"I was totally detached. I was outside myself."
December 10, 2014 1:30 PM   Subscribe

The Babies in the Freezer
Women who kill their newborns usually claim to have been in denial about their pregnancies. Can you carry a child to term without realizing it? And if you do, how responsible are you for your actions?
posted by andoatnp (61 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hmm. It strikes me that some of the places they talk about the women in the story stowing their babies - the freezer, the laundry basket, a filing cabinet - are all places where we tend to put things that don't really have a "place" yet; they're waystations, places where you put things temporarily until you have a chance to deal with them later. I wonder how much of this is coming from that kind of impulse?

And as for "how do people not know their friend is pregnant" - not all women get that big during pregnancy. My sister in law had her baby shower when she was about eight months pregnant with my niece, but in the pictures it looks like she barely has a bump. Some women just don't get that big when pregnant.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:47 PM on December 10, 2014 [9 favorites]


Without going to the cases in the article, it's relatively common to be surprised by a pregnancy when you have a condition like PCOS that makes menstruation erratic (and is often associated with obesity, which makes a baby bump more difficult to notice), or you're nearing menopause and your periods are getting more and more spaced.
posted by sukeban at 1:49 PM on December 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


The human mind is a wondrous and terrible organ.

When I read this sentence:
“Regarding abortion, the issue did not really arise,” Courjault explained during her trial, “because in my head, I was not really pregnant.” Courjault claimed that although she had at times been conscious of the fact that she was carrying, she had also experienced a strong feeling of denial.
I was struck with a penetrating remembrance of having the exact same feeling many times. Most applicably, menstruation was a frightening and anxiety-producing time for me and I sometimes ignored and deferred things with often-times gross results. I also used to have a lot of anxiety surrounding daily hygiene like showering and brushing my teeth, so I just... wouldn't think about it.
posted by muddgirl at 1:52 PM on December 10, 2014 [15 favorites]


Speaking on the show, clinical psychologist Lisa Boesky drew a clear dividing line between complete insanity and absolute culpability, arguing that if there was no evidence of serious mental illness like psychosis, “we need to send a message to the young women out there….”

Yes. That message, like in most criminal cases, is "fuck empathy".

People clearly aren't thinking straight and you jump straight to "sending a message". How big an asshole do you have to be?
posted by Talez at 2:19 PM on December 10, 2014 [8 favorites]


The human mind is a wondrous and terrible organ

This. Having seen a person totally stoned out of his gourd and say to my face "I am not high," I can totally believe in this type of denial.

Good article, thanks.
posted by Melismata at 2:28 PM on December 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


A young woman I used to babysit (who was obese) had a son as a teenager. She claimed to have no idea she was pregnant. She went to the hospital because she had "stomach pains" and they delivered her son. No one around her knew she was pregnant either. The son was born full-term.
posted by agatha_magatha at 2:30 PM on December 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


In the US, many of the vocal platforms opposing reproductive Justice place fetuses and fertilized eggs above the interests of the woman, eclipsing their identity. This could be a way to cope, especially if the women live in communities that subtly or overtly over-write their identity.
posted by childofTethys at 2:32 PM on December 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


For the reverse of this is this Jezebel article of today, "Ghost Child: The Strange, Misunderstood World of Delusional Pregnancy".
posted by ShooBoo at 2:36 PM on December 10, 2014 [9 favorites]


A friend who's an ER doc was present at a "stomach pains" teenager in very late-stage labor who kept insisting, sobbingly, she was not pregnant and not in labor as they're trying to get her up on the exam table, and her mother kept similarly insisting there was no way her daughter could be pregnant, and the doctors and nurses are saying, "I think we're going to get an ultrasound because this looks an awful lot like labor" and as the baby slides rapidly out into the world basically as soon as she gets up there and she points at it and shrieks, "I AM NOT PREGNANT AND I DON'T KNOW WHERE THAT CAME FROM!"

It was funny when my friend told it (part of a bunch of doctors and nurses one-upping each other about most hilariously in-denial patients) but since then I've thought it was the saddest story I've ever heard. (And, of course, since my friend was in the ER, there's no follow-up to the story and I'm left to just imagine how it ended. All the endings are sad.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:38 PM on December 10, 2014 [51 favorites]


Can you carry a child to term without realizing it?

Yes, you absolutely can.
My wife works in an adoption agency. More than once, she has told me about them getting a call from a hospital with a girl either in labor, or having just given birth, who wants to put the baby up for adoption. The girl, as it turns out, had no idea she was pregnant until she went into labor. It boggles the mind, I know.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:41 PM on December 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yeah, isn't there a whole reality show called "I didn't know I was pregnant"?
posted by Melismata at 2:42 PM on December 10, 2014 [4 favorites]


Possibly of related interest: Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing's classic article, "Monster Stories: Women Charged with Perinatal Endangerment," which I used to assign to students in introductory anthro classes. It's been a decade since I read it, but a key point I recall was how differently she found people treating these cases based on social class and ethnicity.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 2:45 PM on December 10, 2014 [12 favorites]


Especially for you, Eyebrows: a relative of mine is an anesthesiologist, and she ended up adopting a 'surprise' baby from a teenager who was in her care after 'severe stomach pains' in the ER. So that baby is now a member of our family.
posted by Dashy at 2:46 PM on December 10, 2014 [21 favorites]


I know someone who was six months pregnant before she realised. She just really didn't get that big, and her periods were erratic anyway. Thankfully the baby was wanted, although she hadn't been actively trying.

