The dead baby was described in one word: anencephalic.
I was relatively new as a birth registrar, but had been on the job long enough to know that the baby had been born without a brain. I don’t usually get the reports of stillbirths; my supervisor, Marty, deals with that. But in this case, the mother had given birth to twin boys. Twin A was normal, which meant I had to see her to get information for that twin’s birth certificate. I grabbed my clipboard and went up to the sixth floor. She was in a private room. I knocked, entered, and identified myself. Her eyes were red; used tissues lay scattered across the bed.
I handed her a form. “For the baby’s birth certificate.”
“I need two,” she said. “I had twins.” She tried to smile.
In cases like this, you don’t argue and you don’t tell the mother that what she’ll receive is a death certificate.
Three weeks later she came to my office, a confined space that had formerly been a storage closet. Her tired eyes were still red. I remembered her right away.
She held onto my desk to keep upright. I cleared a box of birth certificate forms from the spare chair and asked how I could help.
She said she had received the birth certificate for Jonah (Twin A) and only a death certificate for Joshua (Twin B).
I asked whether there was a problem with the information.
“No, not with the information,” she said. “But I want to know where Joshua is buried. The certificate doesn’t say.”
I said I didn’t know because my supervisor handles burials and she should talk to him. She said she had and he sent her to me. I asked what kind of burial she had requested: Private or City.
She said City, and Marty had assured her that the remains would be respectfully treated. But she had to know where the grave was so she could put up a headstone, visit it and bring flowers, take care of it. I moved the box of tissues closer to her.
City burial means potter’s field, which, in New York, is a rocky mound of earth in Long Island Sound where the body is put into a nameless hole in the ground.
I said I wished I could help, but my supervisor had that information; he must have misunderstood what she wanted. I took her back to Marty and told him to explain it.