One of the shocking things that we were told when I gave birth to my son Brannan, who was stillborn at 38 weeks, was that we wouldn’t receive a birth certificate for him. I asked myself, “But didn’t I just give birth to my son?”
Birth Certificates are not issued for a stillbirth. However, there are some states in the United States where legislation has passed, that do issue a “Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth”.
We left the hospital with information on how we could go to our state’s Vital Records and apply and pay for a “certificate” for our son. I was relieved to find that my state (Utah) was one of the states that issues a Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth, rather than a Certificate of Stillbirth or just a Certificate of Fetal Death.
The debate around “Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth”
Joanne Cacciatore gave birth to her daughter, Cheyenne, who was stillborn in 1994, but she only received a Fetal Death Certificate. When she called her state’s Vital Records to request a birth certificate, they said to her, “You didn’t have a baby. You had a fetus and the fetus died.”
Because of this experience, Joanne created the MISS Foundation [source], which advocates for parents who have experienced the loss of a child and is the originator of the MISSing Angels Bill legislation. Many states in the United States before this legislation issued either a “Fetal Death Certificate” or just a “Certificate of Stillbirth”, which the Foundation claims doesn’t acknowledge that a mother actually gave birth to her stillborn child. The MISS Foundation helps parents bring legislation to their state, so that states have the option to issue a “Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth.” The purpose of having this certificate is to:
- Recognize that the process and cost of pregnancy, labor, and birth are the same for a live born and still born,
- Be consistent with the law. Each state law requires that the family bury or cremate the body of their stillborn child, but doesn’t acknowledge that this child ever existed, and
- Give dignity, validation, and closure to women who have to endure the pain of both the death and birth of their children.
States that issue Certificates of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth
According to the MISSing Angels Bill resource website [source], parents of a child who was stillborn (as outlined by the CDC per each state’s reporting guidelines [source]), can request a Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth in the following states. There are states that will issue a Certificate of Stillbirth instead, but which the M.I.S.S. Foundation argues, though subtle, is not the same thing. The Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth is viewed as a BIRTH certificate.
There is also information on which states do not have this legislation in place.
Some states also allow parents to receive this specific certificate retroactively, so they can request one for stillbirths that occurred years ago.
|States where you can get a “Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth”|
**First state to enact this legislation
|States with no legislation|
Note: (CoS) – these states issue a Certificate of Stillbirth
*These states have pending bills as of November 2019
District of Columbia
How to get a Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth for my child in my state
We wanted to receive our son’s certificate the same day, so we went to our state’s Vital Records office, since our state (Utah) allowed for in-person requests. There I completed a form with the information about our child, showed my ID, and payed a fee. Our wait time was about 30 minutes, before we received our son’s Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth.
For those states that issue a Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth, you will need to fulfill specific requirements in order to receive the official state-issued document. Once again, this commemorative document is optional and parents do not need to get one for their child.
A majority of states will require the following information:
- Completion of a form, including, but not limited to, the applicant’s name and contact information, applicant’s relationship to the child, full name of the child, sex of child, mother’s name, father’s name, hospital or location of stillbirth, and delivery date.
- A valid government-issued picture ID or a copy of valid picture ID of the person completing the application
- A fee for each certificate issued
Some states allow you to request certificates in person at the Vital Records office, while other states do not. You are also able to request a Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth by mail or through an online system (Arizona). You will need to print out and complete the form and mail it, along with the applicable fee and a copy of ID for the person completing the application. The certificate will then be mailed to you.
Please note that some states, such as Utah and Florida, have a form specifically for a Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth, while other states, such as Pennsylvania, require you fill out a different type of form (e.g. Application of Death Certificate) and indicate somewhere on that form that you are requesting a Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth. Other states, such as Virginia or Alabama, have no form and you will need to submit a written request with the required information to the Office of Vital Records or applicable government office. Check your state’s requirements.
Stillbirth and Social Security Numbers and Tax Exemptions/Tax Deductions
Despite having a Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth, babies that are stillborn do not qualify to receive a Social Security Number. According to the IRS, you cannot claim a stillborn child as a dependent [source]. which generally means that you cannot claim a tax exemption or deduction for that child.
However, there are some states that have legislation in place to provide some financial relief to offset the unanticipated costs associated with the birth of stillborn baby. The following four states have some sort tax deduction or tax credit for stillbirth families:
- Minnesota: Tax credit [legislative source]
- North Dakota: Tax deduction [legislative source]
- Missouri: Tax deduction [legislative source]
- Arizona: Tax deduction [legislative source]
Is there a death certificate for a stillborn? Yes, a Fetal Death Certificate is issued. Each state has their own reporting guidelines of fetal death and stillbirth. These state-issued definitions are largely based on weeks of gestation and/or the weight of the fetus [source]. A majority of states will prepare a Fetal Death Certificate for babies who are 20 weeks gestational age.
Does a stillborn child need to be buried or cremated? Each state has some sort of requirement that requires the disposal of the remains of a stillborn child. Many parents opt for burial or cremation, and the hospital in which the baby was born can help guide the parents with the options.
Dr. Joanne Cacciatore is the founder of the MISS Foundation and professor at Arizona State University, where her research, teaching, and speaking focuses on traumatic death, specifically child death. Here are two books that she has written or contributed to:
- Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief
- They Were Still Born: Personal Stories about Stillbirth
“When we love deeply, we mourn deeply; extraordinary grief is an expression of extraordinary love. Grief and love mirror each other; one is not possible without the other.”Joanne Cacciatore from Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief