December 21, 2005

If Ever a World Needed Saving

This one is from Hublet--warning:

What you're about to read is not an uplifting holiday story, but it is real, and is what he, his school, and we've been occupied with for the past couple of weeks.

In the early morning hours of last Tuesday, a student of mine from second period snuck out of her grandparents’ house, walked across the street into the woods, gave birth, cut her own umbilical cord, left her child in the ditch, went back in her grandparents’ house and re-entered her bed, where she almost bled to death.

Her grandmother discovered her there and they rushed her to the hospital. It was not until she was in the emergency room that my student told anyone about the baby. I have heard that she admitted hearing the child crying as she left it in the ditch, and that she covered it in leaves, but don’t know this to be fact, yet. EMS workers rushed to the scene after her confession, found the child (the temperature that night had dipped into the twenties), and even detected signs of life. But it was too late. He or she was pronounced dead at the hospital.

My student now sits in jail, charged with second-degree murder, with bond set at $75,000. I know little about her family, but her mother is dead (apparently of overdose) and her father (an addict, I hear) is not around. Very few people were aware she was pregnant to begin with, including (apparently) her grandparents. I had heard the rumor earlier in the semester, but she was small and dressed in baggy clothes – in fact, she dressed much like a boy. If it was true, I had thought, then she was no more than 3-4 months along. I was wrong, it turned out. She had tried out for girls’ basketball about a month ago, and, when the coaches saw her lift her shirt to wipe some sweat, they sent her home. Two weeks ago, her drama teacher (who knew) told her to stop lying on her stomach as she sprawled out on the stage to watch a movie in class.

The news made its way through school over the course of Wednesday and Thursday, and it was unavoidable wherever one went. No faculty conversation went on long without reference to it. In second period, a wild sophomore section if there ever was one, I simply asked everyone to respect the situation, fearing off-color jokes or inappropriate remarks. Instead, there was a sobriety that I had not thought some of those kids capable of, even at such a time as this. The kids were clearly affected, and these were the first moments of seriousness I had ever seen from a couple of them. They were, and I suspect still are, shocked. An often-petty girl, who I have been butting heads with off and on all semester, suddenly seemed as mature as my best kids. “I’m really angry with her, but I’m also really sad for her,” she stated to the class after we all discussed the situation for a while. In summing up our feelings there was not much anyone, students and teachers alike, could add to that statement.

But it does not end with that statement, either. Unanswered questions, unutterable images, and unmerciful grief – these are left in the wake of such news. What kind of awful life has she had? Was this planned or not? Who is the father, and was intercourse consensual? Did she carry it out in cold blood, or was she in tears the whole time? Did she feel trapped into doing this, and if so, why? Did she feel like there was no one, NO ONE, she could have talked to, and given the child to (NC law, btw, states that one has seven days after birth to give a child to a responsible adult without consequences)?

I know few answers to any of this. What I do know, and anyone in contact with this story knows, is the hell that the imagination naturally leads us to. A wet, writhing, crying child died a miserable, cold death, with no one there to hold it or offer comfort. That is the singular, awful fact; it is comparable to the stories of cruelty Ivan Karamazov lists in unrelenting fashion for his priest brother in an attempt to disprove, or at least undermine, God. My student’s baby, a miracle of life, literally knew nothing on this earth but pain, misery, and suffering. We flinch from the images that come to mind, for to think on them for any amount of time is to shudder, or curse, or yell, or cry (I’ve done them all in the past week). I love my student, and I fear what the future brings her. But whatever the motives, whatever level of punishment deserved, whatever unimaginably horrible extenuating circumstances in my student’s background, the image of that child is what has been burned into my mind.

The people that dwelled in darkness have seen a great light. In this season of the religious calendar, we focus more on the main clause, and not on its subordinate – and perhaps rightly so. But this Christmas day my student will be in a jail cell, accompanied by her torments; her child never had a chance to know Christmas day at all. The web of sins is woven so densely that any attempt to fully understand this entire mess will, I am convinced, fall short. It is a mystery, answered only by the greater mysteries of faith, of virgin birth, and of resurrection. If ever a world needed saving, it is ours.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at December 21, 2005 11:25 PM | TrackBack

Well, first, freezing to death isn't particularly uncomfortable. The stories are of struggling to stay awake lest you die. I know of no stories of freezing agony at all.

Second, people are wired to take care of babies. The abortion debate hinges on whether you want to hook into that imagery or not.

The uneasy resolution is that birth itself is the legal line, where the baby must be considered a baby and not a mass of cells. There are fights over the line, and the pro-life side will always rely on cuteness, and the pro-abortion side on mass of cells.

This girl got caught on the wrong side of the line.

As far as moral being, the baby develops it considerably after birth. It has cuteness right away.

The baby's soul is not a property of the baby (don't look at the baby, look at those caring for it ; if the baby has a place planned for it, the baby has a soul, if not, not.)

Ref, Stanley Cavell, _The Claim of Reason_, p411. The soul, when it is not being theorized about, is the grammatical reflex of ``having a body'' namely it is what connects to others. The baby doesn't do much of it but the parents certainly do.