I know someone else who knew that she was pregnant since a few weeks after conception, but was very much in two minds about whether she wanted the child, and how she would make it work in her very complicated life. Every time I talked to her while she was pregnant, she would talk about the future as though it didn't have a child in it, and even after the latest possible date for an abortion had passed, whenever it became necessary to mention the birth, she'd say things like "If I give birth..." or "If the baby is born...", never "when". She didn't do any of the usual preparatory things like buying baby items, choosing a hospital, getting ultrasounds, planning a nursery.

If she had been younger, with less support, and/or more secretive, I can fully imagine she might have abandoned the baby due to this inability to decide how or whether to fit it into her life.
posted by lollusc at 2:46 PM on December 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


This just baffles me. I've been pregnant twice, and it was a pretty unmistakable thing. To go through all the aches and pains and the babies kicking the shit out of you, and having no idea?

The human brain is just so weird, and should not be left to its own devices.
posted by MissySedai at 2:50 PM on December 10, 2014 [4 favorites]


To go through all the aches and pains and the babies kicking the shit out of you, and having no idea?

I know, in one of the cases my wife told me about, the girl was extremely obese. So, maybe that somehow muted the kicks and aches?
posted by Thorzdad at 2:56 PM on December 10, 2014


The closest I've been to someone like this was a woman in my dorm in college who miscarried in her room one night; not even her roommate knew she was pregnant. It's not as if she was particularly isolated, either; kind of the opposite, in fact. Never found out what happened to her.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:59 PM on December 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


I used to work in a hospital, in pediatrics. We had a teenage girl there for about 5-6 days. Chubby, kind of roundish. She had a large IV in her groin for plasmapheresis, she must have had chest x-rays. She had missed a couple of periods, per the admission history, but no one followed up on that apparently. Discharged home doing well from whatever her problem had been. Came in that very night to ER and delivered a full term 7 pound baby. Not only did she not know she was pregnant, but in a week in the hospital no one else had noticed either.
It was a shameful day in that unit. I thank my lucky stars that I never took care of her, save for helping her to the restroom once.
posted by SLC Mom at 2:59 PM on December 10, 2014 [16 favorites]


This just baffles me. I've been pregnant twice, and it was a pretty unmistakable thing. To go through all the aches and pains and the babies kicking the shit out of you, and having no idea?

I dunno. I've also been pregnant twice, and in the past two or three years, I've had the absolutely unmistakable feeling of a baby kicking probably a dozen times. Not a 30-week baby, but maybe an 18-22 week baby. Clear as day. And yet, I am not and have not been pregnant any of those times, my youngest child is 4, so clearly there are non-pregnancy phenomena that produce that feeling. Combine that reality with the amazing capacity for active denial and I think it really can happen.
posted by KathrynT at 3:05 PM on December 10, 2014 [7 favorites]


I know, in one of the cases my wife told me about, the girl was extremely obese. So, maybe that somehow muted the kicks and aches?

Maybe the kicks, but ligament stretching and the like is not something your fluff can mute. That is some mighty strong denial.

(And wow, the Ghost Child article discussing exactly the opposite... Brains, man.)
posted by MissySedai at 3:05 PM on December 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


I used to be baffled by this too, but it happened to a teenaged relative of mine. She had no idea she was pregnant (and going back through her FB photos, she most certainly did not look pregnant-- perhaps as if she'd just put on about ten or fifteen pounds?) until the night (Christmas Eve!) she experienced terrible cramps and stomach pains and gave birth on the second floor landing of the family home. She woke up her parents to tell them, in shock, that there was "a baby on the floor". They are all now doing well, thankfully.
posted by jokeefe at 3:07 PM on December 10, 2014 [5 favorites]


I think the article was quite clear that all of the women in the story were at least dimly aware that they were pregnant. I don't doubt that there is some kind of thing going on for these women - they are not simply cold and indifferent murderers - but that doesn't mean they should have zero culpability. We're not talking about abortion here, right? These are human babies. We can turn almost anything into a syndrome of one kind or another, perhaps legitimately, but to completely let these women off the hook smacks of the Twinkie Defense.
posted by Edgewise at 3:24 PM on December 10, 2014 [6 favorites]


Yeah, isn't there a whole reality show called "I didn't know I was pregnant"?

There was.

Before I saw it, I had always thought it was going to be a patronizing show about young women who "should have known better." Then I came across an episode, and I don't know this particular episode was representative of the series, but it was a case where the woman had 1) been told by medical professionals that she could not conceive, 2) had taken multiple at-home tests that came back negative, and 3) had taken a blood test at the hospital which was also negative. So basically, it was fuel for responsible young women's nightmares.
posted by joan cusack the second at 3:30 PM on December 10, 2014 [13 favorites]


So, I have had three pregnancies, one of which is currently in-progress (we're at 10 weeks). One of my pregnancies resulted in a healthy baby, one resulted in a miscarriage. The miscarriage occurred with my first.

