Thursday, February 21, 2013
How many children do you have?
To my grandmas, my aunties and my fellow bereaved mums. If you look at this spray of orchid, you will see some buds did not reach maturity. We are this orchid plant.
Last evening, my much younger than me boy cousin wrote to me about his late mum.
I knew his mum had a deceased baby. I was in my primary school. Mum came back and told us, 2nd Aunty had a baby, Grand ma asked Mum to dispose of it. My mum found a trishaw man, gave him $20, and he took the dead baby and threw it away like rubbish. Poor Aunty was in the hospital, had no say at all. The baby was to be forgotten. We didn't know if it was a boy or a girl.
This impacted me a lot. When Andrew was dying, and we were discussing his funeral arrangement. I thought of my poor aunty. I wrote about it in my book.
Officialdom has not changed much. This year, we have our census.
'How many babies have you given birth to?' with the only options for answers being
a) number born alive
c) Object to answering this question
This is not allowing woman to include any babies that have been stillborn or died as a result of an early loss. It's like how many children do you have, we only count the surviving ones, the dead ones don't matter.
Question 25 of the 2013 census likely to cause distress
Sands New Zealand is concerned about the distress that is likely to be caused by the wording of
question 25 of the nation’s census form for individuals.
The question asks female respondents to answer the question: “How many babies have you given birth
to?” It then offers three options: Number born alive, none, and ‘object to answering this question’.
These options will likely be viewed as being extremely upsetting by the hundreds of women who, each
year, give birth to a baby who is stillborn.
“Mothers who have had a stillborn baby regularly report distress answering the question, ‘How many
children do you have?’ in social situations,” says Dr Cathy Buntting, Chairperson of Sands New Zealand.
“Now, in the national census, they face the same upsetting predicament. They are asked how many
babies they have given birth to, but there is no room for them to acknowledge their babies who were
born, but who tragically were not born alive.”
Sands New Zealand understands that question 25 relates to the fertility of New Zealand women, and
that this is a statistical concept with social relevance. We also acknowledge that fertility in demographic
terms reflects not the ability to conceive, but the actual bearing of a live child.
Fertility has only been addressed in nine censuses (1911, 1916, 1921, 1945 for Māori only, 1971,
1976, 1981, 1996, and 2006). Sands New Zealand assumes that in the intermittent censuses, fertility
was measured by the use of registered live births against the population total. We endorse a continued
use of this process.
Sands New Zealand also notes that in the 1996 census, 10.6% of the adult female population failed to
answer the question or objected to doing so. We wonder what this level of non-response represents,
and also how meaningful the resulting statistics are?
“A baby’s death is extremely difficult for society to talk about. As a result, parents who have had a
stillborn baby are often disenfranchised in their grief. This feeling is reinforced by the current census,
which completely ignores the hundreds of babies stillborn in New Zealand each year. These babies
might not matter to fertility statistics, but they do and always will matter to the mothers who bore them
and the fathers who miss them!”
Sands New Zealand is a not-for-profit organisation that supports bereaved parents and whānau when a
baby or infant dies, no matter what age or gestation. “We received a large number of complaints from
both mothers and fathers prior to the 2006 census about this issue, and we are again receiving
complaints with this census. Parents just want the opportunity to acknowledge the existence of their
Dr Cathy Buntting
Chairperson, Sands NZ
Phone: 027 313 4558
21 February 2013