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Safe haven, and when a mother doesn’t want to be a mother

By Victoria Fryer 

I was struck recently by a news story in my area about a days-old baby found abandoned in a church. The whole town was in an uproar about it. Luckily, when the baby was found, she was ok and taken to a place where she’d be taken care of. Subsequently, authorities launched an investigation into who the mother is and why she abandoned her child.

Safe haven laws throughout the United States designate certain places where mothers can drop off their newborns, ostensibly to receive better care than they could provide, with no questions asked. In this case, the safe haven drop spots are in hospitals and police stations.

Because this mother chose to leave her child in a church—not a designated safe haven drop spot—she came under fire from police and local citizens alike.

(You may be wondering right now what this has to do with the childfree. It’s a loose connection, perhaps, but I think we as childfree people would take a different perspective than some folks who do have children and may overlook the complexity of the situation.)

My particular news station includes a section in which they play back viewers’ comments on air (which is, in essence, the telephone version of The Comments on the internet—so many of them, you’ll wish you hadn’t heard). The viewers’ comments on this story were all over the place, but so many of them expressed extreme indignance at the fact that a woman could leave her baby like this. What if no one would have found her in time? What if some harm had come to her?

I appreciate those concerns; I absolutely do. But I think there are two things to consider here. The first is an issue one of the callers brought to light: the two designated safe haven drop spots, at a hospital and a police station, are covered with surveillance cameras. Particularly with the way our society views mothers and motherhood, I could understand why a mother giving up her child might want privacy. (This is, after all, a fairly small and tight-knit area.) The second issue is that maybe the safe haven laws aren’t clearly known or understood among the people who need them.

A few days after the story ran, the mother did indeed come forward. I suppose she felt she didn’t have much choice. The police have told reporters that she believed she was doing the right thing—and I believe her.

Mothers who do not want to be or cannot be mothers have so few choices. If a woman becomes pregnant and does not want to keep the child, she has to choose between abortion and adoption. Abortion is an issue I’m not touching here with a ten foot pole—suffice it to say that having to make that choice is probably one of the most difficult situations a woman may ever face.

Certainly I don’t think she made the best decision she could have; of course it’s not clear why she didn’t pursue the adoption route. But as someone who is childfree—and, I think, someone who tries always to find a way to empathize with women making tough choices in their lives about parenthood—I have some sympathy for this woman. She obviously wanted to give her child a better life than she could provide, and that’s a sentiment I think some of us can understand from our own decision process, to some extent.

I don’t know what the answer is. I’m neither condemning nor defending her. Is what this mother did a crime? Technically, according to the law, probably yes. But nothing’s black and white here—it’s an incredibly complex issue, with a million details behind the scenes that we’ll probably never know. What’s your take? And do you think being childfree impacts the way you see it?

Victoria Fryer is a 31-year-old writer and content strategist. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two pit bulls. You can find her on Twitter @extoria.

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