If I am honest with you, I do not dare to have any excitement about my pregnancies until we've cleared the first trimester, and even now I am questioning whether I'm carrying a growing human, or an empty sac. We find out next Wednesday whether that is the case, but in the meantime, I'm in mom-limbo, and that means my brain is playing some pretty gnarly tricks on me. I question all symptoms as to whether they're "real", and sometimes I "feel" pregnant, and other times I don't.

But even after you clear the first trimester hurtle, the mind fuckery does not stop. You have panic attacks if you don't feel kicking, you have panic attacks if you do. It can also go in reverse: toward the end of my last pregnancy, I began to degrade rapidly due to preeclampsia, but I kept telling people I was fine I was fine, just a few headaches and fatigue, 36 weeks, it's to be expected. Hell, I threw my own baby shower. Three hours later, I was in the hospital. Eight hours later, I delivered via emergency c-section.

For all my disassociation, I certainly could not do what these women did. I want all the babies I carry. But also, labor -- with all its pain and hormones and drastic impending change -- can cause a very altered state of mind. Right before they wheeled me off to surgery, I was in an odd place, mentally -- called "Laborland" in some of my hippy-birthing books -- and I could see how someone in that frame of mind could go to some weird and dark places. It's kind of like that dreamy half-awake state right before you fall asleep, except you're not asleep. You're having a baby.

I feel so badly for these women. But I also feel so badly for these babies. In a perfect world, this would never happen, and every woman who delivers a healthy baby would go on to either keep it or give it to a loving family. I honestly do not know what to think of women who kill their newborn children. I can't imagine their guilt. But I mourn for the terrible, terrible loss of an innocent life.
posted by offalark at 4:13 PM on December 10, 2014 [15 favorites]


About not feeling the physical manifestations of pregnancy: I'm reminded of animal hoarders who live amidst horrific stench and filth, so that clean-up crews and animal control officers have to don biohazard suits and gas masks; but the hoarders seem oblivious to levels of ammonia that would make most people pass out, and the excrement and decaying corpses in their living spaces.

I think people who are mentally ill (to whatever extent) and are in denial of their circumstances, can suppress some powerful physical realities. It's "mind over matter" put to negative use.

I wish there was some way of helping these women before a tragedy happens. They need therapy, and a safe place to live if they are in denial out of fear of family retribution.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:15 PM on December 10, 2014 [6 favorites]


Infanticide was historically treated as a separate thing from murder. It still is, in many jurisdictions (e.g.).

You can find a good discussion of its historical antecedents here: Eighteenth Century Infanticide: A Metropolitan Perspective" [2004] GriffLawRw 14; (2004) 13(2) Griffith Law Review 160
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:38 PM on December 10, 2014 [5 favorites]


I know someone whose daughter didn't realize she was pregnant until not long before she went into labor. The girl had not had sex education, or birth control information(parochial school). She was large to begin with, and wore loose clothing regularly. She kept the baby and, last I knew, was a loving mother, and in a relationship with the dad.

I can understand the denial, though not personally, as I was undeniably pregnant when I was pregnant. I can understand the panic. I can't understand denying reproductive education.
posted by theora55 at 4:42 PM on December 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


The article actually says that many women who have pregnancy denial don't put on much weight or get a characteristic belly - per the article, it's possible that there is a mental/endocrine connection sort of the reverse of the hysterical pregnancy. One of the women interviewed also describes how she semi-consciously chose to eat very, very little while pregnant.
posted by Frowner at 4:50 PM on December 10, 2014 [5 favorites]


MissySedai: "ligament stretching and the like is not something your fluff can mute."

Yeah, I dunno, teenaged girls, just finishing up puberty, full of all kinds of unfamiliar pains and cramps and stretchings, and maybe having growing pains from growth spurts?

I wondered, reading the Jezebel article, if hysterical pregnancy in the West has dropped because of the availability of OTC pregnancy tests. I know tons of women who were superstitiously sure they were pregnant after ill-advised sex until they peed on the stick. Sort-of curious if the sort of perseverating that wants to develop into hysterical pregnancy can be cut off early, and if that would have any implications for treating other delusions.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:58 PM on December 10, 2014 [5 favorites]


I am not a woman and I have not been in this situation with others I care about, but in trying to imagine how this could be the case, I realized that it's not quite as crazy-town as it seems at face value. I'm going to guess that this tendency to disassociate with reality is actually really common. On a really low-comparison level, when I was in school, I'd put off opening up my school grades for a long time because I was nervous about the implications. I'd just disconnect from the compulsion to look for awhile, as if they didn't exist. On a closer-comparison level, many people do not go to the doctor and avoid the implications of certain medical symptoms that are potentially pointing to something critical, because to embrace the conclusion is too painful. People end up dying rather than dealing with a difficult conclusion. In order to live like this, you often need to disassociate with the reality as if it doesn't exist.

