Dumping babies - A mother's cry for help?

Dumping babies - A mother's cry for help?


Monday, November 11, 2019

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WITHIN eight days two newborn babies were dumped in pit toilets by their mothers in rural Jamaica, sparking national outrage and condemnation at the thought that women could carry out such heinous acts against the fruits of their own wombs. Thankfully both babies are healthy, but the fact that they were dumped in filth within moments of being born is enough to cause us to question the mental state of the mothers, and the socio-economic factors that drove them to thinking that dumping the babies was their only option.

Based on news reports on the first incident which took place in deep rural St Mary, it is evident that the purported father of the newborn, despite having another child with the mother, was not convinced that the second child belonged to him. This paints a picture of the woman enduring pregnancy alone, taking care of at least one other child, and shrouded in uncertainty about her fate after this child was born.

A week later, another baby was found in a pit latrine; this time the mother herself alerted the police before fleeing, also leaving at least four older children to whom she had given birth before. She eventually turned herself over to the police and was charged with child neglect. No father has been mentioned in this instance.

While we can only speculate on what was going through the minds of these women, there are some parallels in both stories that cannot be ignored — the women are poor, they have other children, they have little to no support, and they do not want these babies. While these factors don't guarantee it, they are definitely predisposing conditions to post-partum depression, which affects up to 15 per cent of mothers, and may lead to post-partum psychosis.

Internist Dr Samantha Nicholson-Spence explained the condition to All Woman.

“Post-partum depression can strike anywhere in the year following childbirth and in some cases even before the baby is born,” she said.

“It tends to start in the third trimester in a lot of women, and then it becomes more florid after the birth of the baby.”

The symptoms, she said, come with constant sadness, tearfulness, difficulty sleeping, fatigue and disinterest in things that they once enjoyed, as well as other symptoms that are more specific to motherhood.

“There may be an obsessive preoccupation with the health of the baby, or the opposite, where the mother may not care about the baby's well-being at all, such as not wanting to feed the baby or not responding when the baby cries,” she pointed out.

While post-partum depression can strike any mother, Dr Nicholson-Spence noted that women without much social support are more at risk of becoming depressed.

“For example, if there is no father around or your mother [or an experienced relative] is not there to help you, you might have a problem,” she said. “Also if it's twins or a higher multiple pregnancy, or you have older children in the home, especially if those children are toddlers... that is a lot of stress and if you don't have help it is easy for you to become depressed.”

She added: “If you already had depression in the past, if you can't provide for yourself and the child, if you didn't want the pregnancy in the first place, or if there is a history of abuse; those things also predispose you to having post-partum depression.”

The doctor cautioned that untreated post-partum depression can drive a woman to madness.

“Things can be so bad where you go into post-partum psychosis where you start hearing voices and seeing things,” she said. “The voices may tell you that you are a worthless mom, or that you should kill yourself or your baby.”

People looking on may ask, “Why did they get pregnant in the first place, and why did they carry the pregnancies full-term if they didn't want them?” But fact is, these women live in a society where poverty breeds poor reproductive decisions, fear of stigma leads women to make decisions about pregnancies that they sometimes come to regret, safe access to abortions is criminalised, and women are forced into motherhood. While one cannot tell for sure what these women's individual circumstances were, there is a parallel, where both women are from deep-rural areas of the island. In fact, the St Ann's Bay Hospital where both these babies are now being housed pending investigations has had at least two separate, recent cases of babies being abandoned in its nursery by their mothers after birth.

While contraceptive options are offered at health centres across the island, access to these services are not fully utilised, especially in rural areas where women have to travel long distances to access health care. There are also strong anti-contraceptive sentiments being harboured my many people, including some men on whom women are sometimes financially dependent.

Also, after the horse has gone through the gate, women in urban areas may be more able to procure early term abortions by trained professionals, albeit still legally prohibited. Women in rural areas might not have access to this, and may face more stigma and judgement in close-knit community settings if they manage to have one done.

So what solution is available? What uncomfortable conversation do we need to have as Jamaicans?

Joan French, who represents the Partnership for Women's Health and Wellbeing, which brings persons together across political, religious and other divides to make policy recommendations to the Government for the decriminalisation of abortion, pointed out to All Woman that, “Women who cannot access safe abortions resort to methods and services that are unsafe.”

“The current legal provisions make women victims of a patriarchal system which does not yet consider women's reproductive rights as rights, or women's health risks as important,” she lamented.

For women who have children that they believe would be best served by being placed for care and protection outside of their custody, the Child Protection and Family Services Agency has explained that these women who feel as if they are incapable of caring for their children can seek a legal solution.

“The parent or guardian of a child may bring the child before a juvenile court and where such parent or guardian proves to the court that he/she is unable to control the child, the court may make an order in respect of the child …” the agency quoted from the Child Care and Protection Act.

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