The Foundling

The Foundling

The foundling was discovered on the back steps of the parsonage on a bright and sunny Sunday morning.

The pastor’s wife had just gone to let the dog out before getting breakfast on, when she spotted the butter box sitting there.

Thinking a parishioner may have left them a fresh loaf of banana nut bread or perhaps some homegrown apples for breakfast, she ventured down the steps towards the box, and then startled when she heard a tiny cry emitting from it.

“My heavens,” she exclaimed, discovering a tiny, hours-old newborn wrapped in a dirty kitchen towel. “You dear, sweet baby! Who could ever have left you here?”

She lifted the baby from the box as the dog sat panting at her feet and she hastened across the wet grass in her slippers and housecoat, calling urgently for her husband, who’d gone across the yard to ready the church for Sunday services.

She couldn’t know that just yards away, the mailman’s daughter hid behind the hedge, as surreptiously as she’d hidden her growing belly the last 9 months. She was weeping silently, knowing she’d done all she could– and yet knowing somehow that it would never (ever) be enough.

Decades ago, this was not an unusual scenario. Before there was The Pill, and before abortions became legal, “girls in trouble” as well as hyperfertile housewives sometimes gave birth in secret to children they knew they could not care for, and it was common practice across North America and Europe for anonymous parents to leave their young on doorsteps and in church vestibules and at various charitable institutions in the dark of night, in hopes that someone would take their baby in.

Abandoned Babies of Yesteryear

Could there have been any more sorrowful fate than to have been a foundling?

the-foundlingWe don’t call children abandoned at fire stations or hospitals or in dumpsters “foundlings” anymore. (Now, they’re referred to as “abandoned babies” or “Safe Haven babies” or “Baby Moses rescues.”) For decades, however, desperate parents unable to care for their wee ones left them in boxes or baskets on doorsteps, at orphanages or charity hospitals called “foundling homes.”

Some wealthier citizens started the foundling homes in order to care for these unwanted youngsters and to save them from the elements. At the start of the last century, particularly in England and in the US on the east coast, foundling homes and orphanages were bursting at the seams.

Parents who turned their infants over to foundling home staff did not have to give their names; they simply snipped off a corner of their clothing, or kept a portion of their child’s clothing or blanket, so they could someday use it as a “coatcheck ticket” of sorts, if need be. In London, there’s even a museum exhibit displaying the memorabilia that was often left behind with foundlings there.

And yet, the era of the foundling did not end with the advent of the adoption agency. In 1965 in New Jersey, one year after an unsolved infant kidnapping from a local hospital, a one-year-old boy was found on a sidewalk. The FBI allowed the parents of the kidnapped baby to adopt him, presuming the two boys could be one and the same. At the age of 49, though, Paul Fronczak sought DNA testing, which revealed he was not his adoptive parents’ biological son. This modern day foundling was a missing child, though: after a lengthy search, he discovered he and his twin sister were the abandoned children of an abusive couple, now deceased. To this day, he has no idea what became of his twin, although he has located two of his four birthsiblings.

Abandoned Babies Today

Nowadays, when children are abandoned, no matter who finds them, they must be turned over to the State. (The first abandoned baby in Bexar County this year was found outdoors shortly after the New Year. And this week in Oklahoma, an abandoned baby was found in a car seat on the side of a highway with his birth certificate, social security card and over $5k in cash found with him.) In such cases, Child Protective Services and law enforcement launch a search for the missing parents, and the children are remanded to foster care for at least a year before the State can free them for adoption if their parents are unable to be found or unwilling to be responsible for them. The parents, if found, can be prosecuted, and any other children in their care may be removed as well. Yet the foundling is tragically forced to go through life often without any medical history, and with the sad legacy of knowing he or she was unwanted and left to die, by the very person who should’ve made safe plans for his or her future.

There is, quite simply, NO excuse for foundlings to exist in this day and age. Any parent who is unable to care for a child they have birthed (whether expectedly or unexpectedly) has the option of calling an adoption agency like Abrazo (210-342-5683) day or night to make adoption arrangements free of charge, or to contact 211 for other resources, programs and referrals.

Dr. Ian Palmer, is a British psychiatrist who specializes in infertility and childlessness, and who wrote the book “What to Expect when you’re Adopting.” He was himself a baby left in a phone booth in 1953. He never did find his birthparents, but he’s never quit wondering about them and he has always kept the baby blanket he was found in. Palmer was adopted by an emotionally-stunted adoptive couple who were unable to ever embrace him as their own, and today, he is in a relationship with an English artist, who is herself a birthmother in an open adoption.

His advice? “I do think adoption can be an act of conscious love. It’s so important to give someone a chance, but the parents also need help through it. It’s not just a case of having a little baby and it all being perfect. Don’t just take the child and run. Talk to people who can help, stay in contact.”

Let’s make the foundling a thing of the past– for the welfare of all children everywhere.

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