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Should Stillborns Get Birth Certificates?

Should Stillborns Get Birth Certificates?

Baby footprints are common on birth certificates: CC photo courtesy of Moss

The Morning Call, Allentown, Pennsylvania

April 12, 2010

When Mandy Mancini went into labor three years ago she expected to come home from the hospital with a healthy baby girl. She left with a heavy heart and empty arms.

Her daughter Seneca was stillborn, leaving Mancini with only a scrapbook of memories, a plaster mold of her tiny feet, a commissioned portrait and pictures of a baby frozen in time.

“She had two little feet, 10 toes and fingers and she looked just perfect,” said Mancini, of Breinigsville. “Except she never opened her eyes or cried or took a breath.”

That fact, Mancini learned later, would make it impossible for her to obtain what she considers the most precious memento_a birth certificate and recognition that she birthed a full-term baby.

About one in 160 pregnancies results in stillbirth, generally defined as naturally occurring fetal death after 20 weeks of gestation. In up to half of all stillbirths, the cause of death can’t be determined.

For many parents of stillborns, a birth certificate is a purely symbolic but nonetheless precious document.

Almost 30 states, including neighboring New Jersey, have laws that direct health departments to issue birth certificates for births resulting in stillbirth if a parent requests one.

Pennsylvania law doesn’t provide for stillborn birth certificates. But Mancini’s grandmother, Dorothy Knappenberger of South Whitehall Township, Pa., is leading a grass-roots movement to change the law.

For Knappenberger, 73, the drive to push the legislation forward is about a silent promise she made to her stillborn great-granddaughter: “I said ‘Seneca, God willing I’m here long enough, you’re going to get a birth certificate,”" Knappenberger said.

Knappenberger started a Facebook page, now with 400 friends, and a network of dozens of mothers across Pennsylvania. She’s met with lawmakers, lobbyists and officials with the state Department of Health.

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