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Newborn caught in adoption tug of war

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on Tue, 07/03/2012 - 07:13
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Aritha Govender says she made the toughest decision a mother could make: to put her newborn baby up for adoption. But when she changed her mind after two days, a social worker at the hospital where she gave birth refused to allow her to leave with her baby.

This, despite the fact that the law allows 60 days for a mother to change her mind about the adoption, and that she didn’t sign any legal documents terminating her parental rights.

Speaking to the Sunday Tribune on Thursday after a traumatic battle to have her son returned to her, the toll of the ordeal was evident.

Govender held her head in her hands as she spoke, complaining of a severe headache. She hadn’t eaten in four days and was still in pain from the Caesarean section she had last Sunday night.

Husband Jacob Naidoo held her hand as she spoke.

Govender said they discussed adoption when she fell pregnant with her third child, as both she and her husband were unemployed. Their other children are 16 and four.

“I love my baby, but I wanted what was best for him. I wanted him to be placed in a loving, Christian home. That was the only way I would have peace. It wasn’t an easy decision to make,” she said.

Shortly after giving birth at GJ Crookes Hospital in Scottburgh, she asked to speak to social workers about giving her baby up for adoption.

“Two ladies came to me on Monday and we discussed the adoption process. I didn’t sign any documents; it was just a discussion, as I told them about my financial situation.”

But after she learnt that her son would be placed in a place of safety for 60 days before being placed with an adoptive family, she couldn’t go through with it.

“I didn’t want that. I wouldn’t know where he was and who was looking after him. I told the social worker this two days later.”

After being discharged on Wednesday, she was told she could not leave with her baby.

She refused to leave the hospital without her child, and spent the night at the hospital and was finally allowed to leave with her baby on Thursday.

Her eyes well up with tears as she recounts the way she was treated by staff.

“The social worker said she couldn’t release the baby because I had already given him up. When I told her I had a family friend who was going to look after the baby she refused, saying she had to follow procedure. I was traumatised by this,” she said.

She believes the social worker had an agenda for keeping her baby.

Picking up the story, her husband says they were sent by the hospital social worker to Umzinto Child Welfare on Wednesday.

“She showed us files of Indian couples who wanted a baby, saying they were business people and had lots of money and would be able to raise my baby. When I asked why they couldn’t discharge the baby, she said he had been given to the state even after I told her we hadn’t signed any documents and were rethinking our options.”

Naidoo said they phoned a family friend who intervened on their behalf.

“Dr Selvan Naidoo phoned the hospital. When we went back to the social worker, she relented, saying she would only give us our baby if we signed an affidavit. We didn’t want to do this, but it was the only way.”

He said the social worker was “very rude”, asking them how they were going to look after the baby if they had no money. “She asked how we were going to afford nappies and baby formula.”

The social worker dealing with Govender’s case denied keeping the child without reason.

“They told me they had financial problems and were unemployed and I insisted they get an affidavit to cover me in case anything happens to the baby.”

She confirmed that the couple did not sign any documents and when asked if keeping a child without any signed documents was procedure, she said she was “working in the best interest of the child”.

Hospital spokeswoman Thobile Hadebe said from “thorough communication between the biological parents and the social worker”, it was indicated they wanted to give the child up for adoption.

“The social worker detained the child to ensure that no third party forced them to change their minds.”

Justin Foxton, founder of the Baby House in Umhlanga which facilitates private adoptions, described this case as very unusual.

He said the birth mother had to sign consent in the presence of a magistrate and had 60 days in which to change her mind. During this time the child was placed in a place of safety. If no documents were signed and there was only a conversation about adoption, the child belonged to the birth mother.

He said there were “very few Indian and white babies up for adoption”, which could explain the eagerness of the social worker to keep the baby.

Govender, meanwhile, has lost faith in social workers.

“They are meant to help and guide you through this difficult time. I felt like my rights were violated.”

The baby is now being fostered by family friends until they decide what is in his best interest.

By Charmel Bowman