Foundling Wheels and Baby Hatches

Posted by Sophia – See her original blog post here [CLICK]

Killing your own baby. Is there anything more horrifying? What kind of parent would possibly murder her own children for no matter what the reason is? Even imagining this horrible scene, makes us feel dismayed and terrified. Tragically, this does not happen rarely. Every year, hundreds of women let their babies die, therefore, the number of infant death increases dramatically worldwide. Yes, it does sound dreadful, but tiny bodies of lifeless babies can often be found in the trash containers, toilet bowls, elevators; it is also possible that these women leave their babies with the hope that a random stranger will find and ensure its well-being. Sadly, many of those newborns die before they can be found. According to law enforcement bodies, the actual number of abandoned babies would have been even higher if they were able to record all the cases, but unfortunately, most of these misdeeds remain undiscovered.

Clearly, leaving a baby in the trash is simply an irrational, immoral and a severe act, but what makes a mother doom her own child to death? What are her motives?

Violence Prevention Centre of Georgia researched the issue and studied the psychological portrait of cruel mothers. These women are mostly victims of certain psychological or social pressure. The influencing factors can be: mental state instability, domestic violence, severe depression, poverty, social isolation, relationship problems, lack of education and different social, psychological, economic or religious reasons. Dr. Phillip Resnick is an internationally known specialist in forensic psychiatry and an expert on parents who kill their children. He found out that most of these mothers are not necessarily psychotic or under the pressure of specific social background. One of the reasons can be spousal revenge when a woman lets her baby die and makes her spouse suffer by this insane action. Another motivation can also be when a mother perceives the world as a “cruel place” for living and she does not want her child to exist at all. So, this child is killed in order to help him avoid facing real or imagined sufferings in the future. Nowadays, there are more and more women who are victims of rape, violence or social stigma. This can undoubtedly influence the increasing number of unwanted and abandoned babies.

The frequent occurrence of similar cases has recently appalled Georgian society. After realizing the seriousness of this situation, the Government decided to consider the idea of so-called baby box. This is kind of a device, which will be installed near hospitals and instead of leaving newborn and unwanted babies in the trash bins, mothers can leave their infants inside these boxes safely and anonymously. Baby box is also known as a baby hatch. Georgian Non-Governmental Organisations consider using the same model of a baby hatch, which is applied in Germany. These boxes will be placed out of sight from police and surveillance cameras. They will provide a warm and safe place for abandoned infants. It will be a door to a better life for them. The hatch is just one square meter, however, it is equipped with a heated soft bed, air-conditioner and a lamp. When a mother wants to abandon her child anonymously, all she has to do is to pull the simple metal door of the box and place the baby there. As soon as the hatch is closed, it becomes locked. Babies can survive in such a hatch several hours but usually, they are picked up immediately from the other side due to the activation of the alarm system inside the hospital. If a baby needs medical care, doctors will treat and provide everything necessary for him. Baby box is not a deadlock for mothers. After some time (the exact period is not yet known), before the adoption of the baby, mothers can still have their infants back in case they reconsider their recent decision.

Baby box is not a brand new invention. It is just a modern version of foundling wheel that has existed since medieval times. Originally foundling wheels were placed on the outside wall of a church. Mothers, who wanted to abandon their babies could place them in the wheel and then ring a bell of a church to warn priests and nuns. Nowadays this system works with sensors and alarms which allow mothers stay unidentified and anonymous. A modern version of the foundling wheel is used in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic and in many other countries.

Georgian government hopes that launching baby boxes will increase chances of survival of unwanted babies. “I know the baby box is a potentially controversial issue, but everything should be done to give sinless babies a chance to live”, said Eliso Amirejibi, coordinator of Violence Prevention Centre of Georgia. Indeed, not everybody in Georgian society sees the advantages of these baby boxes. Some argue that this service does not really address the existing problem itself; moreover, it is just a drastic option which will encourage child neglect and abandonment. The reality is that whether there is a baby box or not, mothers are anyway abandoning their children. We do not know yet how the idea of baby boxes will be supported and approved by the Georgian society. Of course, this step is just a drop in the ocean, but if it would be possible to save at least one baby’s life, it will certainly be worth it.


Read Sarah Hrdy’s book Mother Nature for more on an anthropological look at motherhood.


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