All that to say, it's a travesty. But I can understand, and feel empathetic towards, those who disassociate with negative things such that it lulls them into inaction based on denial. I'm going to guess that it's something in the human mind that is shared in the human condition, and for a certain percentage of the world population, it ends up presenting in more severe ways.
posted by SpacemanStix at 5:06 PM on December 10, 2014 [8 favorites]


With my first baby, I found out at 10 weeks along that I was unexpectedly pregnant. My periods were very erratic, so lacking a period meant nothing. I remember asking an older friend with a couple of kids what it would feel like when the baby got big enough to feel it moving. She said "Like gas" which was very weird to me as an answer but perhaps that is what a lot of these women (described upthread) who had no idea they were pregnant thought the baby's movements were: Gas.

Like Courjault, Lowe had no criminal history and was known for her willingness to oblige others.

This makes me wonder about there being perhaps some kind of chemical commonality and wonder also about the element of social pressure for someone so passive and obliging. I mean, if you are pretty confident that people around you will not support you having an abortion or giving the baby up for adoption and you are already kind of at your limit for responsibilities you can cope with and you know this is just more burden on you that others will expect you to bear largely alone, does this obliging, unconfrontational nature incline you to find some passive-aggressive solution? You don't seek abortion. You don't tell anyone. You let nature take its course while perhaps sort of hoping it goes away because you can't mentally face what this really means for your life. And then there is this baby and there is no one around and, in that moment, the answer suddenly seems simple. No one is there to stop you from putting an end to a situation you felt was thrust upon you and that you felt helpless in the face of. And you end it and then you are stumped as to what to do next because it wasn't premeditated or planned. In fact, the outcome grew out of psychological and emotional paralysis that prevented you from doing any planning or taking any kind of pro-active action.

For women who do not want children and do not have good social support for having full lives once there kids in the picture, how desperate can one become?

I am at a point where I can't imagine being backed into a corner like that by paralysis and lack of options, but when I was younger, there were times I just kind of hoped something would go away. You sometimes see AskMes on the green where someone obviously ended up in a pickle because they sort of hoped the problem would just go away on its own and hoped they could avoid some kind of social unpleasantness and they did nothing until it could no longer be avoided and then the answer was uglier than it would have been had they been more pro-active.

So as horrible as this, to me it suggests that one of the issues is, as alluded to upthread, that women are often valued less than the fetus and children and this can wind up being an enormous burden, an enormous threat to having any kind of decent life at all and they are so disempowered in so many ways, both large and small, that they just wind up quietly backed into this weird little corner.
posted by Michele in California at 5:08 PM on December 10, 2014 [30 favorites]


The first time I was pregnant, I suspected it early on--just after I missed my period. I was at the doctor for something unrelated, and asked if we could do a pregnancy text. It came back negative, and they assured me that I'd skipped a period due to stress and not to worry about it. And they were right; I was under a lot of stress, and that seemed reasonable. Plus I was on birth control, and I was pretty meticulous about using condoms on top of that, and it all just seemed pretty improbable.

More than two months later--into the start of my second trimester--I realised that hey, I haven't had my period in...a while. And I bought a drugstore test to reassure myself--the doctor had said I wasn't pregnant, and I hadn't had sex since then (memorably, since there had been a Dramatic Valentine's Day Incident that put an end to the relationship), so the test was going to be negative, obviously.

Four drugstore tests later, it was abundantly clear that the doctor had been wrong, and I was, in fact, quite pregnant. But for months I'd convinced myself that I wasn't, and had written off all the symptoms of it as, well, bodies are weird, I'm sure it's nothing. It's remarkably easy to convince yourself of this, especially when your access to healthcare is limited and your life is stressful anyhow. It's just one more thing that you're ignoring--the weird muscle pain, the rattling noise your car makes when you go over 55, the nausea, the call from the debt collector. You can only deal with so much at a time, and sometimes the thing that tips you over becomes something that you just...don't deal with.
posted by MeghanC at 5:11 PM on December 10, 2014 [16 favorites]


Considering there are stories of people with actual festering tumors that have eaten through their breast tissue to form gaping wounds and refused conventional medical treatment, I have no doubt that someone can write off being pregnant as gas or cramps. Until labor, it's probably a lot less painful than an open wound. And certainly less visible.
posted by sio42 at 5:22 PM on December 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


I did a research project in undergrad on infanticide in London in the 17th and 18th century, using trial records from the Old Bailey. Until the law changed in the 19th century any unmarried woman whose baby died was automatically presumed guilty of its murder, and would have to prove otherwise at her trial. Some women showed evidence that they were preparing for the baby's birth, and therefore wanted it, such as clothing and extra linen. Others found other women to testify that they did in fact have a husband living outside of London, which would automatically lead to an acquittal. Some women testified that they didn't know they were pregnant, thought they were ill when they went into labor, and were surprised by a stillborn baby. I hear echoes of those women in this article.
posted by apricot at 5:28 PM on December 10, 2014 [15 favorites]


the freezer, the laundry basket, a filing cabinet - are all places where we tend to put things that don't really have a "place" yet; they're waystations, places where you put things temporarily until you have a chance to deal with them later.