Sorry to be insensitive but I am cynical about opportunities for florid prose, where it becomes an entertainment, like news of great tragedies on TV.

Infants are always being discovered in ancient privies.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at December 22, 2005 05:33 AM

Florid Prose? Read Blogs much? Take a break if "florid prose" brings out the cynic in you.

Ron, Thank you for your insight into a high school tragedy. Thank you for turning what I suspect was a writers catharsis and attempt to find some sense in this insanity into a debate about abortion. I'm comforted that freezing to death isn't uncomfortable - I'm sure that the high school that is going through this will be comforted by that is well.

Further, your insights into the ownership of the soul have managed to clarify my entire perspective on religion, abortion and property rights.

Please return to making your pithy comments on current events on your own blog and spare us your thoughts here.

Posted by: Jimmy at December 22, 2005 10:41 AM

Sad, but not too surprising. Contrary to Ron Hardin's assertion, people aren't "hard wired to take care of babies"; we primates are all weak on instinctive child care and need to learn it from our mothers. When the mother passes nothing on to the daughter, the daughter may easily discard the child as this daughter did.

I suppose there's a solution but since it involves society's making sure young people learn 'family values', we can pretty much kiss it off. The solution for the case at hand is just to tell your students that sometimes, there are no solutions.

Posted by: PersonFromPorlock at December 22, 2005 12:18 PM

What a stunning, heartbreaking post.

Posted by: Emily at December 22, 2005 01:35 PM

I don't have words.

But your whole town has my prayers and sympathy.

Thanks, Husband of BAW, for sharing that wound.

Posted by: Naomi at December 22, 2005 07:27 PM

Dear Ron,

I'm sure you didn't intend it, but your comment came across as pretty heartless, without being particularly insightful. I don't think you really get what the experience of pregnancy, childbirth, and caring for a newborn is really like. We have this pernicious mythology of perfect, instinctual, ecstatic motherhood whereas
the truth is quite a bit messier. All across America, intelligent, financially secure women with graduate degrees, husbands, and super support systems are looking at their long-awaited newborns, thinking "What is this!" "What do I do with it now?" and "Please take it away!" And if they feel this way, just imagine what it's like for a young girl with none of these things going for her. Pregnant women and new mothers are often more than a bit crazy, what with hormones and sleep deprivation, and it's amazing that so few new mothers don't do something that they will later regret. What they (we, actually!) need is someone there to tell us things are OK, to have a snack and a nap or go shopping ALONE for a few hours and don't worry about the baby. (For details on temporary maternal insanity see Vicky Iovine's pregnancy and first year books.)

Posted by: Amy P at December 23, 2005 10:33 AM

Amy -

I think you may be giving Ron too much credit.

Ron -

Forgive me for not rejoicing in the fact that freezing to death is painless; perhaps I'll keep that in mind if I'm ever facing the dilemma of which way I prefer to kill my newborn. I hear that drowning's not so bad, either, once you give in and inhale the water, and if you get hit hard enough by a truck, you'll never even realize what helped you shuffle off this mortal coil. Beheading has the added benefit of severing the nerve pathways that transmit pain to the brain, so that might work in a pinch--it seems to be a favorite among some societies, anyway.

Your point--if I am able to properly locate it among the verbal detritus of your comment--is that since children have been dying horribly since time immemorial, what's one more frozen infant corpse and ruined young woman's life among friends?

And then, if I'm to interpret the rest of your comment correctly, you have managed to deduce that the entirety of Hublet's post was designed for entertainment value. Well thank you, Amazing Kreskin, for you have mind reading powers the likes of which the world has never seen!

Sometimes, oh Captain Cynical, bad things happen and people want to share their feelings about it. I'm terribly sorry if that's all just too jejune and trite for you.

If, on the other hand, you posted your comment in the hopes that it would piss me off, congratulations! Your trolling was successful. And I now invite you to take it elsewhere, with the sincere wish that your cynicism keep you company.

Posted by: BAW at December 23, 2005 11:14 AM

I am sorry for the loss of this baby.

Posted by: Suzi at December 23, 2005 12:08 PM

No, I'm making a serious point.

That tragedy is economized, people get something for it. That's why everybody watches the ghastly news on TV, fascinated, the more ghastly the better.

A writer might take it as a topic to take up.

No doubt there are pluses and minuses ; a good line that's useful, or helful to some friend who can use it in tragic circumstances, is well spent time.

Coleridge wrote on the death of an infant of some friend, well I will never be able to find it, but a line to the effect that God so loved the infant that He called it to be with Him, was directed at the bereaved parents.

So some good came of his getting the line right, and his own satisfaction in the exercise is incidental.

Coleridge had some stake in the matter since it was a friend.

Like when I say, ``Sorry about your father'' to somebody, it does not mean I'm sorry. I don't miss his father one way or the other. It means that I'm cutting him some slack in his social obligations for a while, for instance he doesn't have to be as attentive to them as usual. So my ``sympathy'' does him some good.

