Secret Births: When Teens Hide Their Pregnancies

by David C. Reardon

Stephanie Clark was only looking for a pair of her daughter’s pants when she opened the closet door. Imagine her surprise at finding a tiny newborn baby nestled in a blanket. “I screamed in surprise,” she later told reporters. “I called 911. They said, ‘Whose baby is it?’ I said, ‘I have no idea.'”

It turned out that the baby was her grandson, Navorn. Her 17-year-old daughter Shanta had concealed her pregnancy and secretly given birth to her baby boy in her home on Sept. 21, 1997. She had hidden the baby in her bedroom closet whenever she left for school. It was 17 days after the birth before the startled grandmother first met her grandson.

After being charged with neglect, Shanta was given custody of Navorn on the condition that she move into a home for young mothers. The 16-year-old father of the child came forward seeking to establish paternity and to strengthen his relationship with Shanta, which he described as previously an “on again, off again” romance.

The media spin on the birth of the “closet baby” Navorn Clark suggested that teenagers can be unaware of their pregnancies for long periods and may engage in denial of reality until it is “too late.” Teenage “denial” is often blamed for late-term abortions. The argument goes that teenagers have trouble confronting the reality of their problem and so fail to seek an earlier, “safer” abortion. Because of this “denial” problem, pro-abortionists argue, we must keep late term abortions available for these “messed up” kids.

Personally, I’ve never bought this argument. Certainly it is not uncommon for teenage mothers to go through short periods of denial about a pregnancy, desperately hoping that “my period is just late.” But of the thousands of testimonies I have collected, in every case where a teenager had a late term abortion, not one stated that she didn’t realize or couldn’t accept that she was pregnant.

Instead, they all indicated that they deliberately concealed their pregnancies in the hope that by the time their parents discovered the truth, it would be “too late” to have an abortion.

Unfortunately, these young women discovered, it is never “too late” to get an abortion in America. Their abortions were either forced or carried out under duress. From this viewpoint, late-term teenage abortions are not due to teenage denial, but rather to parental abuse.

Pro-Abortion Parents

A few years ago, I was a guest on a call-in radio program. A woman called in to declare her self to be on the side of “choice,” despite abortion’s risks. I asked: “Well, if you are pro-choice, then certainly you would agree that we should have laws to protect young women from being forced into unwanted abortions.” Without hesitation, the caller confirmed my point, saying, “I’ve told my daughter that if she ever gets pregnant, she will have an abortion. I’ve done my duty raising her. I’m not going to raise her kids, too.”

This woman was pro-choice for everyone except her daughter. For her daughter, there was only one choice: abortion.

Sadly, many young people grow up with the same understanding of what their parents’ demands will be if they ever become pregnant. What are they to do?

Some, like Stephanie Clark, will try to conceal the pregnancy all the way through to birth. On a speaking trip I once spent a night with a family who had a ten- or twelve-year-old adopted daughter. The girl’s teenage birth-mother had successfully concealed everything from her parents. She hid her pregnancy, arranged for the adoption, selected the adoptive parents, and gave birth at a hospital (returning home the same day)-all without her parents ever catching on to the truth. Indeed, there was still some communication between the biological mother and the adoptive parents and the adoptive parents believed that the biological grandparents still, to that day, did not know of their granddaughter’s birth.

When Options Run Out

Not all teens are as resourceful as this young woman was. Others simply know that they can’t or won’t abort their children. Some have probably already had an abortion once and were so devastated by it that they will do anything to avoid having another.

So they try to get by, one day at a time, concealing the pregnancy and hoping that somehow it will all work out. Sometimes, it does. They reveal the pregnancy after their boyfriend has promised to support them or at a point when their parents no longer feel comfortable forcing an abortion. In other cases, it doesn’t work out. The pregnancy is discovered or revealed, and they are still forced to abort.

Read Tiffany’s Story here

In at least a few cases, however, teens are concealing their pregnancies all the way to birth, still hoping to find some last-minute solution. But what happens when the baby is finally born and there is no obvious last-minute solution? Now they still have a secret to hide! They know their parents’ wrath will be no less now that the baby is here than when it was in utero. But it is even harder to hide a crying child than it is a bulging belly. What are they to do?

I believe fear of parental rejection or abuse is often the driving force behind babies being abandoned on church steps, in garbage cans, or even on the road side. Is the abandonment of these children simply a loveless act of infanticide? I suspect that in at least some cases, they are abandoned in the hope that someone will find them and care for them, and the mothers are left with a lifetime of grief and guilt. In such cases, these teens may be hiding their pregnancies and abandoning their children because they desperately wanted to protect their children from the people who would have forced them to them abort.

To extend this analysis one step further, what happens when these confused and frightened young women don’t have the time or opportunity to abandon their children? Is it not likely that in the panicked minutes after the birth, when the infant is crying and the need to protect her secret overwhelms even her maternal instincts, some of these young mothers may act rashly to stop their child from crying and keep their secret? Are the resulting deaths due to acts of hate, or acts of panic?

This analysis is complicated even further if the mother had a previous traumatic abortion, as those who have suffered trauma often seek to reenact the trauma in an attempt to master it. It might be that the teen who abandons or even kills her infant is psychologically reenacting an unresolved traumatic abortion experience. While this does not excuse a child’s death, it points to the far-reaching trauma that can result from coercion and abortion.

Loss of Support

Decades ago, most parents were chiefly concerned about protecting their daughters’ reputations. Today, when many schools freely hand out contraceptives, it appears that some parents are chiefly concerned about avoiding responsibility for helping their daughters to care for their “unwanted” grandchildren.

This is why the solution to teenagers abandoning their newborns or committing acts of infanticide cannot be found in efforts to encourage teens to have abortions early. Easy access to abortion is not the solution, it is the problem. In many cases, abortion is what they are trying so hard to avoid! Whenever it is easy for teens to have an abortion, it will also be easy for teens to be forced into unwanted abortions. Fear of the latter may be driving teens into a corner from which there is no easy escape.

Abortion, infanticide, and child abandonment are often acts of fear and despair. They are symptoms of a society that too often does not embrace young mothers and fathers, but instead frequently subjects them to criticism, abuse, and coercion. The only solution is to offer young women and men unconditional love and life-affirming support.


Originally published in The Post-Abortion Review 6(1) Spring 1998. Copyright 1997 Elliot Institute.


One Teen’s Story

“I was 14 when I had my first abortion. When I got pregnant, I told my mother right away. … I knew she would be upset, but I never thought she would make me get an abortion.  … One morning she woke me up early and told me to get ready. She told me I had an appointment for an abortion. I couldn’t believe it.

“… [W]hen I got to the abortion clinic, I cried and begged them not to do the abortion. My mother made such a stink about being poor and not wanting any more babies in the house that they listened to her instead of me. They did the abortion anyway.” — from Tiffany’s Story (an excerpt from the book No One Told Me I Could Cry)


Learn more:
Special Report on Teens and Abortion
Resources on Teens and Abortion

 


Comments

Secret Births: When Teens Hide Their Pregnancies — 17 Comments

  1. I am a girl of 18yrs, I have a problem. I discovered that I have been carrying a child for close to 2months. I don’t want to have an abortion and I want to conceal it from my family and friends. Is there anything I can do?

    • Go check out our page on pregnancy help centers. Call one or more of the hot lines and find a contact in your community. They will be your friend and sounding board and can also help provide resources and counseling for the day when eventually they do need to be told. They may also be able to help you with any legal help you may need in the event your parents, your boyfriend, or his family begin to pressure you into having an abortion.

      A trained pregnancy help center counselor can help prepare you and your parents and may help provide family counseling if they don’t adjust to this news well.

      If you’re thinking about totally concealing it, by moving away, placing the baby for adoption and coming back without anyone knowing, I don’t know if that’s possible, much less wise. But I can assure you there are families willing to take in a pregnant house guest in these kinds of situations and other programs for women needing to get away and find their own housing. Again, the pregnancy help center counselors are probably in the best position to make recommendations and help you search for alternatives.

      Don’t hesitate to call if you need any more help from us.

  2. I’m 18, and pregnant… concieved about four weeks ago, probably. I’m lying and telling people my period was due this week instead of two weeks ago, and I’m going to be hiding my pregnancy via use of a corset (only lacing my waist to it’s natural, pre-pregnancy size when I can’t go tighter) until I’m 24 weeks pregnant… I don’t want to be forced into an abortion, and I think I would be (my mother herself was forced into an abortion when she was just 19).

    I’m really scared, and idk what to do.

    I don’t want to ruin my boyfriends life (he would give up everything for me and our baby, but he’d be panicking and trying to work two jobs, working himself too hard), or destroy my mothers heart.

    • Please see our pregnancy help page to find resources and supportive friendship, most especially the friendship, of people trained, able, and willing to help you. They can not only provide you immediate help and encouragement, but they may also be able to help when it comes time to talk to your parents and boyfriend.

      Rather than just hide your pregnancy and hope that things will work out, you can get help from people who have experience at working with young women, their families, their boyfriends, and all the people and issues involved with an unplanned pregnancy.

      Please call one of the hotlines on this page, as soon as possible. The sooner you have someone you can talk to openly about your concerns and fears, the sooner you will be able to get good feedback and advice . . . and most importantly, no longer feel alone as you face these issues.

      You are in my prayers. Please call today.

  3. I went through this at age 18 and nobody knew until I went to the hospital in labor. There was a period of denial and mixed feelings. I think it’s something not often talked about so more and more tend in certain situations feel scared and alone. I had no prenatal care and was lucky to give birth to a healthy baby boy who is now an active 11 year old. I am just now to the point where I’m comfortable sharing my story, and if it helps even one person then it was with sharing.

  4. Im 17 years old And I Found Out I Was Pregnant When I Was About 4 weeks And 3 days And now I’m 3 months Pregnant But I’m Scared of Telling my Parents Because Their Really Strict and I know Its A Disappointment to them And I don’t Know how To Hide My Pregnancy Until I Think I’m Ready To Tell Them Please Help !!

    • Hi Gissel,

      Perhaps it would be good to find someone who can help you discuss it with your parents. I would suggest that you try contacting a pregnancy help center in your community. One of their counselors or volunteers would be happy to participate in the meeting. Or, perhaps a minister at church or a school counselor may also be of help.

      The main thing is to make sure it is someone who will be supportive of your decision to keep the baby. The last thing you need is your parents wanting you to abort and your ally turning on you and agreeing with them!

      A pregnancy help center may also be able to refer you to a family counselor who can help you and your parents to discuss any other issues that may get in the way of the support from them you deserve and need.

      Things will work out. And honestly, I think your parents will likely be less upset than you fear. Hopefully, they will be glad that you are taking responsibility for your baby and giving birth to their grandchild. Yes, just as any unexpected event requires adjustment, they will go through initial feelings and thoughts of confusion and dismay because the future they had been expecting has now been changed. But they will adjust . . . especially once they hold their beautiful new grandchild.

      Be not afraid! Everything will work out. Having an advocate with you when you tell them may help smooth the way . . . and moderate their reactions.

      Please remember also, even if they at first say something that is hurtful or unkind, it is likely out of shock. Though they may be disappointed in you in some ways, they will be proud of you in many other ways, especially as you show them what a good mother you can be. Be patient with them. You are doing the right thing. And eventually (or perhaps immediately), they will see that.

      You are in our prayers! Don’t ever lose hope. Don’t ever give into despair.

  5. Everyone in my family thinks I’m a virgin still. But I lost it to a druggie a year ago. Now I think I’m pregnant and I know my step mom is too. But the last time I had sex was in January, and my bf used a condem…

    • Hi Kayla, have you had a pregnancy test or visited a doctor or health care clinic to have the pregnancy confirmed? That is the first step. If you are pregnant, there is lots of help available. You need to talk to someone who can provide you with information, resources and support. If you have drug issues they can talk with you about that as well, and get you help to do deal with this problem. They can also help you talk with your family and work through any issues that you might have with them. Please visit the pregnancy help page here for more information on finding an organization that can help. Or you can go to OptionLine to locate a pregnancy care center in your area or just text “HELPLINE” to 313131. (If you are outside the U.S., email me at elliotinstitute@gmail.com and I’ll try to put you in touch with someone in your area who can help).

      Please know that no matter your circumstances, there are people who can support you and help you get through this, and make the decisions for yourself AND your baby if you are pregnant. Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t strong enough or make you feel you have to chose between yourself and your baby (you don’t). Even if you are feeling scared and confused right now, don’t let this push you into making a hasty decision. These emotions are normal and they usually change with time.

      Here’s a message from one mom who wrote her story for others to read (she’s from New Wave Feminists).

      The panic is temporary. The fear is temporary. The crisis is temporary. The days when you wake up thinking “how did I make such a huge mistake?” are so few in retrospect.

