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'I gave birth and I held him but the Irish State says that he never existed'

Wednesday, 11th July, 2018 5:56pm

'I gave birth and I held him but the Irish State says that he never existed'

The Smith Family

A loving Meath mum is lobbying the Government for changes to the law to give heartbroken parents recognition for their babies born before 24 weeks.

Caroline Smith (39) from Trim wants babies born before the 24 week cut off point and smaller than the 500 gram weight limit to be recognised with a certificate of life.

The determined mum has dismissed the legal term 'late miscarriage' bestowed onto her by law when she gave birth to her son Stephen who was 420 grams when he was born at 20 weeks and two days on October 20, 2015.

Unbelievably she says that when she was in labour, a nurse handed her husband Martin a catalogue of coffins and told him that while Stephen would not get a birth certificate, he was big enough for a funeral.

Under current Irish law, babies born either under 500 grams or before 24 weeks gestation - and showing no signs of life - are considered not viable and termed as a late miscarriage.

It also means that Stephen is not registered and so does not show up in the event of a family member researching a family tree.

But Caroline is resolute in her campaign to change the criteria to give these babies recognition that they did exist.

She is now lobbying the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty for additions to the current Stillbirth Registration Act of 1994.

However, just yesterday (Monday), the Minister's office told her that her proposals for the Certificate of Life have now been sent on for review to Health Minister Simon Harris.

"My little girls Amy (now 10) and Sammy (now 8) were delighted that they were going to have a baby in the house again when I got pregnant, she said.

"We planned our pregnancy because I have type one diabetes so my pregnancies need extra care," she said.

"Everything was perfect until October when I felt some pain so I went to my doctors who told me it was probably a cold and sent me home."

However the pain increased until Caroline couldn't bear it anymore and had to go into hospital late that night.

"I knew there was something wrong because I hadn't felt the baby move that day and a scan confirmed that there was no longer a heartbeat.

"It turned out that it was an E-Coli infection which resulted in Stephen's death and threatened my own.

"I was also in labour so I was trying to process the shock of my babies death while knowing I would still have to give birth.

"I was sent for the anomaly scan which was booked for the 20th of October anyway. It was there we found out we were having a boy and they confirmed there was no physical reason for Stephen's death."

As she tried to come to terms with her loss, one thing hindered her closure.

"I gave birth, I have his memory box and all his things. I have his pictures and I have held him and we cremated him.

"We had a service for him where family and friends came to pay their respects - but according to the Irish State, he never existed. As a parent, that is incomprehensible.

"Try telling that to my daughters or grandchildren who go to do a family tree in years to come but find no trace of Stephen - even though my daughters held him to say goodbye."

"They were so proud to have a little brother. They hugged him, they kissed him. They know who he is and our Rainbow baby, Olivia, who is 14 months old, will know who her big brother is. "

Caroline has been joined in her campaign by the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Association of Ireland, Feileacain who agree that babies under 24 weeks gestation should be recognised, if born early.

"I've been asking why there is no certificate for Stephen and told that it's just the way it is. I decided with my husband Martin to change this.

"I'm not asking for the criteria of stillborn to change but I want a certificate of life issued to every pregnant woman, after the pregnancy is confirmed by the appropriate personnel, and I want each baby to be recorded with open access, depending on parents wishes, to other family members.

"I want a paper trail from the moment a pregnancy is confirmed and should that pregnancy end with the loss of a little babies life that their parents are treated with compassion with appropriate leave given to reflect the stage of their pregnancy and recognition for their baby.

" According to the Citizens Information if a baby is born weighing more than 500g or more than 24 weeks a mother is entitled to 26 weeks maternity leave.

"There is nothing in place apart from employers compassion for women whose babies are born weighing less than 500g or less than 24weeks.

"When I gave birth to Stephen my body responded accordingly. 4 days after he was born I was ready to breastfeed. How can a woman be expected to return to work based on the current compassionate leave? Same too for fathers. They have experienced a significant loss too.

"Simply put, I had more rights for my child when I was pregnant but had nothing when I gave birth to a baby that was perfectly formed and only died through an e-coli infection."