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Homesingapore'To us, it matters': A couple's fight for their stillborn twins to...

'To us, it matters': A couple's fight for their stillborn twins to be officially named in Singapore

SINGAPORE: After their twins Abigail and Lara were stillborn, all Ms Mandy Too and Mr Aidan Hoy had to remember them by was a document titled “Notification of a Still-Birth”.

On each document were details such as the hospital where they were born, their weight and their parents’ names.

But missing was a detail that the grieving parents had hoped for – their daughters’ names.

Instead, handwritten by hospital staff on the top right-hand corner of the documents were the words “Twin 1” and “Twin 2”.

“It felt wrong that there was no space for their names,” said Ms Too.

“You’re basically saying it doesn’t matter what their names are, it doesn’t matter who they are. They’re dead, who cares, you know?”

The notification documents, issued after Abigail and Lara were stillborn in August 2021, were meant for matters such as funeral arrangements. If Ms Too and Mr Hoy wanted to keep the documents, they had to make a copy for themselves.

“It was so cold. It just felt like okay, they want to know how much your baby weighed, but doesn’t matter who they are. We just want to know how heavy they were when they died,” said Ms Too. “It was so upsetting.”

Parents of newborns now get digital birth and death certificates, which were introduced in May last year as part of the government’s efforts to streamline and digitalise services. 

But parents of stillborn babies get digital stillbirth certificates where the children’s names are not listed.

“Even though they were not officially alive or officially born … we lived with them for eight or nine months and we could see their personalities starting to show,” said Mr Hoy.

“It’s all about affording dignity to their life.”

FOR THE PARENTS

So Ms Too wrote to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), which handles birth and death registration services, hoping she could get the twins’ names included in their stillbirth notification documents.

“I was so desperate for some kind of official recognition,” she said.

Even if she couldn’t get it for her twins, she hoped the authorities would do it for future stillbirths. “Then anyone else who has a stillbirth after us, at least that would help,” Ms Too said.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, which oversees ICA, responded to her saying that names are only registered for children who are born alive, so that they are “identified accordingly in the provision or use of government services throughout their lives”. 

“I got really frustrated … I know you don’t need it, it is not for you to make use of the name. It is just for the parents, for the families, to have something that records their child. Because to us, it matters.”

“IT JUST MEANT A LOT”

Then in early October, Ms Too received an email from ICA informing her that she could apply for a commemorative birth certificate for the twins.

“I really appreciated it … They had no reason to allow me to do it, they had no reason to email me personally to say you can apply for it. So I am very grateful,” said Ms Too.

“To have that official recognition that there was a human life, two human lives, it means a lot to the parents,” added Mr Hoy. “It helps the grieving, it helps the parents.”

The couple immediately applied, and received a digital copy of Abigail’s and Lara’s commemorative birth certificates earlier this month.

“It just meant a lot because it was the first official government document with their names on it. That felt good,” she said.

In response to CNA’s queries, ICA said it started issuing commemorative birth certificates to parents of stillborn children on Oct 1.

Although the certificates are issued by ICA and bear the names of the stillborn children, it is still not an official, legal document.

“The current legal provision in the Registration of Births and Deaths Act 2021 does not provide for the naming of a stillborn child,” ICA said. It added that the Ministry of Home Affairs’ review of the matter is ongoing and details will be announced “in due course”.

Maternity hospitals have been told about the option for commemorative birth certificates so that they can inform bereaved parents. The information is also now available on ICA’s website.

Parents can apply for the certificate within a year of the stillbirth.

“While you’re pregnant – doesn’t matter if you’re 10 weeks pregnant or 32 weeks pregnant or whatever – everyone wants to know the babies’ names,” said Ms Too.

“Once they were born, we had the names and we told everyone … (But) the government doesn’t ask you what their names are, people don’t ask you what their names are. People just want to ask you when’s your next baby coming.”

To remember Abigail and Lara, Ms Too and Mr Hoy have photographs with the twins and star certificates – they were gifted stars named after each of the girls by friends.

Now they have more than just that.

“The consequences of this kind of experience, it lives with people for the rest of their lives,” said Mr Hoy.

“To honour and provide some dignity to this human life which was lost – it’s a very small thing. But it’s a very impactful thing for the families involved.”

Also read:

Men on pregnancy and infant loss: Anger, crying in private and being expected to ‘man up’

Commentary: This is for every mother who has lost a baby
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