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The Ins and Outs of Birth Certificates

by Laura Shanley

The fear of not being able to get a birth certificate keeps some couples from having an unassisted childbirth (UC). This is unfortunate, as in all the years I've been writing about UC, I've never known anyone who has been unable to get one. Yes, sometimes the government makes you jump through some hoops, but in the end they give you that piece of paper. This is because, like it or not, the government wants you to be registered. They like to keep track of their constituents.

Of course, some couples simply choose not to register their children. I considered going this route but ultimately decided against it. The fact is, it's difficult (though not impossible) to live in this society without a birth certificate. A friend of mine has never registered her children. Consequently, she pays higher taxes (she can't deduct them) and has been unable to take them out of the country for long periods of time due to passport problems. We all have our battles to fight and for me, the birth certificate battle just isn't worth it. But, to each her own.

The best thing to do when planning a UC is to check with your local health department. If you are told that you can't get a birth certificate with a UC, ask to speak to a supervisor. It's best to remain calm and friendly, regardless of the attitude of the person you are speaking to. Some people are shocked by the idea of UC and will try to talk you out of it. They may even tell you it's illegal. Over 99% of the time they're wrong.

In some states or countries proof of pregnancy is required. A positive pregnancy test from a clinic usually does the trick, although I've known some people who have provided this proof without ever going to "officialdom." Friends or family can often vouch for the fact that you were indeed pregnant. One woman I know brought her birth tape to the health department as evidence. No one questioned its validity.

Although I don't believe we should fear the "authorities," I do recommend that couples not rush to get a birth certificate after the birth of the baby. If the health department does insist on seeing the child prior to issuing the certificate, it's better they see a fat, healthy, happily nursing, one-month-old than a baby who is fresh out of the womb. Many people assume that newborns are fragile and in need of medical attention in spite of the fact that there's nothing wrong with them.

Here are some statements from women in the UC community. As you will see, the laws vary from state to state (birth certificate information available on the UC board at Parent's Place) and even from county to county. Hopefully their comments will help dispel the myth that obtaining a birth certificate is difficult after a UC. Happy birthing!

"To get our birth certificate we need proof of residency, proof of pregnancy either from a doc or close friend or anyone except the parents, identification, and a statement from the person delivering the child about how much it weighed and all that good stuff. Everything except the identification has to be notarized."

"Well, I haven't had my UC yet, but according to the law and the lady at the b/c office, I only need a form stating that that person was at the birth of (insert baby's name) and the date and time he/she was born. It can be signed either by the doctor, midwife, father or mother. I asked if proof of pregnancy was needed and got a 'no.' But I don't know for certain until we go ahead and try to get one after it has happened."

"I got Jason's birth certificate without proof of pregnancy, but it was a hassle. In Oklahoma, our home state, all you have to do is walk into the health department and fill out a quick form. In Indiana, where we were living when Jason was born, they wanted not proof of pregnancy but written proof of a doctor's exam of me AND the baby postpartum as well as proof of a PKU test being performed (oh, and proof of residency). So we just made sure Jason was born at his granny's house in Oklahoma (wink wink)."

"I called the vital statistics office (Washington state) for information about filing for a birth certificate and, after being told SEVERAL times that the doctor or midwife handles that, I got an answer. (I don't think she wanted to tell me.) If the baby is less than 10 days old, all they need is ID, proof of address, mom's signature and father's (or partner's) witness. If the baby is over 10 days old, they also need a doctor's bill or letter on "official" letterhead. If you ask me, a 9 day old baby looks a lot like a 12 day old baby ; )"

"Regarding your question as to whether anyone had gotten a birth certificate without providing proof of pregnancy, it may be harder to make a list of legal states than you think. Why? Because as an example, a friend of mine and I live in the state of Illinois, but she was required to provide proof of pregnancy, and I was not. I hope this won't mean that you'll have to get the rules for each county in our nation!"

"In CA the only way for a UC to get a birth certificate is to petition the court, swear to the facts of birth, pay $32 and get a court ordered fact of live birth, give them another $19 and they send that and a court order for delayed registration of live birth to the state health department which sends you a certified copy of the registration - a.k.a., a birth certificate. No proof of anything other than your willingness to swear to the facts of birth as you've stated them and your willingness to be held legally accountable and punishable under all federal, state and local laws should you be found to have procured this statement using falsehoods. It does make it go much more smoothly if you provide backup "proof" but I just submitted a photo of me at my baby shower, obviously pregnant, and a copy of the chiropractor bill from when my son was 6 days old and I went in for a post-natal adjustment."

"UC is still legal in Alberta but there have been some rumors that some midwives in particular are wanting to make it illegal for anyone but a doctor or a registered midwife to deliver a baby. I am keeping my eyes open on that one and the first sign of it I will round up some people and fight it with everything I've got. I don't think it would succeed though...I mean, how is one supposed to control something like that? I don't see how they could enforce it. If all else fails we can say 'Oops, didn't make it to the hospital!' It was very easy getting a birth certificate. No one asked any questions and when we registered Sinéad's birth no one blinked an eye when we put Kim's name under 'who delivered the baby.' Though I was half tempted to change that to me, as all he did was catch her. :)"

"In Portugal it is quite simple to get a certificate, even if homebirths are extinct. It's usual to show a document the doctor signs at the hospital and people think it's required by law, but it's not. What is required by law is only the identifications of both parents. I also had to show proof of my home address because the one in the ID was my mother's house (any other legal document or receipt will do)."


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