"Oh, only 10 weeks? That's not a fetus, that's just POC...product of conception." I tried to keep my cool as I replied to the hospital's quality management director. "Look, whatever term you use, I counted 10 perfect fingers and 10 perfect toes. I know it's a baby." She seemed to soften, "oh, you've seen it then?" "Yes, I want my baby back."
We lost our first baby just two days before. I was still suffering the physical and emotional pain of miscarriage, and to top it off, we were grappling with the hospital management to release the tiny baby to us. "It's federal law." The ER doctor told my husband and I while still in the hospital. The baby--we named Branch--would be disposed of as medical waste if not released to a mortuary, which wasn't feasible, as we learned later. The nurse confided later that we were stirring up a debate behind closed doors. "I told them I wouldn't let them keep it, that they should give it to you...but I don't want to get fired."
"It's state law." The risk management coordinator told us after being confronted with proof that no federal regulations prohibited a 10 week old fetus from being released directly to the parents for burial--nine states have fetal burial laws (also called parental grieving rights) in place.
While the hospital was shifting their stance, ours calls to the governor's office (which contacted the attorney general), the California State Cemetary and Funeral Bureau, and Orange County Public Health confirmed that not only was there no state law regarding a baby under 20 weeks gestation, there weren't any county laws either. "Go ahead and sue them" the attorney general's office told us.
"Ok, it's not law, it's just our policy." Ms. Hospital Risk Management told me. They were running out of ideas. "Fine, I'll sign a release of liability today and take my baby home." "We can't do that." At that point, I lost it. I thought being sweet, reasonable and factual would win them over, but now it was clear that they just didn't want to give Branch back to us. "You can't write me a release of liability?? The law is own our side, we have every right sue to you and we WILL win! This child doesn't have a voice anymore, but we, our family, and our friends do, and we will NOT be silent!" I railed at the injustice of our situation, that bureaucracy would try so hard to keep us for mourning the loss of our child.
What several days of research and discussion couldn't do, several minutes of unbridled motherly passion did. Quietly, she told me she would talk to the hospital lawyers and get a release of liability for me.
Branch came home but we are burdened for those who were told they had no right to mourn their unborn child according to their conscience. Doctors, pathologists, hospital administrators, funeral homes, and families, give and are given misinformation because of the silence voice of regulation which protects parental rights to their unborn child. The gap of California law regarding the unborn under 20 weeks gestation needs to be filled and give consistency and clarification to everyone affected by miscarriages.