Yesterday, a newborn baby was found in a shoebox in a vestibule of an apartment building in New York. The box was closed to protect the baby from the rain outside, and was placed in a warm spot. The baby, a girl, was found alive, had a warm hat on, was wrapped warmly, was clean, was in excellent health, had the umbilical cord appropriately tied off with dental floss to prevent bleeding, and is doing fine.
And without getting started about Evil Envoys of Satan (not that I even believe in Satan, but this time I'm making a temporary exception) like Nancy Grace on CNN, we are, as a culture and as a community, "up in arms". There is rage at the mother (presumedly it was she who left the child) for abandoning the child. There is a full police investigation, with fingerprints, "analysis" of the clothing that was left, review of possible witnesses, etc. They are saying that charges will be filed, likely felony charges. (Hmm....will the biological father be charged with child abandonment?)
What an obscene waste of time and taxpayer money.
Someone had a baby. For whatever reason, she made a decision to do this. The news report says "it seems almost like she wanted someone to find the baby". Almost? Someone takes the time to wrap up a baby warmly, put a hat on to retain body heat, protect it from the elements, put it in a place where people are coming and going and where there is adequate heat, and she "almost wanted" someone to find her? They are guessing that the baby was there for about an hour before being found. An hour? Seems like pretty good planning to me.
Why do we demonize these people? For that matter, in a case like this in which the baby was found and is fine and healthy and being cared for...why do we even care who they are or what they have done? Why do we spend time and energy and outrage and emotion decrying this "heartless" person? There is a baby. She is healthy. She is with people who will care for her. There are countless people who are waiting to adopt healthy newborns. What, exactly, is the problem here?
Well, you know and I know what the problem is. Biology. And property rights.
I have written on this before, and now it's come around again.
Children are property. They belong to the people whose microscopic seeds made them, or failing that, to the people whose microscopic DNA is shared in some way with the people whose microscopic seeds made them. Call me a heretic. I think this is absurd.
No, I'm not suggesting that the rights of parents to raise their own children be called into question. I'm not advocating parental fitness tests (though I don't think that's such a bad idea in some variation). I'm not saying that children are a free-for-all and should or could belong to anyone the state wants them to (how scary is that idea). I am saying that the fanatical zeal that we attach to the primacy of biology is both frightening and inappropriate.
Infants remain in foster care, sometimes in multiple placements, for far too long nearly everywhere in the United States. There is plentiful research on the importance of consistency and reliability of attachment to a primary caregiver in infancy, and the impact of its disruption on a whole laundry list of outcomes. But it's more important that we give biological families--families that have made it clear, sometimes multiple times, that they do not want or are not able to care for the child, families that may not know the child exists (and why would that be?), ones in which multiple serious risks for the child may abound--first "crack". That's how we regard children. As something people have "dibs" on. In this case, they say it will take six months to place this child for adoption. Why is that? So they can find every possible person with a genetic tie to the child to see if they want her? She could be placed with a loving permanent family tomorrow. Oh. I forgot. That would be against the rules.
This process may be "normal". It may be what we are used to. It may even be what we believe. Whatever it is, it appears to bear little if any relationship to the best interest of the child as primary. I know, it can be argued that the "best interest" of the child is in being raised by their biological family. But that is an assumption. Why? Why is it automatically in a child's best interest to be cared for by people who share their DNA? I don't get it.
Such a philosophy, residing as it does deep in the cord of our society, is also undermining to adoption. We can't have it both ways. If biological relationship is so primary, so primal, then what does that say about how we see adoption, no matter how we extol its virtues? Does it mean that, underneath the rhetoric, that we have always and will always see adopted children as objects of some degree of pity, as children who unfortunately had to settle for "second best"? Oh, I can hear the defensive answers to that one. "No, no, that's not what we mean! Of course adoption is wonderful and entirely legitimate!" Sorry. Like I said, you can't have it both ways.
When a case such as this one arises, even the well-meaning people are lying through their teeth. We want to find the mother because we're concerned about her. We want to make sure she's okay. Bullshit. We want to find her to publicly shame her for abandoning her newborn child, to publicly burn her at the stake for her "heartless" act. For not behaving the way that "we" (whoever that is) think good and rational people should behave. If she couldn't take care of the baby, she could have made arrangements for adoption. She lives in a Safe Haven state--if she was in crisis, she could have brought the baby to a fire station or a hospital. She could have done this. She could have done that. But she didn't. And thankfully, the baby is okay.
Sure. Something might have happened. The baby might have died. But she didn't.
Since when do we punish people for what might have happened?
I know it's a rather outlandish analogy, but why do we honor the pilot who so brilliantly landed that plane in the Hudson River, saving all those people? They might have died. There might have been a collision with a boat. He wasn't supposed to land a plane on water, he was supposed to try to get it to an airport. He should have noticed sooner that there was a problem and turn the plane around immediately where it took off. People could have died. But they didn't. He was heroic. He made quick and highly unorthodox decisions in a crisis, he implemented them perfectly, and he saved lives.
Do we punish pilots of uneventful flights because something "might have happened"? I mean, the very nature of what they're doing is risky on some level. Do we punish owners who restrain dogs who lunge at people, barking ferociously, because someone may have received a bite? Do we file charges against parents whose children are injured in auto accidents, because they might have been killed? I mean, cars are dangerous, and they were clearly not driving carefully enough, and so isn't that child endangerment?
Yes, of course I know these are not the same thing. She knew that she was going to have a baby and that something would have to happen when it was born. But really, what do we know? Maybe she didn't know or fully understand (that has happened, as hard as it is for us to believe). Maybe she thought she could handle it, and then, in a moment of crisis, realized she couldn't. Maybe she wasn't thinking clearly. Maybe she was under a threat of violence. Why do we presume the worst about this woman, whoever she is?
Leave her be. She behaved protectively, if not the way we would choose for her to behave. The baby is fine. Leave her be.
On a last note, as of 2008, all 50 states have Safe Haven laws. So now is the time to ask yourself: do you know about those laws in your community? Are they publicized? Do we let young people know about them in schools, in buses, in subways, in clinics (my bet is that this mom didn't know)? Or are we too afraid, as the critics would suggest, that we are going to "invite" people to abandon their babies, a thought just about as absurd as how we "invite" kids to have sex by offering sex education. Yup, the opponents are from the same camp--what a surprise.
Stop demonizing young women. Stop allowing news outlets to demonize young women. Speak up.
In one article I read about this story online this morning, the writer described the mother as "careless" and "selfish". We treat infants and young children as property rather than as people. I can't think of anything more careless and selfish than that.