the most important thing. Choice. Recognition. Dignity. For all women.
05/04/2010 05:12am ET | Updated November 17, 2011

If anyone had asked me a year ago if I would have any interest in speaking with a pacifistic, vegetarian, professor from Arizona who believes that TV "turns your brain to pudding" I would have balked.

What would a woman like that have in common with a 30-year-old conservative-leaning, college dropout, stay at home mom of an 9, 6 and 3 yr old in upstate New York who roasts marshmallows on her lawn and watches Sponge Bob while her husband is hunting.

So what could Dr. Joanne Cacciatore and I have in common? What could bring these two women -- who are fundamentally different on every cultural measure from religion to ethnicity to charity to hobbies, together?

We have both had death inside of us. Both our children died during or just prior to birth. Dr Cacciatore's daughter, Cheyenne died in 1994. My own daughter, Alyssa, died earlier January 2009.

As naive as I was a year ago I thought that stillbirth -- the death of a baby during or just prior to birth -- only occurred in my grandmother's time or to drug addicts. Never in a million years did I think it would happen to me. With all of the technological advances of modernity, I believed that once I past the risk of miscarriage -- common during the first three months of pregnancy -- I was no longer at risk for any adversity.

I was wrong.

Dr. Cacciatore is a bereaved mother that through her grief, founded the MISS Foundation, an international nonprofit that helps families facing the death of a baby or child. In 1999, she lobbied the Arizona legislature to offer a Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth for infants who die during or prior to childbirth. Since then, Dr Cacciatore has been active in lobbying other states for this important change in public health policy.

When I found out in January, that our daughter died it was devastating for me -- as a woman, mother, wife, and person -- and it was disruptive and painful for our entire family. Explaining death to children is never easy, but in our circumstances was a much harder concept to grasp when the children had not actually seen the baby. There was no baby and no answers.

While all states will issue a death certificate for stillborn babies -- and they require final disposition to be paid and organized by families (cremation or burial), a birth certificate was never allowed in any state prior to 2001. But, I wanted nothing more than some acknowledgement that she -- my daughter, Alyssa -- existed besides a burial and death certificate.

Now, I'm helping to lobby in the state of New York where opposition has been vociferous and fierce. Pro-choice (term used loosely) legislators have repeatedly blocked this bill while claiming to be pro-woman.

I mean -- I support reproductive rights of choice, but what about me? What about my choice?

Dr. Cacciatore and I came together, from opposite ends of the world and world view, while I was researching this horror. We have spoken recently by email and over the phone. And what I realize is that though we don't agree on much, we do agree on the most important thing. Choice. Recognition. Dignity. For all women.

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