"He was born. I kissed his perfect little face. Up until the birth, there was a heartbeat. How can they not recognize that?" asked Gehris. "A Certificate of Fetal Death meant, and I quote, 'Your son never existed.' How can the state recognize my son's death without giving recognition to his life?"
Gehris, who still longs for her son, has joined the MISS (Mothers In Sympathy and Support) Foundation in sponsoring the MISSing Angels Bill. The legislation, which requires the issuance of a Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth - thereby validating and legitimizing the birth and death of the child - has passed in 13 states, but not in California.
Gehris has launched a petition drive to support passage of the MISSing Angels Bill in California.
"Today is a better time. Mothers have rights," Gehris said. "Before, they wouldn't even let you know if you had a boy or a girl. You couldn't even hold them."
"My son Josh is very recognized in our family. We celebrate his birthdays, we go out to dinner with my family," said Gehris. "Friends and relatives sometimes write a check out in his memory. We donate it to the Lucille Packard Institute of Health neonatal intensive care unit in Palo Alto. My 13-year-old nephew remembers Josh and is proud to have a cousin that is an angel.
"I have women coming up to me saying, 'You know, it's been 30 years ago that my baby died, and I am still waiting for her birth certificate.' So there's really no reason not to issue the certificate (of birth resulting in stillbirth). It helps put closure for the families. At least, now we can grieve. Hopefully, the issuance of a birth certificate is next."
Stillbirths occur in nearly one in 200 pregnancies - a total of 25,000 to 39,000 stillbirths annually in the United States. Stillbirth takes the lives of more infants than all other causes of deaths combined.
Stillbirth is defined as when a baby dies in the mother's womb at or after 20 weeks of gestation, which is when a fetus is considered to be a viable life.
"The medical profession would like to maintain the fiction that our babies weren't babies but merely fetuses. But that fantasy fades in the light of reality when one considers that our stillborn babies, most of them viable, could have survived had they been born just days earlier," said National Stillbirth Society founder and stillbirth father Richard K. Olsen on www.stillnomore.org.
Many mothers with stillborn babies find support and strength in each other. Some compose their own makeshift "Affirmation of Life Certificates." Others craft memory boxes of the baby's gifts, clothes and pictures.
Gehris encourages pregnant mothers to trust their intuition and to seek a doctor they are comfortable with. "You hired that doctor; you can fire him. You are the boss of you. You know your body best," she said.
The causes of stillbirth are still largely unknown but some studies indicate it may be due to cord compression during maternal sleep. Autopsies and procedures are also not yet standardized nor shared, leaving many parents confused and lost.
"My son was here for a reason. He made it known to me, and I want to make it known to the world. He made a decision to help others, and I am very proud of him," said Gehris.
Her petition is at www.petitiononline.com/4UJosh/petition.html For more information, visit www.missfoundation.org.