That doesn't strike me as a very good description of a freezer or a laundry basket and it's a terrible definition of a filing cabinet.
posted by layceepee at 5:31 PM on December 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I dunno, teenaged girls, just finishing up puberty, full of all kinds of unfamiliar pains and cramps and stretchings, and maybe having growing pains from growth spurts?

Oh, hell, yes. Women's bodies change a fair lot after puberty as well, so it's not everything is steady and normal after puberty either. Our reproductive systems are complicated and sometimes erratic and they get all tangled up with everything else. What is and is not 'normal' changes all the time, and it's not always easy to distinguish a reproductive issue from something else.

An unwanted pregnancy is a real, terrifying type of body horror that a lot of women live with all the time. Especially when compounded by sexual abuse, shame, or naivete, I can absolutely understand why a young, frightened woman could be in denial about a pregnancy, or not even realize she was pregnant at all.

I actually knew a girl who secretly had a baby and killed it. She wasn't a friend or anything--in fact, she'd designated me as a rival for some reason and had assaulted me a couple of times, so I pretty much hated her. But as I learned more about her life from mutual acquaintances and media coverage, I found myself, to my chagrin, actually sympathizing with her.
posted by ernielundquist at 5:32 PM on December 10, 2014 [5 favorites]


This happened to a woman I know in our early 20s, serious athlete. You know those beach volleyball players at the Olympics? She looked like that. Second day of a competition she isn't there because it turned out she was pregnant and she'd had a fucking baby the night before after the qualifiers, in which she competed in her regular competition clothing. I am quite sure she never wore more than a 26" waist pant at any time while pregnant. Baby was fine. She was fine. Family money, no real problems there. Coach had a heart attack

I swear every woman there peed on a stick that night.
posted by fshgrl at 5:58 PM on December 10, 2014 [17 favorites]


I too was surprised at how not-pregnant I felt when I was pregnant. Just about every symptom I had felt like nonspecific illness, fatigue, or indigestion. Fetal movement felt like gas. My growing belly didn't faze me; I gain weight in my midsection anyway, so I just felt chunkier. Even early labor felt exactly like menstrual cramps. When I went several days past my due date with no sign of labor, I couldn't help wondering if there was no baby and my body was just playing tricks on me.

On another note, reading this article reminded me of a recurring dream I used to have. I'd dream that my teeth were falling out, and I was too scared and humiliated to tell anyone. So I'd put my teeth back in their sockets, hoping they'd somehow reroot themselves, and pretend nothing was wrong.

I used to do that sort of thing when faced with problems I couldn't resolve: homework, bills, my weight, my work inbox. Pretend you didn't see it. Pretend you forgot. Maybe it'll go away. At some point, it seems like it might work and you can actually get away with it. And sometimes you do forget, for a little while. But it always comes back, worse than before, in the form of failing grades on report cards, calls from collection agencies, discovering you're too big for the clothes in your usual store, getting fired. In the back of your head, in the pit of your stomach, you always knew it would. But in the moment, panic, confusion, and helplessness won out over reason.

I'm lucky that my inability to cope with problems only affected me, and that I didn't have anything as huge as another human life to confront or avoid. I'd like to say that, had I gotten pregnant at a darker time in my life, of course I would have noticed, and of course I would have handled the situation safely, responsibly, and legally. I do think I would have. But there's something about these stories that feels uncomfortably, terrifyingly familiar. I've hidden other things, stuffed down less horrible secrets. I can swear up and down that I would have never, ever, ever hidden a baby in a freezer. But I can understand what would lead someone else to do it.

The teeth dreams are much rarer for me now. A couple years ago, they changed: a tooth would fall out, I'd be momentarily alarmed, and then I'd call the dentist and get it fixed, end of dream, no stress there. Not coincidentally, I've gotten a lot better at dealing with my problems head on, as they come. Not always great, but a lot better. (And, in case you were wondering, I adore my baby and am obsessively protective of him.) It's such a relief to have broken that cycle with no lasting harm done, and nobody else damaged in my wake. These stories momentarily bring back that awful panic, that dread, that tell-tale heart pounding under the floorboards.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:59 PM on December 10, 2014 [28 favorites]


@childofTethys: "In the US, many of the vocal platforms opposing reproductive Justice place fetuses and fertilized eggs above the interests of the woman, eclipsing their identity. This could be a way to cope, especially if the women live in communities that subtly or overtly over-write their identity."

Can you explain this more? What are you talking about here...?

@Joe in Australia I'm glad we've moved past that and also killing slaves as not being murder and killing women as not being murder, etc.
posted by koavf at 6:47 PM on December 10, 2014


It boggles the mind, I know.

Sigh. Assuming you're male, you've never had a period, never been physically pregnant, yeah so fine, continue to be mindboggled on something you don't know how to empathize with.

Women who have never been pregnant before don't know what it's like to be pregnant. While some women freak out because they got semen on their leg during fooling around and immediately worry they're pregnant, some think it's flu or food poisoning. Or some don't feel anything or have erratic menses or changing PMS symptoms.

