When Carlina White surfaced last week, 23 years after she was kidnapped as an infant from a Harlem hospital, most of us focused on her real parents and how badly they'd been wronged. We were half right.
If allegations prove correct, Joy White and Carl Tyson had their lives stolen out from under them by Ann Pettway in that Harlem hospital. But if we're going to be true to our gut reaction that the pain of losing a child is the worst thing anyone can bear, we have to leave a little room in our hearts for Pettway.
This woman who stands accused of destroying a family has revealed since her arrest by the FBI that she was a woman in pain too. Before stealing Carlina White from that hospital and passing her off as her own daughter, Njedra Nance, Pettway had tried not once, but several times to have a baby of her own, each pregnancy resulting in miscarriage. Based on stories cobbled together by the New York Post, it seems the last miscarriage came shortly before White was kidnapped. As her cousin told the Post:
She was pregnant. She disappeared for two months. When she got back, she had [an infant]. We all assumed that she had the baby while she was away. No one questioned it.
As any woman who has encountered a miscarriage will tell you, it leaves a hole. It is a true loss. And ignoring that means ignoring the way pregnancy affects women.
The series of miscarriages don't excuse what Pettway allegedly did to the White/Tyson family. But take one look at the lengths American women go to to become parents these days, and suddenly Pettway's troubled path to pregnancy begins to shed some light on the kidnapping.
Women will pay thousands of dollars for invasive reproductive technologies. They'll inject themselves daily with needles full of drugs that can make them depressed, cause weight gain, and make their breasts ache. They'll travel to the other end of the world and endure the uncertainty of dealing with governmental red tape and corruption to adopt children.
As a mother, I can understand the insane desire that overtakes you. You want this, so badly, that it eats at your entire body. It drives you to haul your husband into bed night after night, even when you really don't feel in the least bit sexy. It leaves you huddled on the bathroom floor crying inconsolably when that pee stick turns up, yet again, with just one line.
It's not impossible to compare the desire to become a mother with a mental illness. It can easily take over every part of you and force reason out the window. In short, there's nothing we won't do to become parents. Well, almost nothing. Most of us have the ethical sense to draw the line at kidnapping a child.
If Ann Pettway kidnapped Carlina White, she was wrong. She was a criminal. She should be punished. But that doesn't mean we can't sympathize with her plight. She's not a monster. Do you feel for her?
Image via Splash News