Georgina Guedes

Circles of care

2012-10-04 15:30

I was horrified to read a ghastly story about a Florida teenager who strangled her newborn baby earlier this week. We have many similar stories in South Africa, where babies born to young mothers are often abandoned or left to die.

The circle failed

The details of the Florida case are extremely upsetting, but one of the things that stuck with me was a reported quote by one of the investigating officers that this teenager's circle of care had failed her. She hid her pregnancy under baggy clothes, and told the police that she had killed her baby because she didn't want her relationship with her family to change.

An aunt apparently thought she might have been pregnant and raised the issue with her mother, but the mother refused to acknowledge the possibility.

I've tried to reason through what I would do if a young teenager that I knew was hiding a  pregnancy and her mother was in denial. I like to think that I would confront the girl or her parents with the unavoidable truth and try to help them to find a solution.

But modern society has placed a heavy burden of looking the other way on us. In the past, unwed teen mothers would be judged and shunned by their communities. This is the wrong approach completely, but as the pendulum ha swung, we now consider it good manners to let people get on with their own business without any intervention at all.

Challenging the nanny state

I remember when I was pregnant and buying a plate of takeaway sushi for my mother, a woman leapt across the fish shop at me to lecture me on the dangers of uncooked fish for pregnant women. I was absolutely livid. My mother, on the other hand, was touched that someone cared enough for my unborn baby to make such a nuisance of themselves.

I am the first to challenge nanny-state thinking that tries to define how we raise our children and what we do with ourselves, but obviously there's some call for outsiders to get involved in family affairs. In the case of this Florida teenager, the time was far behind her when she delivered a baby by herself.

Extend your family

I am happy to have a circle of care around my little family unit. When my son was born a little earlier than expected, both my husband's and my mother were away. We are fortunate to have a close network of friends and family who were ready and willing to do what was necessary to care for my daughter at home and help us deal with the surprise arrival of Henry.

I like to believe that any one of these people would involve themselves in my family's affairs if they felt that anything was happening of which I was unaware or about which I was in denial.

We should all establish these kinds of networks. Closing doors, keeping it in the family and managing it on your own are strange and outdated concepts. People need other people. The key, of course, is finding other likeminded people that you can trust.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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