Filing for a Birth Certificate Shouldn’t Be Intimidating
Though there are many questions and hurdles to face when contemplating (or planning) to have an unassisted birth, one that stands out as being especially daunting really shouldn’t be. That is: filing for your child’s birth certificate. For some reason this is one part of the process that can cause real fear, and a desire to push the task aside and not think about it until some later date… Out of sight, out of mind, right? Truthfully facing this challenge head on will create a much smoother path for you to walk than waiting until “having waited too long” creates some real challenges and headaches.
(At the bottom of this post I’ve linked a copy of the paperwork I had to file for my second daughter’s birth. You may want to take a look at it as an example of what you might have to fill out.)
So far my only unassisted birthing and registering experiences have been in Colorado. Though other states have their own processes I believe they are similar enough that my story may be a guide and a help to you even if you are in another state (or possibly another country). That being said, my two unassisted births were in different counties, and I had a different experience for each one.
Teller County, Colorado
My daughter Keziah was our first home birth without a midwife or any medical person present. At around the 32nd week of pregnancy I started thinking about getting my ducks in a row regarding birth certificates registering her birth. My first call was to the Vital Statistics Office in our county. (It took me a while to figure out WHO to call, but after that bit of minimal research I determined that they were the correct office to contact.) It was very interesting, but they had to put me on hold a few times, and seemed unsure who to have me talk with at first! Not because they had a problem with what I was doing, but rather they hadn’t dealt with this request and didn’t know?!
Finally I was transferred to a lady who would help me, I’ll call her Jennifer. After explaining that I was going to have a baby in a couple of months, and I needed to know what paperwork I would need to gather to submit her information for a birth certificate. Jennifer first tried to explain that my midwife or doctor would file for me. She was surprised, but not put off, when I told her I didn’t have a midwife and wouldn’t be going to the doctor, and that’s why I knew I needed to fill out the paperwork myself.
Apparently the midwives and hospitals have a login to some state wide software in which they file the paperwork for newborn babies. Obviously they were not going to give ME access to submit through that portal… And Jennifer had never handled my request before. She asked for my name and phone number so she could call me back, and though it made me slightly nervous at the time to do so, I complied.
A few days later Jennifer called me with more information. She’d called Denver (the state capital, where new birth registration is sent anyway) and found out that in the situation a birth occurs outside of a hospital (no doctor), and without any medical professionals present(no midwife), it is the county’s responsibility to collect the necessary information and submit it. I’m not entirely sure this is the same in every state, but at least in Colorado it is at the county level that unassisted births are registered.
It’s important to note here that no other situation requires the county to register a birth. Jennifer had never gotten my type of request before because hospital and midwife attended births automatically skip the county level. They are registered with the state through that aforementioned software portal, and never cross the desk of Vital Statistics in mose cases. So keep in mind, some of the confusion and frustration we face in registering our children is simply because it is rare.
I just want to take a minute here and ask, “Do you feel nervous about the prospect of filing for your baby’s birth certificate?” People have lots of reasons for being nervous. Simply being shy and not liking to talk to strangers makes the process a hurdle! Wondering if you’re going to do or say something wrong, and fearing the unknown consequences is an equal reason to be nervous. I personally was more in the second camp fearing the unknown.
There are of course stories online about worst-case-scenarios when Child Protective Services are called on unsuspecting families for bogus reasons. That fear is an oft-repeated one in the unassisted birth rhetoric through blogs and forums. Fear. This fear of the unknown, or of a call to CPS, is often enough to stop us in our tracks and keep us from moving forward. Sometimes just recognizing what the fear is is enough to take it’s power away. That’s also why I’m writing this account of my experience. Hearing or reading another persons experience is sometimes like roleplaying, and it’s enough to give you the courage to step out and try for yourself.
By not preparing in advance and having your documents in order, you may find you’ve passed the deadline.
Keziah’s birth was in Teller County and their guidelines state that the parents have ten days after the child’s birth to file. This isn’t necessarily a hardship if there are no holidays, if you have your paperwork ready, and the mother is feeling well enough to travel to the courthouse within that time. (Our county is quite large, and the courthouse was a 40 minute drive away).
