Secret Births

David C. Reardon
Elliot Institute
PO Box 7348, Springfield, IL 62791-7348
Reproduced with Permission
Elliot Institute

Stephanie Clark was only looking for a pair of her daughter's pants when she opened the closet door. Imagine her surprise at finding a tiny newborn baby nestled in a blanket. "I screamed in surprise," she later told reporters. "I called 911. They said, 'Whose baby is it?' I said, 'I have no idea.'"

It turned out that the baby was her grandson, Navorn. Her 17-year-old daughter Shanta had concealed her pregnancy and secretly given birth to her baby boy in her home on September 21, 1997. She had hidden the baby in her bedroom closet whenever she left for school. It was 17 days after the birth before the startled grandmother first met her grandson.

After being charged with neglect, Shanta was given custody of Navorn on the condition that she move into a home for young mothers. The 16-year-old father of the child came forward seeking to establish paternity and to strengthen his relationship with Shanta, which he described as previously an "on again, off again" romance.

The media spin on the birth of the "closet baby" Navorn Clark suggested that teenagers can be unaware of their pregnancies for long periods and may engage in denial of reality until it is "too late." Teenage "denial" is often blamed for late-term abortions. The argument goes that teenagers have trouble confronting the reality of their problem and so fail to seek an earlier, "safer" abortion. Because of this "denial" problem, pro-abortionists argue, we must keep late term abortions available for these "messed up" kids.

Personally, I've never bought this argument. Certainly it is not uncommon for teenage mothers to go through short periods of denial about a pregnancy, desperately hoping that "my period is just late." But of the thousands of testimonies I have collected, in every case where a teenager had a late term abortion, not one stated that she didn't realize or couldn't accept that she was pregnant. Instead, they have all indicated that they deliberately concealed their pregnancies in the hope that by the time their parents discovered the truth, it would be "too late" to have an abortion. Unfortunately, these young women discovered, it is never "too late" to get an abortion in America. Their abortions were either forced or consented to under duress. From this viewpoint, late-term teenage abortions are not due to teenage denial, but rather to parental abuse.

Pro-Abortion Parents

A few years ago, I was a guest on a call-in radio program. A woman called in to declare her self to be on the side of "choice" despite abortion's risks. I asked: "Well, if you are pro-choice, then certainly you would agree that we should have laws to protect young women from being forced into unwanted abortions." Without hesitation, the caller confirmed my point, saying, "I've told my daughter that if she ever gets pregnant, she will have an abortion. I've done my duty raising her. I'm not going to raise her kids, too." This woman was pro-choice for everyone except her daughter. For her daughter, there was only one choice: abortion.

Sadly, many young people grow up with the same understanding of what their parents' demands will be if they ever become pregnant. What are they to do?

Some, like Stephanie Clark, will try to conceal the pregnancy all the way through to birth. On a recent trip to California I spent a night with a family who had a ten or twelve-year-old adopted daughter. The girl's teenage birth-mother had successfully concealed everything from her parents. She hid her pregnancy, arranged for the adoption, selected the adoptive parents, gave birth at a hospital (returning home the same day), all without her parents ever catching on to the truth. Indeed, there is still some communication between the biological mother and the adoptive parents, and the adoptive parents believe that the biological grandparents still, to this day, do not know of their granddaughter's birth.

When Options Run Out

Not all teens are as resourceful as this young woman was. Others simply know that they can't or won't abort their children. Some have probably already had an abortion once and were so devastated by it that they will do anything to avoid having another.

So they try to get by, one day at a time, concealing the baby and hoping that somehow it will all work out. Sometimes, it does. They reveal the pregnancy after their boyfriend has promised to support them or at a point when their parents no longer feel comfortable forcing an abortion. In other cases, it doesn't work out. The pregnancy is discovered or revealed, and they are still forced to abort.

In at least a few cases, however, teens are on concealing their pregnancies all the way to birth, still hoping to find some last-minute solution. But what happens when the baby is finally born and there is no obvious last-minute solution? Now they still have a secret to hide! They know their parents' wrath will be no less now that the baby is here than when it was in utero. But now it is even harder to hide a crying child than a bulging belly. What are they to do? I believe fear of parental rejection or abuse is often the driving force behind babies being abandoned on church steps, in garbage cans, or even on the road side.

Are these babies abandoned in a loveless act of infanticide, or with the prayer that God will deliver them? I suspect that in the vast majority of cases, they are abandoned with a prayer for God's providence, followed by a lifetime of grief and guilt. In at least many cases, these young women are hiding their pregnancies and abandoning their children because they desperately wanted to protect their children from the people who would have forced them to them abort.

To extend this analysis one step further, what happens when these confused and frightened young women don't have the time or opportunity to abandon their child? Is it not likely that in the panicked minutes after the birth, when the infant is crying and need to protect her secret overwhelms even her maternal instincts, some of these young mothers desperately seek to muffle their baby's cries under a mound of towels, or pillows, or in the nearest trash bag? Are the resulting deaths due to acts of hate, or acts of panic? This analysis is complicated even further if the mother had a previous traumatic abortion. In such cases, is it not possible that even the deliberate killing or "putting away" of her born child is the result of "acting out" a symbolic reenactment of her original abortion trauma?

Loss of Support

Decades ago, most parents were chiefly concerned about a pregnancy revealing to the world that their daughter was not chaste. Today, when schools hand out contraceptives -- not just on request, but as part of student assemblies -- it appears that many parents are chiefly concerned about avoiding responsibility for helping their daughters' to care for their "unwanted" grandchildren.

This is why the solution to the teenagers abandoning their newborns or committing acts of infanticide cannot be found in efforts to encourage teens to choose abortion early. Easy access to abortion is not the solution, it is the problem. Abortion is what they are trying so hard to avoid! Whenever it is easy for teens to choose abortion, it will also be easy for teens to be forced into unwanted abortions. It is fear of the latter that driving women into a corner from which there is no easy escape.

Abortion, infanticide, and child abandonment are acts of fear and despair. They are symptoms of a society that does not embrace young mothers and fathers, but instead subjects them to criticism, abuse, and coercion. The only solution is to offer young women and men unconditional love and life-affirming support. That's hard to do, especially in a society that is so enamored with death.