      You have nine months for all that, but then it gets good. Still difficult, don’t get me wrong, but so so good…

      My “crisis pregnancy” turned 15 today. He’s just a year shy of the age I was when I became pregnant with him (a thought that absolutely terrifies me). However, he’s anything but a mistake.

      He’s the other half to all my inside jokes. He’s the best person I’ve ever known. He’s the one who binge watches “Doctor Who” with me and teaches me about robots and video games. He’s the reason I started New Wave Feminists. He’s the owner of a pure heart, swiper of my favorite CDs, and contributor of copious amounts of laundry. He’s the kid who still has me hanging around skateparks a decade and a half later. He’s often my (much needed) filter, because he’s a stereotypical naturally mature firstborn, and the last one to ever let me down. He’s the kid that I didn’t really raise at all, but instead grew up alongside. He’s my heart and soul.

      I didn’t know it at the time, but choosing life for him would give me a life that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

      See, you don’t realize how temporary the “crisis” is when it’s consuming your every waking moment, but as soon as you get beyond that… Such beauty can be born from that which we never planned.

      Fear is temporary, but the courage you gain facing it lasts forever. Panic subsides, but the strength you find in the midst of the crisis endures. Perhaps the most amazing thing though is how the love you feel for this new life, whether it was intended or not, suddenly turns a “mistake” into a miracle.

      I didn’t save my son by “choosing life.” He saved me.

  6. Hi i am 17 and not yet guaranteed pregnant but i take a test tomorrow, my family has already told me that if i am expecting that i have to find somewhere else to live, i am terrified and idk what to do, how to tell my family?, how will i finish school?

    • Dear Shyla.

      There are lots of pregnancy help centers that can give you good advice, friendship, support and if necessary, alternative places to live. They may also be able to help you get some free family counseling to help your parents adjust.

      Please check out this page of resources especially the hotline numbers like http://www.OptionLine.org at 1-800-712-4357 and http://www.NurturingNetwork.org at 1-800-866-4666.

      Don’t let your parent’s current lack of support get you down. Their attitudes will improve with time. Especially don’t let their lack of support turn into pressure to have an abortion. That would be a risk factor for more severe psychological problems later on.

      Please follow up and let me know the results of the test and if you have had any success contacting a local agency for help. I want to continue helping you.

      You are in my prayers.

  7. Hi! I had a pool party and had sex, now it’s been four months after and my tummy’s gotten bigger and I do feel movments in my lower abdomen and somtimes I get moody. I do have my period but not constantly,and I am just 15. Am I pregnant?

    • Have you seen a health care provider? The first thing you need to do is find out if you are pregnant and if so, to get health care. Even if you are not sure if you have missed a period you could still be pregnant — so find that out first! If you are in the US, Option Line has centers all around the country where you can get a free pregnancy test, referrals for medical care and other resources to help you. Many centers can also give you an ultrasound to confirm the results of the pregnancy test and make sure the baby is healthy and find out how far along you are.

      If you are pregnant, they can also discuss things with you and help you make a good decision for yourself and your baby. They have tons of resources available and all the help is free and confidential. This can be a scary situation, but be assured that they are there to help you and you don’t have to face things alone. You can read more about this under the “My Pregnancy Options” section on their site. They also have an option where you can chat live with someone who can help.

      If you are outside the US, you can reply to this comment or send us an email at elliotinstitute@gmail.com and we can put you in touch with someone who can help. Please know that you are not alone and that there are people out there to help!

  8. Hi my name is Kayla and here’s my story I was 18 when I got pregnant I hid my pregnancy from my sister who I was living with at the time why because i was still in school my mom was dealing with my dad who had taken sick and had cancer so I went to live with my sister well anyway I got pregnant and I hid it the whole nine months I gave birth to my son in my room I snuck out with the baby and went to the ER I gave them the baby and my name they asked if I needed medical treatment I refused I went back to school the next day as if nothing happened then a few days later socai workers showed up at my door they asked my sister questions but didn’t say what they were there for i was getting off the bus when they stopped me asked a few questions and I answered then they asked did I want my baby I said yes now came the hard part I had to tell the next morning before school I was crying my sister asked me to tell her what was wrong i told her and we started the process of getting him back and now he’s four years old in pre k and his me is Ashton and he’s in love with spider man

    • Dear Kayla, thank you for sharing your story! I’m so glad you got your son back and that it was a good outcome. Good luck to both of you!

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