My second unassisted birth with our daughter Lydia was in El Paso County, and they give parents one year to file!!! Can you believe there’s such a vast difference in requirements?! And the two counties are next to each other. IT IS WORTH finding out the requirements in your county early.
So what requirements are there? What paperwork do you need to get in order to file for the birth? Glad you asked. The easy or cop-out answer is “they vary by state and county.” I find it more helpful to give more concrete answers with the note that it may be slightly different (and potentially vary different?? I don’t know!) for you.
Both counties in Colorado had the same three “proofs” for parents to provide.
- Proof of Pregnancy
- Live Birth
Okay, but what does that mean???
The state wants to be sure you were actually the parent of the child you are trying to register. AND of course that there is a real child involved. Can you imagine someone registering a baby every month for a couple of years? I have no idea why anyone would want to have fake children, but there are people out there who have their reasons for filing fake people. This proof is most likely to prevent such things from happening.
Teller County gave several options for how I would give them proof of my pregnancy. One was to have a pregnancy test done from an official source, and turn in the paperwork. An example would be the County Health Department does a blood test (costs me $25). I was miffed that I would have to pay extra money to PROVE I was pregnant at 32 weeks. It seemed ridiculous.
Another option was to go to a crisis pregnancy clinic and get them to print me off a proof. HOWEVER… I was less than amused to find out the one in our town refuses to do pregnancy tests on women past 24 weeks gestation. Huh?! That would have been free for me, but they weren’t interested in helping me. They cited that “Urine pregnancy tests don’t read positive after you’re further along because the levels of hcg decline during pregnancy.” Ummmmmm, I took a pregnancy test at my house that day and it was definitely, obviously positive. But still, no dice. The clinic near me wouldn’t help. Some people may have luck with this route.
Proof of Pregnancy might mean getting someone who knows you to go with you to a bank where there is a Notary Public, write up an Affidavit (official document) that says “I know that [your-name] was pregnant from approximately X-month to X-month because she announced her pregnancy at work, and then took maternity leave on X-date.” or whatever… YOU have to write up the wording, and hope they accept it because they might want certain wording in the document – like mother’s name, dates, whatever they want… And then get it notarized to prove the identity of the person verifying for you. This could take some time and be stressful to get taken care of after the birth.
My option, and this is what I used, was a “doctor’s notes, stating pregnancy.” Well, I wasn’t seeing an obgyn, or any other kind of doctor… But decided to go to a chiropractor in my town, and asked him to make certain he mentioned that I was pregnant (OBVIOUS at this point) in his notes. Then I asked him/his receptionist for a copy of the notes. They printed off a copy, and I was good to go!**
My chiropractor’s notes *did* cause some questions when filing. However, in his office he keeps digital notes, and the printout looked pretty darn official. We have a new chiropractor who doesn’t keep digital notes. I’m not sure how he’d “give me a copy of his notes.” Since the printout I got from the first chiropractor was *exactly* the same document that would be submitted to insurance for a claim, I think they were easier for Vital Statistics to accept as “Physician’s notes.” Anyway… Just thought I should be clear with that.
Oh, and in the paperwork for filing, Vital Statistics gave specific instructions in our “home birth packet” for what proofs would be accepted and which would not. Teller County specifically stated that they could NOT use ultrasound pictures, or photos, or video as proof of pregnancy. I have seen other counties and states packets which specifically state that an ultrasound picture with the mother’s name, and date visible WOULD be accepted.
The state wants to be sure you were actually a resident at the time of the birth. I am not exactly sure what they would do if you gave birth in a different county than the one you live in. I’d love to hear stories if you have one to tell, and I’d be able to update this section.
In Teller County we were given choices for proving residency as well. Unfortunately it was also tricky for me to prove residency. The main choice was to have a utility bill with our address, the mother’s name, in the month of the delivery. Well… My husband had all the bills under his name. I didn’t get on top of having my name added to our bills soon enough. Most of them required my husband to call in and make the change, and he worked during their hours of operations. I honestly don’t remember the other options… We ended up using a copy of our utility bill, a copy of our marriage license proving that I was married to the person on the utility bill, and a copy of both of our drivers licenses with the address listed on both of them. Whew! A bit overkill, but it worked.
