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Outcomes of Neglect

A neglected baby will eventually give up.

Many years ago, a lawyer brought an infant to our home and asked us to care for him until foster parents could be found. The lawyer feared that even one more day with the baby’s parents might lead to his death. His young mother and military father had thought they could take care of the child. Once the baby boy arrived, his parents were too immature to do so.

Before literally giving her baby away, the teen mother had put every single item of baby clothes she had on his emaciated body. As I peeled the layers of clothes away, I began sobbing. Although older than my own baby daughter, the little guy made her look enormous. His limbs amounted to skin stretched over tiny bones. His eyes, as well as his penis, drained pus and mucous. One side of his head had grown totally flat.

Immediately, we took the baby boy to our daughter’s doctor. Examining the baby, our pediatrician speculated that he had probably turned his head toward sounds from an adjoining room. After turning his head and crying for many weeks, the bones in the baby’s head had flattened. Untreated diaper rash had advanced into an infection that not only covered his genitals but had crawled up his penis to infect internal organs.

When the doctor gave the tiny little guy a shot, the baby barely whimpered. I knew our own baby, two weeks younger would have screamed in protest if given a shot. The doctor added, “This baby has cried without relief so many times that he has given up. In his short life, no matter how much he cried, no one came to help.”

Foster parents accepted the baby within a day or two. We moved to another city. Over the years, I have wondered if a baby who gives up during his first 6 or 8 weeks of life will ever trust anyone. Our pediatrician assured me that the baby’s head would probably round out and that infections in his eyes and penis would heal. Probable emotional damage still haunts me. Too young to retain memories for talk therapy, he has probably struggled with the lasting emotional impact of neglect.

I have also wondered about the teenage couple who first neglected and then gave their baby away. I do not believe that anyone plans to harm or neglect a baby ahead of time. Any individual who can listen to an infant cry in distress without responding needs emotional assistance. The natural phenomenon called “mother instinct” almost always kicks in at the time of birth. When a new parent simply cannot rise to the needs of a helpless baby, society must forgive the unforgivable and provide assistance.


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