Help needed for mothers who want to abandon their newborns, say advocates
Published Monday, September 25, 2017 10:01PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, September 25, 2017 11:40PM EDT
It's a sad fact that every year in Canada, mothers who can't care for their newborn infants abandon them in places where they are left to die.
But some are trying to change that and ensure that all unwanted babies survive. They're pushing for laws encouraging women to abandon their babies in safe places with no questions asked.
In the last three-and-a-half years, at least five babies in Ontario alone have died after being abandoned by mothers who didn't want them. No one knows the numbers across all of Canada, nor can anyone be sure how many newborns are left somewhere where their bodies are never found.
One of those babies who died recently was found in a dumpster in London, Ont., last year.
His 23-year-old mother was charged with neglecting to obtain assistance in childbirth and with disposing of a child's body after delivery
When it became clear that no one would hold a funeral for the child, who was named Baby Boy Richards, volunteers with Abuse Hurts stepped in. Organization founder Ellen Campbell says helping to lay the child to rest is the least they can do for him.
Campbell's group has buried six abandoned babies, giving them the funerals no one else could give.
"The fact that they would go in an unmarked grave in a little box, to me was just unacceptable," she says.
"We have to acknowledge that happened, even if they took a few short breaths that makes them a part of our community and as a community, we have to honour them."
The Elgin Mills Cemetery donated a burial plot, headstone, and space for the funeral. The cemetery's manager of funeral services, Anne Huizingh, said the child's life needed to be celebrated.
"Just because these poor children were abandoned, doesn't mean no one will remember them. To have their name inscribed on a monument means they will be remembered," she said.
In Canada, abandoning a newborn baby is a criminal offence. But Campbell says we need new laws that don't just punish women for hiding unwanted infants, but encourage them to leave them in safe places, without repercussions.
In parts of the U.S., there are "safe haven laws" that decriminalize the abandonment of infants at designated places, such as hospitals. The child typically must be under one month of age. The parent waives their parental rights and the child becomes a ward of the state.
It's estimated these laws have saved some 2,000 babies over the last decade.
At St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, there's a different option called an Angel's Cradle. It's a small door outside the hospital emergency department that houses a crib and blanket. Once the baby is left there and the door is closed, hospital staff are alerted with an alarm one minute later.
Dr. Geoffrey Cundiff, the regional head of gynecology at Vancouver Coastal Health, helped to bring the Angel's Cradle to St. Paul's seven years ago, after learning of similar programs in Europe. In the years since, two babies have been left in the baby hatch. Both eventually went to new homes with adoptive families.
"In my opinion, that is an absolute success," says Dr. Cundiff.
"Women have many reasons for abandoning their babies in the community. The fact it has been used shows there is a need for it. "
Only two other Canadian cities have hospital baby hatches: Calgary and Edmonton. Dr. Cundiff says he's been approached by hospital officials in Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan who are interested in similar programs.
Ellen Campbell applauds these efforts but says mothers in distress need to be offered wider protections. She'd like to see ambulances offer mothers safe transport to hospital as they give birth, anonymously. That's the best way of safeguarding mother and child, she says.
Among the mourners at Baby Boy Richards' funeral was Charity McGrath, who is running in next spring's Ontario provincial election. She hopes to introduce legislation that would create "safe haven"-type laws in Ontario.
"It's long overdue," she says. "There are thousands of people who would adopt and we need to save these babies."
With a report from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip