Unwanted infants touch many hearts
- Diane Dennis-crosland
- Portland Tribune - Features
Over the years they've turned up in Dumpsters, shallow water and shopping bags. On April 6, during a beach cleanup, the corpse of a still-unidentified newborn was found in a shallow grave near Newport.
Debi Faris of San Bernardino, Calif., who conducts funeral services for such abandoned babies, remembers when she first heard of the horrendous act of dumping an infant. It was several years ago, when the body of a baby, stuffed into a duffel bag, was left by the side of a Los Angeles area freeway.
'I couldn't stand by without doing something,' Faris says. 'After a family discussion, we decided we wanted to give the baby a proper burial.' After some red tape and many interviews by authorities, she and her three children arranged a service.
When a deceased infant is found Ñ stillborn, killed or having died later of natural causes Ñ and goes unclaimed, its corpse is identified as Baby Jane Doe or John Doe and tagged with a number, Faris says.
'The first thing we do is give the baby a name,' she says of her funeral services. An obituary is sent to the local paper, saying that the baby was abandoned, describing when and where its body was found, and giving the location and time of service.
'The response always amazes me Ñ 75 to 150 people come from up to 150 miles away to each service,' Faris says.
Faris is the founder and director of the Garden of Angels, a cemetery for abandoned children in Calimesa, Calif. Since 1996, the group has buried the bodies of 45 babies.
Members of Garden of Angels and its Safe Arms for Newborns program visit classrooms, from ninth grade through college, to talk to young women about what they would do if they had an unwanted pregnancy. Garden of Angels also offers support to women convicted of criminal charges in connection with infant abandonment.
Faris says she started the organization because so many of the people attending the funerals donated money for burials. 'Now groups have fund-raising events in our honor,' she says.
According to Faris, the average person who abandons an infant is a young woman, 16 to 23 years old, who is afraid and feels ashamed of having gotten pregnant.
Although the state of Oregon doesn't keep statistics on how many babies are found abandoned or dead here each year, officials say the number is very low.
To address the problem, last year the Legislature passed a law allowing a parent to leave an infant at a hospital, doctor's office, birthing clinic, police station, fire department, sheriff's office or county health department without legal consequences.
There are a few conditions: The infant must be no older than 30 days, with no evidence of abuse, and must be left in the hands of an employee. The parent is not required to provide any identifying information about herself or the child.
The intention of the law is to keep these unwanted little beings alive so they can be placed in safe and loving arms. Thirty-eight states have passed similar laws.
The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Peter Courtney, D-Salem, who currently is doing public service announcements about the law to bring it to the public's attention.
'Adoption rights groups are struggling with this bill because they want these newborns to have information abut their birth parents and to be able to contact them if they wish to,' Courtney says. 'But if the babies die (before they can be adopted), records don't matter.
'I admit that it's an extreme piece of legislation,' Courtney says. 'But this bill is a last-ditch effort to keep a child alive. Our biggest goal is to prevent this from happening again, ever.'
Information about Oregon's law, including which facilities are authorized to accept infants, is available from SafeNet, a program of the state Department of Human Services, at 1-800-723-3638 or
online at www.ohd.hr.state.or.us/
Diane Dennis-Crosland's new
radio show, 'Family Survival,' runs from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.