A couple’s quest to get their stillborn babies’ names on record in Singapore
Just months into her pregnancy, Ms Mandy Too and her husband, Mr Aidan Hoy, had already known what they would name their twins.
The older sister would be Abigail, and the younger one, Lara.
The two names had emerged as the favourites of the couple, who had been compiling a list of names since they found out in the second trimester that they were expecting girls.
“When we had ultrasounds, they were always referring to Twin A and Twin B, and because Abigail starts with A, we kind of always knew twin A would be Abigail,” said Ms Too.
“Abigail was more active, always moving around and hiding, and Lara was always very compliant and straightforward to measure. So we jokingly called Abigail the troublemaker.”
Abigail means “a father’s joy”, and Lara means “protector”. They were beautiful names and it was an easy choice, said Ms Too.
Then, at 32 weeks old, the twins stopped moving in their mother’s womb, just two days after the regular scans and checks at the obstetrician’s clinic.
It turned out their hearts had stopped beating, and Abigail and Lara were stillborn on Aug 26, 2021.
As they were reeling from the heartbreaking loss, Ms Too and Mr Hoy had to handle the logistics of registering the stillbirths.
That is when they realised that instead of a birth certificate, they would get a notification of a stillbirth, which did not have a field for parents to fill in their dead child’s name.
“They asked for mother’s name, father’s name, time of death and birth, babies’ weight, birth order and everything – just not the babies’ names,” said Ms Too, recalling the difficult time.
“Even though they were not born alive, I carried them for 32 weeks, and I gave birth to them, and we held them, and we saw them, and they were fully perfect babies. To not be given that acknowledgement was really difficult.”
So the couple welcomes the recently proposed changes to existing law to allow parents to register the name of their stillborn child, under a new Bill introduced in Parliament on Tuesday.
The fact that people had referred to her babies by their names had helped in her grieving process, and she feels some bereaved parents will benefit from the change in the law.
But Ms Too also said that not all parents may want to name their stillborn children, so it should not be made compulsory.
The new Bill will introduce new provisions in the Registration of Births and Deaths Act 2021 to enable parents to officially register a name for their child within a year of the stillbirth.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had said the system changes required for this to happen may be ready in about two years’ time.
Ms Too, who works at a real estate consultancy, said that Singapore has made a lot of progress in this area, such as in recognising stillborn children when determining government-paid leave and benefits like maternity leave.
When she gave birth to her daughter Josie in December 2022, the baby was counted as her third child, after Abigail and Lara.
“When it happened to us, we found that a lot of things could have helped make the terrible situation less terrible. One of the things is if our babies were given the respect and recognition as other babies, if they were named and addressed as babies,” she added.
After the loss of Abigail and Lara in August 2021, Ms Too had written to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), as well as to Minister of State for Home Affairs Sun Xueling and Sengkang GRC MP Jamus Lim, who had spoken about their work in support of parents of stillborn children in the past. Associate Professor Lim ended up filing a parliamentary question about the matter in September 2022.
In a written response, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam explained that the first names of stillborn children, like in abortions, were not required for the Government to administer public policies and programmes.
Another reason was so that the registration process can be fully automated, to alleviate any administrative burden for the parents while they may still be grieving, he had said.
At that time, Mr Shanmugam had said that his ministry would review the feasibility of allowing parents to include their stillborn children’s names in official documents.
Ms Too started an online petition to push for this in April, after meeting other parents of stillborn children through bereavement groups.
She received an e-mail from ICA in October, informing her that she could apply for commemorative certificates for Abigail and Lara with their names.
Ms Too did so right away, and their commemorative certificates were the first to be issued in Singapore for stillborn children, she said.
Since Oct 1, ICA has been issuing these commemorative certificates. As at Nov 3, seven such certificates have been issued.
MHA said this certificate is not an official document, but for “remembrance purposes”, until the new provision to register the stillborn child’s name is in operation.
Ms Too said: “The Government recognising that losing a stillborn child is like the loss of any other child by giving us the option to apply for the commemorative certificate is quite validating. I think a lot of other bereaved parents will welcome it.”