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Do baby boxes encourage abandonment or save precious lives?

When you think about a small vulnerable newborn, where do you imagine it should be? With its mother is the obvious place, but what if they can’t be together? The next-best place for that baby would be with skilled professionals, right?

Hence the revival of “baby boxes”, a medieval tradition of providing a safe place for mothers to abandon their unwanted babies. Back then, it was nuns and monks that took the babies in and provided for them. The 21st century version sees a box in the ER of a hospital that is monitored by nurses. If a baby is left in there, an alarm sounds and the baby is cared for before being handed over to the appropriate authorities. There are now three in Canada at Catholic-run hospitals – two in Edmonton, one in Vancouver.

At first it may sound like a bizarre idea, but there is some logic to it. In countries where there is a high level of child abandonment or infanticide, it’s a good alternative. In China, for example, female babies are often abandoned because the government’s one-child policy means that urban families are only allowed one baby, and they all want male children. Similarly, in countries like India where families still have to pay huge dowries, female children are often killed or abandoned. But Canada isn’t one of those countries. Is there really such a huge abandonment problem in Canada that we need these so-called “angel cradles”?

The short answer would be no. There are no countrywide statistics on abandonment in Canada, but individual provinces suggest it occurs once every few years. Certainly, cases like Meredith Katharine Borowiec, who abandoned one newborn and allegedly murdered a further two, suggest that there might be a good reason to have them. It seems that the babies will be cared for, the mothers have a chance to change their minds and it could very well save a baby’s life. Plus, there will be no criminal charges against the mother as it’s not “unsafe abandonment”. So, what is the problem?

The problem lies in the mental state of women just after giving birth. It is well-known that mothers experience a hormone dip on around day 3 of their baby’s life that causes them to feel tearful and helpless. That can be exacerbated by exhaustion from the birth, physical problems, post-partum, sleep deprivation and issues establishing breastfeeding. Against this background, giving women a convenient way out may seem overly tempting. The vast majority of women who feel like giving up on day 3 will go on to do just fine – but could this “baby box” lead them to do something they will regret forever? For example, one mother of two boys said of her early days with her first baby: “The thought of giving him up would appear in my mind along with an immense feeling of relief. Then I realized it wasn’t the most sensible of options, and I lurched back into misery“, while another said “I remember wondering if adoption would have been an option, but knew I couldn’t really give her up.” The question is, if they’d had a convenient baby box in front of them when they felt like that, would they have used it?

Will baby boxes encourage abandonment? Or will they save precious lives?


Until next time,

Peace, love and vitamin C!



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