The sign is simple. A five-sided blue polygon, in the shape of a house with a peaked roof. Inside it, a pair of hands, cradling a baby. Below it is the label, also blue letters on white: Safe Surrender Site.
She wondered about this after seeing the sign. Blue symbols on a white ground, the sign was around the corner from where she worked. She walked by it nearly every day.
It turns out that in California, it's legal to surrender an infant up to 72 hours old, at a hospital or a Safe Surrender Site without being charged with a crime, as long as there are no signs of neglect or abuse.
The sign intrigued her, and she stopped one day to ask the firemen, washing their trucks, for a little bit more information about the sign.
She suspected that the firefighter misread her intentions, or at least her curiosity. After finding out the meaning of the sign, she was considering the possibility of becoming a volunteer to help these unwanted babies. However, she suspected the fireman, noticing the lack of any sort of marriage-denoting trappings, thought she might be looking for a possible outlet for an unwanted pregnancy.
It made her laugh, but also made her stomach turn over, to be suspected of this. When had this become such a losing proposition in our culture that this was the end result?
In the United States, some percentage of unwanted pregnancies generally end in abortion. The statistics vary wildly, depending on the political stance of the statistician. People go on. Some are comfortable with their choice; some end up regretting the decision to terminate a pregnancy. I made a non-typical choice by keeping Tess in spite of the fact that I was doing it on my own - she was a wanted baby, from the very beginning. Also, from at least that perspective, I am a stupendous badass. Once I had made the decision to keep her, that was it. I knew I'd manage it, somehow. There are times I've struggled, but I have never, for a moment regretted my decision.
Because we have the perception of control over the process of conceiving and carrying a fetus to term, the decision to have, or not have, children, seems far more complex, and we seem to agonize over it far more.
Older friends of mine laugh at the difference in our experience - until the 1950's, you had a child, if you ever had one, when you got pregnant. Surprise! Oh, there were French letters, but my understanding is they were only partially reliable, at best, and certainly frowned upon by several of the world's major religions. You got married, you had babies. Probably. With the advent of the birth control, we all received control. Or perhaps the illusion of control.
They had quite an animated discussion about the nature of bearing children, and the repercussions. Scanning the room, if you knew these people and their history, you would see an immense variety of childbearing "choices". They include: a couple who used open adoption, because he had chosen to get a vasectomy in his younger days; a woman who had intentionally borne a child and was raising her solo; a couple who had had one child, wanted more but never conceived another, and eventually lost the one they had; a woman with two grown children, far away; a man who'd always wanted children and never found himself in the right situation to do so; and couple who were divided. These last were was the source of the discussion - she wanted to bear a child, he didn't, (having two almost grown children from a previous relationship) and they were in the midst of an ongoing discussion (argument?) that had continued for well over a year. In the background, the faint sound of clocks ticking for all of them.
"Since 1999 at least 30 states have approved infant abandonment legislation. These laws are also known as safe haven, safe surrender, and Baby Moses laws.
A result of abandoned babies being discovered in trashcans, dumpsters, public rest rooms, and other places, the controversial laws are geared towards mothers who may abandon newborns. The legislation allows women to relinquish newborns anonymously, with no questions asked, to healthcare providers, police officers, firefighters, or social workers, without fear of prosecution." (bellaonline)
"In general, we support the concept of safe surrender, but we have several words of caution. First, these laws provide an after-the-fact safety net, not a solution to the problems of unintended pregnancy or inability to care for a child. Virtually every case of infant abandonment signals that the health care and social service system has failed a woman and her baby, for surely a well-functioning system would enable a woman either to prevent unwanted pregnancy, to end it safely and early, or, if she decided to carry to term, either to keep her child or to place it, again safely and swiftly, for adoption. Moreover, it is not clear whether safe surrender laws will accomplish their purpose. No infants were surrendered under Texas's law until December 2000, 17 months after the law's enactment. And, since the law took effect, 13 infants in Texas have been illegally abandoned." (ACLU)
The sign, of this infant cradled by two hands, and the long discussion came together in her head. Perhaps the perception of choice in all of this is, at best, a semi-truth, and at worst an illusion. This group of friends who with the babies and children running amongst them, had longed for these kids - longed for and made sacrifices for and agonized over and struggled for and with.
Who are those unwanted babies?
Safe Surrender Site