Digital Dying recently wrote about a southern Louisiana reporter named John Desantis, “the type of old-school, wild-haired, chain-smoking keeps-a-police-scanner-in-his-car-which-also-serves-as-an-office journalist that Hollywood directors used to make movies about.”
Well, the other week Desantis sent a message our way concerning a very moving story he was working on regarding the burial of still-born babies. “It is amazing to me how many there are,” Desantis wrote, “often in heartbreaking circumstances.”
His story follows the case of a mother in Lafourche Parish who did not know she was pregnant and gave birth to a still-born infant, it was 38 weeks into her pregnancy. The mother did not give the infant a name, and “did not wish to hold or see the child, leaving the hospital as soon as possible,” wrote Desantis. “And so according to protocols and the law, the infant became the responsibility of Lafourche Parish Coroner John King.”
It is a harrowing situation, but Desantis’s story is a positive one, as he highlights a local organization that has stepped in to help. Compassionate Burials for Indigent Babies provides burials for babies that have been abandoned, and have nobody to mourn them or provide for a dignified burial.
“I got involved because when I was 30-years-old I had a miscarriage,” founder Lise Naccari explained to Desantis. “I was five months pregnant and I lost my baby and it was a very traumatic thing for me. So I can understand women who have this happen to them. I could not imagine what it would be like if you didn’t have enough money to bury your baby. It is grievous. When people need help after the death of a baby they get a free funeral with no questions asked. We have had situations as well where a baby was murdered and there was no mom, or situations where the mom had no interest in a burial. We have the privilege of being able to bury these babies and when they need it we will give them a name.”
Still-births, according to the World Health Organization result from maternal infections (from malaria, syphilis and HIV), maternal disorders (especially hypertension obesity and diabetes), and child birth complications, among numerous other factors. And they are not just an issue in the US, they occur worldwide. “In 2015 there were 2.6 million stillbirths globally, with more than 7178 deaths a day,” the World Health Organization reports. “The majority of these deaths occurred in developing countries.”
Unfortunately it appears that oftentimes these babies are not given proper burials. “How you wish to handle your baby’s memorial, including who you wish to invite and what type of service you feel appropriate, can involve making difficult choices,” explains a blogpost on Livestrong.com. “However, this painful process helps give you much-needed closure.”
But in many nations, local or national laws actively prevent the burial of still-born babies. One notorious example is South Africa. In a 2016 article, reporter Graeme Hosken explained that in South Africa a still-born baby born at 26 weeks is regarded as medical waste, and must be “disposed of in medical waste bags and incinerated.”
Hosken’s article tracked a group of doctors who were defying the law, which they described as “grossly inhumane.” One Pretoria mother, Felicia Van Niekerk, lost a baby she had named Deon, and seven years later lost her second son, Adriaan, who died at 23 weeks. “The nurses were kind but insistent,” she said. “He had to be disposed of. They said he was not living, but he had hair. You could see his heart beat in the scans.”
Thanks to courageous care-providers, Van Niekerk was able to receive some solace. “With nurses refusing to issue a birth or death certificate, her gynaecologist acted and signed his death certificate, giving her the permission needed to have Adriaan’s death recorded and to give him a dignified burial,” Hosken reported. “Adriaan and Deon are buried next to each other. It is a place where the Van Niekerk family can go, a place that gives them the closure the state denied them.”
“As a parent you need this,” added Van Niekerk. “You need it to be able to say goodbye to your baby. How do you live with yourself when you are prevented from saying goodbye to your child?”
Worldwide, the number of stillbirths has declined by 19.4 percent between 2000 and 2015, reports the World Health Organization. The organization has stressed the importance of ending these deaths, which are often preventable. Their Every Newborn Action Plan was launched in 2014, and sets a global target to reduce stillbirth rates to ten for every 1000 births by 2035. The current rate is about 18 stillbirths for every 1,000 births.
Back in southern Louisiana, Lise Naccari explained to local reporter John Desantis that in preparation of burial she dresses the still-born babies in wedding dresses that are donated to her organization. She also gives them a name—the baby in the story Desantis reported was called “Precious.”
Another good read: Angel Gowns Offer Comfort to Grieving Families