Baby Napped

On the news last week there was a story about a family who has finally been reunited with their daughter after she was stolen from the hospital 23 years ago. Talk about a parent’s worst nightmare, right? The news played clips of the father and mother’s plea 23 years ago to “please bring our daughter back,” and how they “had no interest in pressing charges.” Of course they didn’t, right? Because number one priority – don’t hurt my kid and I want her back.

But now! The woman who is being charged with the baby-napping is facing charges and, although the parents are being pretty chill about it, they’re ok with that end result. This seems like a typical “oh my god, I can’t believe it, after all these years” story, except for one thing that keeps nagging at me.

As far as I could tell it was a solid two days of interviewing the parents, splashing the same two photos of the now 23 year old reunited with her parents and then one of her as an infant with the woman who snatched her from the hospital, and discussing what could happen, if anything, to this woman now that she has been caught. The main focus of the investigation – as far as the news is concerned – is whether or not the woman harmed the girl in any way. Was their abuse? Was their sexual abuse? If these things aren’t present, if the 23 year old woman testifies that these things didn’t happen, the court will probably go easy on her. And the news people, and presumably the television audience, seem relieved by this fact. The fascination is not with how the young woman is coping with this massive life change, this awful crime and the family that has suffered for it, but with what will happen to the woman who stole her. Why? Because the woman successfully raised daughter that was not her’s to raise? Because she didn’t “hurt” the child? Because look! now the baby is all grown up and she looks alright, so no harm no foul, right? We don’t want too harsh a penalty… she is a mother after all.

I feel like this is a classic case of sexism in a weird reversed way. The way women are given the benefit of the doubt because they have ovaries. Like the debate over women in combat (the government is protecting our frail, lady bodies… even against our will), like women being excluded from the draft (yay no draft for women! because we couldn’t stand to send our mothers, sisters, and wives … just our sons, fathers, and brothers into war). Like, because she is a woman, we can only blame this on her maternal extincts. She had had multiple miscarriages, she may have been temporarily distraught, so distraught she was compelled to take a baby from the hospital and raise it on her own. Maternal instinct? To steal someone’s child? No. If this had been a man, no matter how well he cared for the child, public opinion would be completely different, the reaction of the media would be horror, not pity.

The crime in this case is not against the child. That’s not the point, at least not the total point. Yes, the 23 year old woman probably feels like her life has turned upside down, and her identity is forever shaky. I get that, and that’s completely unfair and awful. But the real crime is against the parents who have suffered, and felt a loss their daughter may have never felt for 23 years, never knowing what happened to their child, never knowing her, never knowing why or how. The woman who snatched that baby girl should go to jail for a very very long time, and the fact that she didn’t abuse the baby she stole, the fact that she loved her as if she were her own, should hold no baring in this case, whether in the real court, or in the court of public opinion. Just because women are seen as being “naturally motherly” does not make it ever ok to take another person’s child, and it is ludicrous to make any excuses otherwise.

17 thoughts on “Baby Napped”

  1. This is a wildly strange story that makes my brain explode when I think about it. I can’t imagine being any player in this story and going through what they are going through. Very surreal.

    I agree with you that there is some reverse sexism at play that would not be present if a man had baby napped and raised this girl with no abuse. But I’m not sure if that means we should be more harsh on the woman or less harsh on the man.

    This is a terrible crime that dramatically impacts a lot of lives… but is she a danger to society? I don’t necessarily think long term jail time is the answer and often I don’t think jail time is the most helpful or effective thing to do. Lots of psych help for sure.

    Strange, strange sad case.

    1. I def do not think a punishment should be harsher depending on whether or not the person you took the child was a man or a woman – just stating that IF it had been a man, the public sentiment would be completely different.

  2. uhh yeah. I had actually lost track of the story once they found the baby-snatcher lady, hadn’t heard what they were going to charge her with. But I do remember seeing the early reports of this girl being reunited with her real family and basically shouting at the TV, “Why is nobody talking about the kidnapper??” It was all la-la-la, family reunited, joy and relief, etc.

    I agree this woman should be charged with kidnapping and go to jail. I’d like to say for an appropriate 23 years, but I’m torn on that. Maybe 5 years plus paying damages to the parents. And being restricted from being within 1000 feet of a maternity ward or childcare facility ever again.

