Nixzmary Brown is dead. Her stepfather accused her of eating his yogurt and her alleged punishment was her life in his hands.
Nixzmary was beaten in front of her mother, Nixzaliz. Nixzmary’s head was repeatedly dunked in a bathtub full of freezing water. Her cries of “Mommy” were heard throughout the apartment but no one in her family lifted an ear to help. Nixzmary was found dead in the morning tied to a radiator in a room filled with rats, urine and feces.
She was seven.
We’ve talked about the cheapness of life before and we’ve discussed how poverty and familial circumstance can work against the lives of innocent children. Almost six years ago the state of New York passed a “Safe Haven” law allowing any mother to give up her newborn within the first 30 days of its life at any firehouse, church, hospital or police precinct with no questions asked.
The mother will not be prosecuted for infant abandonment. The mother is not required to give any reason for the giving over of her new life. The purpose of the law is to give frightened and poor mothers an anonymous alternative to leaving a newborn in a dumpster or stuffed in a bathroom trash bin:
More is known about these mothers – at least those who get caught. They tend to be girls of about 17, living with their parents, says neonaticide expert Michelle Oberman, professor of law at DePaul University and coauthor of the book “Mothers Who Kill Their Children.” In deep denial about their pregnancies, and often concealing them, they frequently do not seek prenatal care and tend to deliver their babies alone – often at home.
A problem with Safe Haven laws is the public shame of a pregnant teenage mother. How can we expect a 16-year-old who hid her pregnancy for nine months to suddenly walk into a firehouse and give over her baby when her psyche has not allowed her to even admit to herself that she was actually with child?
Confidentiality and anonymous outreach programs can help destigmatize the process for young mothers by making the giving over of the newborn less traumatic and naturally automatic but shame is still a more powerful master:
“I gave birth to my daughter in my campus dorm room all alone,” Ms. Davis, one of the few young mothers who’s spoken to the press about abandoning her baby, told National Public Radio last week. Panicking, the straight-A student put her daughter in a dumpster next to her dorm, then called campus security to report a noise outside her window, hoping they would find the baby.
They did, and Davis eventually got custody of her daughter. “[But] when I was pregnant and when I gave birth, I wasn’t really thinking rationally enough to say, ‘OK, well, after I give birth I’m going to take my daughter to a hospital, or I’m going to take her to a fire station.”
A clearer example of the benefit of the Safe Haven law recently happened when a newborn, less than four hours old, was brought wrapped in a white cotton towel — and still bloody from the birth — to a firehouse in New York City.
The mother of the infant told the firemen — even though she was not required to say anything more than she was giving up her baby — that she could not care for the baby because she already had eight children and her husband had no job and he refused to allow any birth control for religious reasons. She left her life behind but gave her baby a chance at a future and that is the mark of a loving mother.
The firemen said they had delivered a lot of babies but had never had one delivered to them. When we live in a disposable society where women are not always in control of the decisions that regulate their bodies because of religious beliefs, oppressive men or an inability to manage proper birth control because of social or economic status, the children born into that desperate realm suffer.
Safe Haven laws are a lifesaver because they offer a way out of hopelessness where death doesn’t have to be an option. One only need to reflect upon Nixzmary’s feckless future and wonder if she had been born a year later after the Safe Haven became law if somehow her life might have been wrenched from the hands of a man who allegedly beat the death into her.