Why? Because some have never been pregnant before and they just don't know what it's like and once the "flu-ishness" stops, it's okay, and denial is easy from there.

(Could a comparison be a guy saying,"It can't be my baby! Yeah, I came in you but there's no way I could have impregnated you! It's not mine!")
posted by discopolo at 7:02 PM on December 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


Koavf, my point is that in many jurisdictions - including my own! - when a woman kills her own baby it is still generally treated as something different. There are very good reasons for this: murder is about intent and culpability, and women guilty of infanticide are presumed to have done so while in an altered state of mind. This presumption should be recognised for what it is: a rare piece of compassion in a system that can often be quite harsh.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:03 PM on December 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


Ah, well that makes more sense then: yes, murder is different from manslaughter which is different from self-defense and there are degrees to murder charges for the reason you mentioned: intent.
posted by koavf at 7:05 PM on December 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


Someone I am very close to became pregnant when she was a freshman in college. She was in her seventh month before she was unable to live in Denial Land anymore. She was smart, straight A's, and when she finally admitted to herself that she was indeed pregnant, she couldn't bear the shame of telling her parents or anyone she could confide in. Only the people at the crisis pregnancy center and the father (so he could sign the adoption papers) knew. She went into labor and walked two miles from her dorm to the hospital, then took her finals the following week. The ability of people to deny and then detach is amazing and terrifying.
posted by chaoticgood at 7:39 PM on December 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


There is a law where I live, drop your newborn off at a hosptal, clinic, church and it is OK, no questions asked.

When people let newborns die, and then keep the bodies, that seems a illness. When people let a newborn die then bury the remains secretly, that seems a sad crime.
posted by Oyéah at 7:41 PM on December 10, 2014 [4 favorites]


...when a woman kills her own baby it is still generally treated as something different. There are very good reasons for this: murder is about intent and culpability, and women guilty of infanticide are presumed to have done so while in an altered state of mind.

Joe in Australia, this is actually something I focused on in my research, mentioned above. I focused on the language used in defenses, which increasingly became more descriptive of the woman's state of mind at the time of the birth. Often a woman would be described as "out of her senses." I argued that this shift indicated an increased sympathy for women that ultimately led to a change in the law so it no longer presumed guilt. Then, as now, I think there was some level of understanding that women in these situations are forced into a temporary and specific madness by desperate circumstances.
posted by apricot at 8:16 PM on December 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


I wonder how effective those "safe haven" designations are. If you're in that much denial about the pregnancy, then even an anonymous drop-off isn't going to do any good.
posted by Melismata at 3:32 AM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yes. That message, like in most criminal cases, is "fuck empathy".

People clearly aren't thinking straight and you jump straight to "sending a message". How big an asshole do you have to be?
I really don't think "try to empathize" is an appropriate response to this issue. Trying to understand the mindset that allows this to happen is important, but the extent of the psychotic symptoms experienced by the women in this article is beyond imagining. You may as well be telling me to have empathy for the otherwise perfectly normal perpetrators of school shootings which are undoubtedly driven by some kind of psychosis brought on by a perfect storm of deep-seated psychological issues and personal circumstances. Healthy people don't stuff corpses in their freezer. Sorry, but I'm out on the empathy train for this one.
posted by deathpanels at 4:20 AM on December 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


I knew someone this happened to, though she wasn't particularly young--she was fat (which is to say, comparable to me body-wise at the time) and I don't think in her case there was any element of denial at all. She seemed quite happy about it afterwards. Thankfully found out about it late but before the due date so had some time to prep. It does make me think, sometimes. Zero possibility it could be me anytime recently, but Jesus, yes, both when I've been fat and when I've been slimmer, I deal with stuff like weird gas pains and okay is this just indigestion or is this a sign that my gallbladder's starting to act up? My hips ache because I slept wrong and I don't even know how I did that. I'm really not sure if it came up that I could distinguish between "pregnant" and "unthinkingly ate cucumber again".

Even without things like shame and denial, bodies are weird. Throw in the myriad ways that this sort of thing can straight up wreck a young woman's life, and the fact that postpartum depression and even psychosis are a thing, and I regard this firmly as "not my place to judge" territory when I don't know all the facts and circumstances.
posted by Sequence at 4:37 AM on December 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


The weirdest thing about that Jezebel story is when the subject of the story starts posting her annotated ultrasounds in the comments. She is so convinced of the reality of her situation. I do hope she is able to find some peace.
posted by Biblio at 5:42 AM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


A friend of mine made it to early seven-months before she realized she was pregnant. And then her daughter was born quite prematurely, so really she was not actually consciously pregnant for very long at all. She's a tall, big-framed, somewhat obese woman, and had always been on the irregular side, and was taking birth control that apparently failed, and I guess just - didn't realize, and didn't show much, until close to the end of the pregnancy. Very smart, very level-headed woman, works in a medical field so she's not uneducated about this stuff.

Turned my head right around on the whole "this can't possibly be a thing that really happens" angle, because if it happened to her, it could happen to just about anyone. I'm embarrassed that it took a personal brush with it for me to start believing other women in general when they say this is a thing that happened to them.