    1. I think some imprisonment + fines and restrictions, like D-Day suggests, might be a good solution. I mean, I don’t think non-violent offenders should be taking up that much prison space, but it’s not like they should just get off then.

      1. it’s an interesting point about violent offenders… I’m torn with how many resources are used up by jails and my feelings on justice. I mean, those parents should receive something more than money, their daughter’s entire child hood was taken from them. If I were a parent, as ungracious as it sounds, I would want that woman to suffer for all of the torment she put my family through.

        1. I completely agree with you that there should be no difference in treatment (and punishment) for men and women in society, but like Kahlia, I’m not in love with the idea of prison for nonviolent offenders. Prison tends to make people more violent, not less so, and I think there are other rehabilitation efforts that would do better for nonviolent offenders.

          I suppose what I’m wondering, though, is whether someone who forcibly removes an infant (who can’t give consent) from the care of a hospital and its parents isn’t doing something intrinsically violent, even without any further abuse. Something I’m still working out in my head, I guess.

          1. that’s what i was wondering too. what constitutes non-violent? stealing a child seems pretty violent. Unless we’re just talking causing physical harm…

          2. Agreed, Lauren. It seems violent to me, too. There is, after all, such a thing as emotional violence … and what the parents went through was DEFINITELY that.

  3. I definitely think this story would be spun differently in the media if the baby-napper were male. Or even a couple. Having a maternal instinct doesn’t mean it’s ok to deprive someone else of their opportunity to raise THEIR OWN child!

    As we talk about often on APW, I’m really tired of how women are portrayed in the media. Being female doesn’t make this particular baby-napper any better or worse of a person than a male doing the same thing, and you’re absolutely right that she shouldn’t be receiving special consideration (even if it’s only in the eyes of the public/media… though of course it isn’t).

  4. You know, I hadn’t noticed this when reading articles about this story, but you’re totally right. There was a weird sort of sympathy going on for that woman. I’m glad to hear they’re pressing charges, even if the media hasn’t caught on.

    Did you notice there’s been multiple articles on CNN recently about how to “avoid” getting your baby stolen? That just struck me as odd…

    1. YES! when i was searching for linkable info on this topic it kept coming up with all of this OH NO! BABY SNATCHERS crap. It’s totally fear based media bologna.

      also – you were totally in my dream last night Laura! We were both at a writing conference and I was very happy to see you. 🙂 haha

  5. Ok, first off … THANK YOU.

    In my “my-husband-is-addicted-to-NPR-and-Jon-Stewart” life I didn’t even hear about this whole thing until the kidnapper turned herself in. My first thought was “How is this girl even DEALING right now? She’s just learned her whole life is a lie.” I can’t understand how anyone can cope with that. “Reunited” doesn’t seem to work for meeting your birth family for the first time.

    Part of me wants to be really happy that for the most part, the media is giving the family their privacy. Another part of me just doesn’t buy it.

    As for the kidnapper … it doesn’t matter how well you raised the child you stole … YOU’RE STILL A KIDNAPPER. And should be punished as such. Period. Male, female, whatever … it’s a crime, people have suffered HUGELY, and you should be punished. I read an article this morning saying that she’s been charged with felony kidnapping … and that the sentance, if found guilty (um, duh) is a minimum of 10 years to life. Thank goodness. If she “gets off easy” I may have to throw something. Throw many things. And heck … if I throw enough, maybe someone will notice, and start throwing things, too.

    Ah … solidarity. =)

  6. It took my brain a sec to read this as Baby-napped not baby napped, as in the baby is asleep.
    Wow get it together, me.
    You are so right. Female criminals are seen in such a different light than male criminals. I bet less of the public thought there was abuse than they would have if the napper was a male. Society has this warped sense of women as criminals. I mean, how could that 23 year old not be okay?! She was raised by a woman after all, and having boobs and a uterus automatically means you can care for a child. Puhlease.
    Stealing a baby away from a hospital shows NO lack of maternal instinct. Clearly.
    (Sorry for this extreme bout of sarcasm)
    Also, I cannot help but feel overwhelmed by the need for so much mental care for all these people involved. The napper has obvious mental health needs, but the “baby” and her parents, no matter how overjoyed they are to see each other, are going to need some serious mental TLC. I hope the right people are caring for their needs.

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