Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe. Which baby's kept? Which has to go?

Baby-dumping is an age-old solution to unwanted births. It's been practiced the world over and in myriad different circumstances, from ill babies to female babies to babies born to teenagers to babies born into dire poverty.

But here. as described in the current issue of the US Jewish news weekly Forward, is a first: baby-dumping that is community-organized, sanctioned and encouraged and that goes by the euphemism "family planning":
"Here is how the system works in my Jerusalem neighborhood: After a mother leaves the hospital, her first stop before returning home — strangely empty-handed — is the ultra-Orthodox “family planner,” a well-known figure who is a pillar of trust and discernment in such a matter. The mother leaves her newborn’s details with her.
Then, the family planner will put an ad in the local Orthodox paper, Yated Ne’eman, (“Wanted: Mother”) to find a home for the child since the hospital extends its hospitality to healthy newborns for just one month. The placement is easier than one would think...there are plenty of eager mothers willing to raise the baby, until it becomes too much of a burden and is passed to another home. And so, with the ease and simplicity by which one might get rid of an unwanted kitten, an unwanted baby is cast out into the world." 

While the practice is an open secret in the insular, ultra-orthodox Jewish community, it is well concealed from the rest of Israeli society. In April 2013, a credible Jerusalem-based news reporter wrote definitively in a major daily paper:
"One no longer sees newborns with an extra copy of the 21st chromosome abandoned by parents in hospital neonatal units and taken in by nuns in monasteries." 
Many profoundly disabled children were not dumped at birth simply because they were presumed by doctors to be healthy and normal. Only much later were their disabilities discovered - too late for a quiet and tidy abandonment at the hospital.

Our C. for instance, had perfectly normal Apgar scores at birth. And when I returned with her to the hospital ten days later for a bilirubin check, the doctor handed her back to me declaring "She's a ten!" which translates into "She's perfect!"

But it's never too late to dump. I had a friend - can't call her that anymore - who decided, when her tuberous sclerosis afflicted daughter was five, that she had had enough. She explained to me that she needed more time to devote to her other, normal children. So the little girl - non-verbal, wheelchair-bound, minimally communicative - was shipped off to a group home. The ex-friend even brought me there for a visit once to showcase the excellent living conditions. My hunch is she expected me to soon follow suit. C. was three years old then.

It left me wondering how this affected her other children. Did they dread the same fate awaited them if perchance they too failed to live up to their parents' expectations?

Fifteen years later, I heard an activist for the rights of the disabled praise that woman for her devotion. It seems she was fighting hard for in-community living accommodations for her daughter.

Yes, that's right. A child-dumper deemed devoted mother.

Well, none of us does what we do to earn kudos or recognition. And if we happen to be the biological parents, then this observation by that Jerusalem mother of the Down child will ring true even for our profoundly affected children:
"There’s a stigma attached to birthing and raising a Down syndrome child of one’s own. But paradoxically, a family who shelters such a child is seen as doing an immense mitzvah (meaning a laudable deed)."
So don't hold your breath waiting for that gold medal.

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