In 1979, Amanda Peterson's sister was stillborn. Peterson was only 2 years old at the time, but her mother later told her about the trauma.
"When my mom went through her stillbirth, she got to hold my sister, Melinda, for maybe 10 or 15 minutes, and then they took her away and sent my mom home," said Peterson, 26, of Lawrence.
A year earlier, in 1978, Pat Flynn's first child was stillborn.
"This was something women back then weren't ever allowed to grieve over," said Flynn, a Kansas City, Mo., resident who works in Johnson County.
While some hospitals have since improved how they respond to the needs of mothers of stillborn infants, more needs to be done, according to Flynn and Peterson. More research is needed to find out what causes stillbirth and most states, including Kansas, need to do more to officially recognize a stillborn as more than a death statistic, they said.
That is why Flynn and Peterson support a nationwide effort to get "Missing Angels" legislation passed in all 50 states. Flynn recently was named director of the National Stillbirth Society and is coordinator of the effort in Kansas and Missouri.
Nearly 70 Kansans and thousands of other people across the country have electronically signed an online petition to be used to sway state legislators to pass Missing Angels legislation.
Such a bill would require states to issue a "certificate of birth resulting in stillbirth." Currently in Kansas and nearly 40 other states, only a death certificate is issued for a stillborn child, and many times there is no name attached to it. In Kansas, at the mother's request, a "certificate of stillbirth" is issued, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
Moreover, Missing Angels supporters want states to keep a separate set of statistics detailing the number of stillbirths that occur each year. In Kansas, for example, stillbirths are lumped into a single statistic representing all types of fetal deaths.
A stillbirth occurs after a mother carries a baby to full term, and is identified as sudden antenatal death syndrome, or SADS. There are about 26,000 SADS cases per year in the United States. Miscarriages occur at an earlier stage of the pregnancy.
In 11 states
Proponents of the legislation hope having such laws in all 50 states will provide a protocol to spur federal funding that will lead to more research into the causes of stillbirths. Whether that happens remains to be seen, according to Richard Olsen, an Arizona man who founded the Missing Angels movement.
Olsen, whose wife experienced a stillbirth a few years ago, has been pushing the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to provide more funding incentives for research. So far, the institute has done little, he said in a recent telephone interview.
But the legislation also helps mothers of stillborn infants get acceptance for carrying a baby to full term, Olsen said.
"She has felt it kick; she has seen the ultrasound scan; she probably has bought clothes and furniture for it," Olsen said.
Missing Angels bills have passed in 11 states, Olsen said.
"Stillbirths are kind of treated like SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) were a decade ago," Flynn said. "It's just now starting to come to light."
Flynn has just started her campaign to get a bill passed in Kansas. She sent e-mails to a few legislators before the current legislative session but didn't receive any replies. She now is preparing information packets to be sent to them.
Peterson said her mother still doesn't know what caused the stillbirth. That mystery is now a concern for Peterson, who wonders whether the same thing could happen to her when she has children.
"All I can do is take care of myself and my child and let God take care of the rest," she said.
About three years ago Peterson's aunt also experienced a stillbirth. Hospital workers left the baby with the mother longer than just a few minutes and allowed her stay in the hospital a few extra days, Peterson said.
"She got to have that opportunity to hold her (baby) and bond with it and say good-bye properly instead of the 15 minutes my mother got, and then nothing," Peterson said.
Peterson's aunt's experience also seemed to allow Peterson's mother a chance to reflect more positively on her stillborn baby.
"She bought things in Melinda's honor, and I never saw that before," Peterson said.