A 22-year-old Anchorage woman was recently charged with killing her 4-month-old daughter. The mother was found, about three hours after the baby's body was found, drunk and having consensual sex in a park. According to the bail document, she allegedly stuffed a knit hat into her daughter's mouth and left it there to stop her from crying. When she removed the hat about five minutes later, the baby was barely breathing and then stopped altogether.
What kind of a woman allegedly stuffs a hat into her child's mouth, kills the baby and then goes out to get drunk and have public sex? Well, for starts, this mother had been taken to a sleep-off center at least five times since 2013 and has had 14 criminal convictions since 2012, when she turned 18.
Maybe this woman's childhood was itself a horror story. Or maybe she had a perfectly fine childhood and alcohol turned her into something unrecognizable. Whatever her past, the question that leaps to mind on reading this article is, why the hell was this woman allowed to leave the hospital with a newborn baby?
I was in social work when moms walked out of hospitals with newborns even though their older children were in foster homes because the parental home was not yet considered safe. But the infant was allowed to leave with mom because the state couldn't prove harm to that particular child. I don't know if that's still the way the system works, but if it is, it needs to be changed.
In an ideal world, no pregnant woman would drink. In the real world, many pregnant women not only drink but drink excessively. To my mind, that's as much child abuse as beating the child with a stick. In fact, it's even more abusive because the bruises you inflict with a stick heal. But the damage done to a child in utero from alcohol will never heal. A child beaten with a stick carries emotional scars that, with a lot of effort and counseling, can be worked through and overcome. A child with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) often doesn't have the capacity to even grasp the concepts of therapy.
This young lady clearly has problems. Anyone convicted of crimes 14 times in four years has probably got her own demons at work inside her. Anyone who has to be taken to the sleep-off center five times in four years has clearly got a substance abuse problem. And anyone who would kill a baby and then go out and have "consensual" sex in a park needs more help than can possibly be detailed in this short column.
How did she fall through the cracks? How did no one involved in her prenatal care or birth not notice? Was there no social worker at the hospital where she gave birth? Were no questions asked? Or was this noticed, were the right questions asked but no one could do anything to prevent her from taking that baby home because they could not prove she'd harmed the baby.
If you want to restrict or try to totally prevent abortions because the baby is "alive" at the moment of conception, then drinking while that baby is in your womb is child abuse. I realize this approach raises all kinds of questions about individual liberty and a woman's right to control her own body. I'm not disputing that. She can drink while she's pregnant and there is probably nothing we can legally do about that. But once that child is born, her choice to have alcohol during pregnancy should come with consequences.
I find myself wanting to appeal to all the Right to Lifers out there. If you are so passionate about the sacredness of life that you insist all pregnancies must be brought to fruition, then why are you not also putting all that passion and energy into that life once it's born? If you want to take away a woman's choices, then how can you not follow through and protect that life after it exits the womb?
I may not agree with the position of people wanting to restrict sex ed in the schools or reproductive choices in general but I certainly stand in awe of their commitment to their cause. I would love to see that commitment and passion put into what happens to a child after birth.
Elise Patkotak's book "Coming Into the City" is available at AlaskaBooksandCalendars.com and at local bookstores.
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