By: Jacque Reid
The baby didn't have a chance. Monday evening, police found a newborn infant, lifeless, in a plastic bag near his 14-year-old mother's bed after the teen, bleeding from having given birth, was rushed to the emergency room Monday morning. Her parents say that they didn't know she was pregnant.
Pending an investigation, this mother could be facing criminal charges for neonaticide, which is killing a baby within 24 hours of its birth. It is common among teen mothers, according to the New York Times: "Experts on neonaticide say mothers who kill their newborns are usually young, unmarried, emotionally isolated and often still living with their parents. Most are in too deep denial about their pregnancies, and remain so even after their babies are born. They give birth alone and secretly, usually over a toilet, and kill their babies moments after birth."
In the case of this Brooklyn, N.Y., teen, her life is changed forever. The 14-year-old may face manslaughter charges, and then there's the psychological damage that comes with the entire ordeal.
The saddest part of it all is that there are services and safe-haven laws that would have allowed that young mother to drop her baby off somewhere safe or have someone come and pick up the baby. The mother could have walked away -- no questions asked.
When I called Timothy Jaccard of the AMT Children of Hope Foundation recently, he was in the middle of arranging the rescue of an abandoned baby. He said that it was his third baby rescue of the day.
Jaccard's organization was started by a group of ambulance medical technicians on Long Island, N.Y., after a series of cases of infanticide in their area had taken an emotional toll. Now the organization's reach is national. It arranges for the burial of the bodies of abandoned or unclaimed infants. It also helps save the lives of abandoned infants and serves as a safe haven to accept newborns.
Jaccard shared how he recently helped a young mother who was giving birth at home. "She called 911 but would not give her address," he said. "911 patched her through to me, and I talked her through the delivery over the phone. I convinced her to let EMTs come and pick up the baby."
Dr. Elizabeth Lorde-Rollins of New York's Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center said that another part of the rescue is preventing these girls from delivering stillborn or severely unhealthy babies. "Typically, babies born to teen moms are smaller babies," she said. "These babies are growing inside teens who are still growing themselves."
Lorde-Rollins added that because these teens are hiding their pregnancies, they don't get vital prenatal care or even monitor their own health in order to protect their growing babies.
Like many facilities around the country, the Adolescent Health Center provides free and confidential services, including counseling and health care. Safe-haven laws and services are nothing new, but there is still a huge need to raise awareness.
There are many who take issue with educating teenagers about post-pregnancy options because they think it absolves teenagers from facing the full consequences of having a baby and, more important, of having sex. But the fact is, teenagers are having sex. And you can teach abstinence instead of explicit sex education all day long -- young girls are still going to get pregnant. Just ask Sarah Palin.
Let me be clear: I don't advocate teen sex or teen pregnancy. I am well aware of how becoming a teen mother can often ruin that young lady's future. These mothers are less likely to graduate from high school, and typically find it difficult to find a good job or a successful career.
But I do believe what is far worse is the murder of a newborn by a scared and confused young mother who will have to live with the psychological effects of killing her own baby and, if caught, face felony charges.
How can anyone be opposed to giving these girls a better alternative? Whether or not you are a parent, whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, whether or not you think teens should have access to contraceptives -- there is really only one side here.
Educate yourself on the safe-haven laws and services in your area. Take the time to hand out pamphlets or hang posters around town. Encourage local schools to include this information as a part of sex education. And most important, talk to the young teens in your life -- with parental consent, if you're not the parent or guardian.
Teen pregnancy is a problem. But the choices that a young girl makes after giving birth could turn a problem into a tragedy.
Jacque Reid is a broadcast journalist and a contributing editor to The Root. Listen to her biweekly on The Tom Joyner Morning Show, visit her at jacquereid.com and follow her on Twitter.
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