3) Live Birth
The state wants to be sure your baby was actually born alive in order to give a birth certificate and assign a social security number. I’m not certain what the process is should, heaven forbid, your child be born no longer living. There may be some paperwork if you want to pursue it, such as a death certificate… Having never gone through this myself I am woefully ignorant. But this may be something to look into. I believe somewhere after 20 weeks gestation a baby that dies in utero is considered a stillbirth, and there may be a death certificate option.
To prove live birth, one choice is to submit the child’s doctor records from their first visit. We weren’t taking our baby for any doctor’s visits, so that didn’t work for us. Immunization record was another option. We decided not to have our child immunized, so that wasn’t going to work. A third choice, our choice, was a copy of a baby dedication from the church. Bingo! That’s what we did.
I contacted our church office a few weeks before the birth and let them know our desire/need for that sheet of paper. They were a bit confused at first because they do baby dedications a few times a year and didn’t have any scheduled for the month I was going to birth. But once I explained that I didn’t need a public cerimony, just a certificate with the pastor’s signature on it and the baby’s full name and our names, they were happy to help.
We did run into a bit of a snafu because we brought the baby to church at 2 days old (Wow, I can’t believe we did that!), got the paper, the pastor signed, we signed, and we left… Then realized we forgot to have it notarized! Our church office has a notary, and she was present for the signing, but we forgot to mention the document needed notarizing. Thankfully we went back and had that added before we tried taking the paper to the courthouse. Oops!
Teller County, the day of filing
It’s worth mentioning that the first birth we had worked extensively with Jennifer. She was a delight to meet in person and file the paperwork with. She personally called the State Capital office to ask clarifying questions about how to fill out the documents, helped us with changes, and stayed on the phone with them to make sure we did everything perfectly. We walked out that day confident that none of our documents would be rejected.
El Paso County, Colorado
My daughter Lydia was born two years later, the next county over. The proofs were the same: Pregnancy, Residency, Live Birth. But the options for fulfilling those documents were slightly different. With my my second daughter we used a Chiropractor’s note from before the birth for Pregnancy. Utility Bill for Residency. Then I took the baby to the Chiropractor at 3 days old to get her adjusted, and get notes from *her* visit for Live Birth (instead of using the church’s baby dedication).
Preparing to file
The second experience was not nearly as pleasant. The lady I spoke with in El Paso, I’ll call her Kate, appeared not to be happy with my efforts. From the time I called asking for a home birth packet a few weeks before the birth, to the time we walked in and filed, I got a very stiff response from her. Kate sent me the packet when I requested it, but wanted to fax it to me. I don’t have a fax machine. I requested it be sent via postal mail or e-mail. She wouldn’t e-mail it. Okay, fine.
When I gave birth I called to verify documents would be accepted. Kate tried to tell me that the chiropractor would have to get his notes notarized to be valid. What?! He’s a licensed, practicing medical professional. She pressed. I pushed back (and cried. C’mon. I’m only a few days postpartum. Don’t make life this hard!).
Setting up an appointment
Then I was told that I needed to come in and submit my documents, then make an appointment to do the actual filing. What?! No. We were going once, and filing. Why the extra appointment? Kate wanted to look over the documents and make sure we had everything in order, probably expecting us NOT to have everything the first time.
No thank you. I’m not leaving the house multiple times just to verify documents. In the end I scanned them in and e-mailed them to her. (Suddenly Kate was willing to use e-mail?) She said everything looked in order, and we set up our “appointment.” My mother came with me to file, partly to keep the kids busy, partly hold the baby, and partly as moral support. Because she has a lovely calm demeanor, she’s wonderful in tense situations. We arrived 45 minutes early, expecting to wait. They let us start right away.
Correcting my paperwork
Kate was training another woman that day, and they picked over my paperwork with a fine toothed comb. One section I had written in “none” and should have left blank. They had me strike it out. Another section I had left blank, but they wanted me to put the number “0” in. I did so. There were a few other nitpicky details like that… But once they were comfortable that we had gone over everything and it was filled out to their satisfaction, they told me they would file it “and see what happened.” Uhh, okay.
The chiropractor’s notes was one of their “red flags” and they still didn’t believe that I could use them as “a physician’s notes.” Which IS one of the accepted options. Kate made a point of saying she would check with Dora (Department of Regulatory Agencies) to make sure he was licensed. Made a big deal, then must have found he was, because she didn’t say anything when she got back.
I was also informed that “I might get a phone call if anything isn’t right.” That sounded ominous, but… whatever. It was done!
The phone call
A few days later I actually *did* get a phone call. Someone in the Denver office was asking questions about my birth. Not sure if my heart skipped a beat or not when I realized what they were calling about. It turns out there was a section on the paperwork that asked the address of where the baby was born. We had accidentally left that section blank, and the lady was calling to find out the address. It was the only thing she wanted to know, and she was very kind and nice to talk to. Nothing to be alarmed about, that’s for certain!
So that’s it! My two experiences compared. Each state has its own requirements and proofs, but they will most likely follow a similar pattern. If you are lucky enough to have a “Jennifer” to talk with and figure it out, congratulations! It’ll be that much easier for you. If you meet a “Kate” in your quest, take a deep breath and be as kind and sweet and accommodating as possible, but have every single duck in a row with bowties on and named alphabetically!
Oh yes! I spent so much time talking about the proofs I forgot that there are other “worksheets” included in the package that you fill out in the same process. You may have a packet that talks about paternity if you and the father are not married. There is a questionnaire about the birth that asks all kinds of crazy questions. “Was the labor less than 4 hours? longer than 20?” “Was the baby induced? Epidural or spinal during labor?” “Breech? Cephalic (head down)?” “Apgar Score was ____?” So do you have to take apgar scores??? No. Of course not. There should be a choice of “unknown” or just ask Kate (or Jennifer) what to put because you didn’t take Apgar.
These questions are for statistical purposes and are different from county to county. Teller County devoted half a page to ask three times what the results of the baby’s hearing test was… El Paso didn’t even ask about a hearing test.
The paperwork you need to gather *could* take you some time to gather or acquire. It’s better to know what your county is looking for as proofs, and what counts and what doesn’t. Sometimes you might find out that NONE of the options they give are possible for you to provide. What if you give birth in a town you don’t live in?!?!? That’s when you talk with the person in Vital Statistics and they are supposed to help find a way that you can meet the requirements.
They might ask you to provide an Affidavit that states why you were in the county at the time of the birth, and a witness who can vouch for that reason? They might direct you to file in your home county. I honestly don’t know. BUT, I do know that it is their job to get paperwork filed, and baby registered. Where there is a will there is a way!
Don’t be intimidated!
Call your Vital Statistics office and ask for the home birth packet and worksheets. If it makes you nervous that they might question WHY you are having a home birth (if midwives are illegal in your state, or some other reason?) give them a story they want to hear.
“You plan to birth in a hospital BUT you have a history of very very fast labor and didn’t make it last time. If baby comes quickly again, you plan to just stay home and enjoy baby and not go to the hospital at all, so you need the paperwork just in case. (Cite that you need it in advance to make sure you have all your paperwork in order, because last time was a nightmare and you want to be more prepared this time.)”
Birth is NOT a medical event
It will happen with or without a doctor present, and there are no laws in any of the United States that require a medical professional be present for births. (i.e. It is not illegal to intentionally have an unassisted birth even if there are laws about medical professionals being barred from attending home births)
If you have people trying to tell you otherwise, put the onus on them and ask them to provide you a copy of that law.
Don’t get it done in time?
Oh, and I eluded to the “time limit” for filing several times. I was told that if I missed the deadline I would no longer be able to file at the county level, and I would have to go to our state capital and file there. Of course that didn’t sound like fun, but it didn’t mean my baby would be denied a birth certificate. It just means more travel, and possibly more hoops to jump through for me.
Colorado El Paso County <— Here is a copy of the packet I received for my second daughter. I’m looking for a copy from the first county, but it is currently hiding in my filing somewhere…. If I find it I’ll attach it as well for comparison.
Did you know we are working on a resource guide for all the state? Check it out here.