I mean, I have taken pregnancy tests when there was literally no way I could possibly be pregnant, because my body had just decided to be extra-weird and I am that paranoid. Bodies are weird and unpredictable and it is not that hard to believe, really, that this could happen.
posted by Stacey at 5:44 AM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


After I had had a baby, my PMS symptoms changed, and became so much like early-pregnancy symptoms that I spent way too much in pointless pregnancy tests.

I think Michele has it right. In a patriarchal society, many women experience a kind of dissociation from their own bodies. Because the minute you start to develop (and sometimes before) you become a target of an overwhelming amount of hostility and predatory behavior from the outside world, which is simply too much to process for a lot of us. I buried myself in books and wore baggy clothes and stopped looking people in the face and got good at being unobtrusive for many years. And I really didn't have it that bad. Had I been subject to harassment and assault and unable to escape it or get support, and gotten pregnant, and known that I would be blamed and shamed and maybe thrown out of the house if I did, yeah, I could have just withdrawn from reality completely where the pregnancy was concerned. I like to think I wouldn't have just walked away from a baby or even killed it, but if I was really desperate...? Or the baby were forced on me by someone who raped me? I don't know what I would have done.

People ask "why not go to the fire station and drop the baby off?" but to do that, you have to talk to someone and say yes, this is my baby, and you are trying desperately not to acknowledge this reality you can't deal with. And you have to be able to get to the fire station, which means transportation or a distance you can walk.

We don't provide medical care to everyone, much less mental health care. We don't provide easy access to contraception or abortion or even decent sex ed. We don't support rape victims. We don't support women, period. We don't support women with children.

And this is what we get.
posted by emjaybee at 7:08 AM on December 11, 2014 [13 favorites]


Courjault hinted at her fear that she could not be an adequate mother to more children;

I can TOTALLY see this as a reason. My kid was a very high needs infant. Almost 1.5 years old and I still get worried about being good enough for just him. And that lady had two kids already. I suffered from post partum anxiety which wreaked havoc on me, my marriage, and was a significant factor in our decision to re-home our beloved dog. I'm not saying that what she did was right, but that I can TOTALLY RELATE to that kind of fear, guilt and anxiety of being good enough of a mom to more children. I don't know how many days of life those newborns had, but that whole first week is full of so many major ups and downs in hormones, emotions, and body changes. I remember becoming screamingly furious with my husband for cleaning up from lunch instead of helping me get our kid into his infant seat for his day 5 trip to the pediatrician.

Truth be told, I still don't think I could ever adopt another dog again for all the guilt I have, almost a year later, for not being good enough for the dog we had. And that is only a dog that I "failed". Don't even compare that to all of the high expectations for mothers of human babies - both internal and external expectations.
posted by jillithd at 8:06 AM on December 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


Thank you MeghanC for the horrifying anecdote, as if I wasn't paranoid enough already. I will remember your story next time I'm tempted to believe the many people telling me I'm overly paranoid for insisting on using condoms despite being on the pill. It's pretty scary how good bodies can be at getting pregnant sometimes, despite all the obstacles thrown in their way. And much more scary how good bodies can be at hiding it...

I can't imagine what it would be like for a young teen to discover their pregnancy very late. It's a completely terrifying thought at 28, with considerably more resources and mental stability than I had in my teens. Obviously killing the child is an appalling decision, but I feel for the women in that blindly panicked mindset. Especially those who have (or think they have) very limited resources for dealing with their situation, financially and otherwise.
posted by randomnity at 10:46 AM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I really don't think "try to empathize" is an appropriate response to this issue. Trying to understand the mindset that allows this to happen is important, but the extent of the psychotic symptoms experienced by the women in this article is beyond imagining. You may as well be telling me to have empathy for the otherwise perfectly normal perpetrators of school shootings which are undoubtedly driven by some kind of psychosis brought on by a perfect storm of deep-seated psychological issues and personal circumstances.

I agree with you that it is hard to feel direct empathy for someone who murdered their newborn. I am very glad I have not had to sit on a jury for a trial for something like this. I would find that really hard.

I think where empathy is potentially useful here is not in saying something along the lines of "it's okay they killed their baby because of REASONS." I think it is useful in saying "Oh, god, let's step back a few steps and look at all the factors that were at play and wonder what society might change that would help remove one of those factors from the equation."

To use your example of school shootings: I have two sons who have a lot of special needs and who fit in poorly in most social settings. I ended up homeschooling them for a long time. I pulled them out of public school at a point where my oldest son was having fantasies of driving a tank through his school because school was such a miserable experience for him.

At the time that he was having these fantasies, his father had the keys to a motor pool on the tiny military base where we lived. Due to the small size of the base, the school would not have been all that far from the motor pool. Had I not pulled my sons out of school when I did and just told them to suck it up, we all have bad experiences at school, it can't really be that bad, I can well imagine that he might have eventually tried to get all buddy buddy with his dad, learn some of the basics for how one drives a track vehicle, learn where the motor pool was, which key went to the gate and so on. I do not know if that motor pool had any tanks in it, but I am sure it contained Bradley Fighting Vehicles. For a very angry preteen, a Bradley would likely be close enough to fulfill their murderous fantasy. So I homeschooled my sons in order to make sure they would not become the next Columbine in the headlines. It was a sympathetic answer that protected all parties, my sons and other people as well.