But, now there is giving sympathy as entertainment for the giver of sympathy, something of the genre of soap opera. That does the victim and the victim's acquaintences no good, and is entirely parasitic on the genuine uses of sympathy.

Entertainment is very broad. It doesn't mean make happy. It means to engross in, to interest in.

So one might be interested in the topic, as an exercise in prose ; with the effect that the typical AP reporter gets given a few hours for creative writing on this or that tragedy. It's pretty repulsive.

It's repulsive because it trades on misfortune.

So there is a line to be drawn, as to what is genuinely your own business with friends, and what is entertainment for the masses, or for the author.

In this case, the mother is not grieving ; you could perhaps give her a line to think of in jail that might comfort her as to her legal situation, and how to start over (there's a Christian message, you can always start again). For instance, that she's on the wrong side of the legal line, and the rules were clear, and now you pay for that.

Not that it's something to wallow in. I tried to say why it isn't.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at December 23, 2005 01:37 PM

There is nothing serious about your point. All you've done is take a moving, personal story and used it to grandstand your own nonsense. Please shut up.

Posted by: Emily at December 23, 2005 04:04 PM

"I am making a serious point. Blah blah blah I'm scum."


Posted by: . at December 23, 2005 05:43 PM

"In this case, the mother is not grieving."

Ron, you have got to be the most clueless human on the face of the planet. I mean it. You have no idea of the complexity of which humans besides yourself are capable. This girl is not a cardboard cutout that exists to people your universe and have entertaining blog posts written about.

You have absolutely zero insight into what this mother is thinking and feeling. None. Zero. That's understandable at a stretch, but it's not understandable that you don't realize it. And it's very not understandable that you characterized the original post the way you did. Please try to grow a heart, if it's not too late.

Besides which, it's ridiculous to say that freezing to death is painless. For pete's sake. I've been cold enough to feel real pain, and never so much as had frostbite. Please.

Posted by: Laura at December 23, 2005 07:04 PM

Oh, my. This is surely a tragedy. If I'm reading correctly, the mother was about 15 at the time of birth, and possibly as young as 14 when she got pregnant. Some adults knew she was pregnant; still the girl seemed not to have had prenatal care or counselling.

Some states have what are called 'safe haven" "safe baby" laws, which allows mothers to leave their newborns anonymously at fire houses, hospitals and ambulance stations within three days of birth without fear of prosecution. Forty-six states have similar laws.

However, the people most in need of the law--the young women who deny and hide pregnancy, who are most likely to abandon their infants--do not know about the law.

National Abandoned Infant Resource center:

Safe Place for Newborns

Posted by: liz at December 24, 2005 06:55 PM

Liz -

NC does have such a law--7 days to leave the baby with any responsible adult, no questions asked.

And you're right--the mother probably had no idea.

Posted by: BAW at December 25, 2005 12:48 AM

Another teacher told me that once a guidance counselor knows of a pregnancy, it is his/her job to inform the girl of the law. Since some on our faculty/staff knew about this particular girl several weeks ago (at least), I believe one of our counselors had to have known, and would then assume that they talked to her and told her at some point. However, I do not know this for a fact - it is something I definitely would like to find out once we return next week.

No one has ever told me that teachers have an obligation to report pregnancies to administrators and counselors, as we are obligated by law to do in the case of a student mentioning suicide. I suppose it is minimally possible that some faculty and/or staff knew but never mentioned it to a counselor. Seems unlikely, though.

Thanks to all of you who have expressed your concern over this matter.

We hope everyone had a Merry Christmas!

Posted by: Husband of BAW at December 25, 2005 10:14 PM

How strange.
I wonder why anyone would want to do that to her baby???

Posted by: Amy at December 27, 2005 05:54 PM

The model of the marketplace is a useful one: see "the marketplace of ideas" for the most obvious example. It is not, however, the only useful model: The idea of family or of community also applies to the realm of human affairs.

Then too, there is the notion of the inherent value of human life; the which human selfishness, willfulness and indifference are continually work to erode. We owe "even the least among us" much more than we ever give, than most of us *can* ever give.

Sometimes all we have to offer against that debt are our words, our attention or our prayers. It may be--it nearly always is--not enough. But how much worse to give nothing at all?

Posted by: Carbonel at December 28, 2005 06:47 PM

At the risk of inciting more anger, I would like to add that I am left not just with the image of the poor baby, but with the image of a scared teenager who, for whatever reason, couldn't confide in her primary caregivers and then those in whom she did confide, apparently didn't help her enough. Research exists for us to know that teens who do this (and it's unfortunately not uncommon enough to be 'strange') are in denial about their pregnancy. Lying on her stomach in late pregnancy should surely indicate this. Who was watching out for her? Who was looking after her? And we now expect her to be able to do it for someone else? She was failed and so was her baby. It is a double tragedy.

Posted by: Julie at December 29, 2005 11:33 AM

Julie -

I don't think anyone disagrees with you that it is a double tragedy. And I imagine that it will only become more horrible when we find out the circumstances behind the girl's pregnancy.

Posted by: BAW at December 29, 2005 12:24 PM