Auckland Council has announced it is to waive fees for the cremation of babies under one year of age. Spinoff Parents editor Emily Writes looks at the push for better community support for grieving whānau.
As of July 1 this year, Auckland Council will no longer charge cremation fees for babies under a year old. Manukau-Papakura councillor Daniel Newman, who fought for the change, says he did it because of his "deep sense of compassion for the families who suffer appalling tragedies such as the loss of their babies".
"I am a councillor from the South [Auckland], but more importantly I have a profound sense of empathy with families in the South."
At around $14,000 a year, the loss of fees for such cremations won't have huge financial implications for Auckland Council. Over the past 12 months there were 59 cremations of babies under a year in age at Manukau cemetery, 19 at North Shore cemetery, and 4 at Waikumete. The fee for each cremation was $170.
According to Mr Newman, "there should be no charge to grieving parents – the wider community should wear i". He says he’d also like to waive the cost of burial plots and associated burial fees for babies, but "it's something for the next Annual Plan debate".
"I don't have a family myself. But I have a profound sense of empathy with families and whānau that I represent. It's a case of doing the right thing because it's the right thing to do."
President of the Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand Gary Taylor welcomes the move, saying it's in keeping with the organisation's compassionate approach to cremation.
"We don't want to put anything in anybody's way that prevents them from having a meaningful farewell for their loved one. Whether that's a child or a stillborn baby or a grown adult, there shouldn't be anything that's in their way in allowing them to have a funeral service.
"It's quite often the most vulnerable people in our society that may be looking to cremate stillborns or young children and anything that any of us can do to make that easier we should be looking at and encouraging."
But it seems not all councils feel the same. While, Nelson City Council doesn't charge for the cremation of stillborn and newborn babies, Hamilton City Council charges a 'cost-recovery fee' of $125. When asked if Hamilton was looking at changing this, a spokesperson told The Spinoff Parents: "Fees and charges for any of our cemetery or cremation services are set through the Council's Annual Plan and 10-Year Plan process. At present there are no plans to implement a fee waiver of this kind.' Wellington City Council also charges, and has no plans to waive the fee at this stage. Their current cremation costs are lower than Hamilton: $67.00 for stillborn babies and $73 for babies under the age of one.
What to do if you lose your baby during pregnancy or at birth
A baby dying is an unimaginable loss; few people dare to even think about the possibility. There are legal requirements around late-term pregnancy loss and infant loss.
The Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand (FDANZ) outlines what the legal requirements are for burials and cremation of a baby:
"If your baby was born when you were 20 weeks pregnant or more, or weighed at least 400 grams, or if he or she took a breath after the birth, you are legally required to have him or her cremated or buried in a cemetery.
In some cemeteries, you can choose to have your baby buried in a place set aside for children. It may be possible to have your baby buried in a plot that allows space for another burial later. If your baby is cremated you can keep the ashes at home, scatter them somewhere special, or put them in the place set aside for children's ashes at the cemetery.
If your baby is born before you were 20 weeks pregnant they can also be cremated or buried. If your baby was younger than 20 weeks in utero, you can choose to bury them wherever you wish. FDANZ says: "Some families choose a place at home under a tree, or under a large potted plant which can be taken with you if you move."
WINZ has a means-tested Funeral Grant that may help to cover funeral expenses if your baby has died after you have been pregnant for 20 weeks or more, if they weigh 400 grams or more at birth, or if they take a breath at the time of birth. Your funeral director will help you apply for this grant.
Grieving for your baby
Funeral Directors Association New Zealand suggests spending as much time with your baby as you can before burial or cremation.
"Small babies who have just been born are not normally embalmed, and if your baby is very tiny you can simply wrap him or her in a blanket. Parents often find this time with their baby very comforting because it gives them an opportunity to hold and care for their little one and to say goodbye."
"If you have older children, encourage them to see the baby. Talk to them beforehand about what to expect, and offer them the chance to cuddle their brother or sister if they would like to."
Contact an organisation like SANDS New Zealand. SANDS NZ are a voluntary, parent-run, non-profit organisation set up to support parents and families who have experienced the death of a baby at any stage during pregnancy, as a baby or infant. SANDS has a heap of resources. In the immediate aftermath of a death they suggest:
"We encourage you to slow down. There is no need to make hurried decisions and you may change your mind about what you decide to do today. Tomorrow you may feel very differently, so please do not feel any need to rush."
When asked if other councils should follow the lead of Auckland and Nelson, Councillor Newman said he hoped all would find "compassion in their hearts".
Ultimately, one less cost can only be helpful to grieving families facing a terrible loss, and surely most in the community would support this initiative.
Emily Writes is parents editor at The Spinoff