Stolen Baby Cases Bring Out the Mama Bear in Me

baby graveRight now in Spain, judges are trying to unravel a dark, disturbing mystery that has people questioning not just who their birth parents are, but whether their adoptive parents were part of an elaborate network of baby-thieves who told powerless mothers that their babies were dead -- and sold them to the wealthiest bidders.

And you know what’s really messed up? The same thing is being investigated in Argentina. Who knows how many times this has happened in human history.

It’s enough to make a mom run screaming into the baby’s room and set up camp on a futon next to her crib. With a shotgun.


I have a low tolerance for holocaust movies, which may make me seem like a bad Jew/Armenian until you consider that I’ve got genocide all over my DNA and have eavesdropped on terrifying tales, told casually by the coffee table, since I was old enough to understand words. Neurotic? You bet, but a day doesn’t go by that I don’t pick up my kids and wonder how far I’d make it carrying both of them on a forced march.

So this kind of story pokes me right in my tender underbelly. In Spain, it started during their Civil War (1936-1939), when a dictator named Franco began a 39-year reign over that country. The allegation is that Franco ordered babies taken from anyone who had opposed him during the war. Over time, what had begun as a retaliatory tactic became a humdrum, everyday organized crime. Parents would arrive at the hospital to give birth, then told the baby had died. Even when something weird happened -- like they were given a death certificate for a boy when they’d given birth to a girl -- the parents would come up against a frustrating wall of bureaucratic denial.

Parents were told the shock of seeing their baby dead would be too much, and they should just let the hospital dispose of the body. It’s these devastated parents who have been trying, over the years, to band together enough to get the government to do something about tracking down their lost babies.

A few adoptees have found their birth parents, but none have come forth to tell their tales yet. As the Spanish government interviews former nurses, even nuns, who admit to taking part in these kidnappings, at least people will learn more -- but that won’t give them their lives and families back.

Earlier this year, Argentina began the same process -- a trial investigating government officials suspected of stealing babies. For them, these horrific thefts started during the “Dirty War” of 1976-1983. Pregnant women jailed for opposing the right-wing military government would give birth while incarcerated, and the babies would be given to prominent political families. There are about 40 confirmed cases, 101 that look likely, and as many as 400 adults who were stolen as babies.

Can you even imagine?

This is tearing apart families. In some cases, the grown children always thought there was something off and confront their adoptive parents. In others, biological parents think they have found their long-lost babies, but the children don’t want to know if it’s true -- because they can’t bear the thought that this is how their beloved parents got them. It’s too much to even think about sometimes.

Except that I do think about it. All the time. I imagine arriving at a concentration camp or someplace similar, and begging someone to at least take my babies. Because even if they grow up in a stranger’s arms, I’d rather they grew up than died with me. This is the kind of scenario that weighs me down at night: the terrible truth that my heart lives outside my body now, in two little beings, and losing them would leave me hollowed-out and empty.

And hundreds, maybe thousands, of people have lived this, and are trying to find their babies -- no longer wrapped in blankets, but grown, with stubble or gray streaks in their hair, and families of their own. It makes me want to wrap them all in a swaddle and kiss away their pain.

So I’ll just go kiss my own safe babies instead, and thank God all I have to worry about is a debt ceiling.

Do you have nightmares about stolen-baby stories like these? How do you deal with this kind of worry?

Image via Fuzzy Gerdes/Flickr

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