Having empathy does not require one to say "it is okay for someone to do really terrible things." It can mean saying "Oh, gee, I can see terrible things coming because of thus and such, so I would like to avoid taking that route and not give life the opportunity to lead to something so terrible."

In the case of women who kill their newborns, it looks to me like some things that come in to play are abortion rights, reproductive rights, and general societal pressures on women to be 'good girls' and not sleep around and so on. We really do not teach women how to get their own sexual needs met with as few negative consequences as possible. We generally teach them that they are not allowed to get their sexual needs met, that their sexuality is intended to serve the needs of men (who are allowed to get their sexual needs met, because they are men), that being pregnant out of wedlock is something immoral and shameful rather than an unfortunate occurrence with built in logistical challenges and so on. We put a lot of pressure on women to never end up accidentally pregnant while also pressuring them to meet the sexual and emotional needs of men. Those two things are in conflict and are rooted in letting men have their cake and eat it too. It's a really sucky thing to be on the receiving end of and it's an incredibly broken paradigm.

My observation of life suggests that, for example, cultures that are pro shotgun wedding and thus hold men responsible for their children tend to be cultures where there is less animosity between men and women, and where sex is more okay because women aren't so extremely punished and screwed over for simply having a sexuality. American culture is currently pretty bad about putting an excess of the burden on the woman and then wondering why so many women are "frigid bitches" who don't want to put out and don't want to meet the needs of men.

So the place to be empathetic here is in the area of how society places so much pressure on women, gives them so little support and so on. Working on those things can help ensure that fewer women feel so painted into a corner as to spend their entire pregnancy in denial and then quietly kill the baby right after birth, only to leave the body somewhere because they didn't plan it and don't have any idea what to do.
posted by Michele in California at 11:44 AM on December 11, 2014 [13 favorites]


Michele, I don't agree with everything you say here, but this is so spot on that it's all worth it.
Having empathy does not require one to say "it is okay for someone to do really terrible things." It can mean saying "Oh, gee, I can see terrible things coming because of thus and such, so I would like to avoid taking that route and not give life the opportunity to lead to something so terrible."
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 1:07 PM on December 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


What a terrible situation.
I wonder if there are studies which compare the stats of different countries. I was surprised at the large number of infanticides in Finland, which has a very small population, compared to France and Germany. And it was interesting to see that Austria was able to bring down the number (if I understood that rightly?)
Comparison might lead to better understanding of what the underlying problems are.

I can easily believe that someone can be pregnant and not notice it, because I have met people who have experienced it - happily with positive outcomes.
posted by mumimor at 1:44 PM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


sexual trauma commonly leads to disassociation. it's not at all unbelievable to me that these women could be in a place where they can't really connect to their own pregnancy even though they sort of know they're pregnant.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:08 PM on December 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


While I can laugh and say "how the hell can't you know?" I then realize that mental illness, fear, and being uneducated will make you believed the darndest things.
posted by stormpooper at 9:32 AM on December 15, 2014


While I can laugh and say "how the hell can't you know?" I then realize that mental illness, fear, and being uneducated will make you believed the darndest things.

Did you read any of the anecdotes related in this thread? I mean, even if you're willing to write off every single woman in these stories as being mentally ill, afraid, or uneducated, what about this?
I used to work in a hospital, in pediatrics. We had a teenage girl there for about 5-6 days. Chubby, kind of roundish. She had a large IV in her groin for plasmapheresis, she must have had chest x-rays. She had missed a couple of periods, per the admission history, but no one followed up on that apparently. Discharged home doing well from whatever her problem had been. Came in that very night to ER and delivered a full term 7 pound baby. Not only did she not know she was pregnant, but in a week in the hospital no one else had noticed either.
It wasn't just that the woman in question missed that she was pregnant, an entire freaking team of doctors attending to her in an inpatient situation missed that she was pregnant.

It's comforting to think "Well, I would never wind up in that situation!" but it's not helpful and it's insulting to the people who did wind up in the situation.
posted by Lexica at 10:33 AM on December 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Today's news:
Woman who didn't know she was pregnant gives birth to 10-pound baby

I don't recall how I tripped across this one recently, but it is from about a year ago:
Nun gives birth to baby named after Pope

When I tripped across it, I chose to not post it here because I felt like the nun angle was just too inflammatory. But I feel okay with including it as one of two links. Maybe it is just one of those things where you don't notice something until it is brought to your attention and then you see it everywhere, but I was surprised to see these two stories relatively close together since participating in this discussion.
posted by Michele in California at 11:57 AM on January 9, 2015


Another article about the woman who gave birth to the 10-pound baby linked to a BMJ paper that says "The common view that denied pregnancies are exotic and rare events is not valid. Deliveries in which the woman has not been aware of her pregnancy until going into labour occur about three times more often than triplets."
posted by Lexica at 2:07 PM on January 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


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