The news of the multiple baby bodies found stored in a garage in Utah has shocked the country, and many have been left pondering what could have led Megan Huntsman, the woman who has confessed to murdering six of the seven infants, to commit such a horrible act. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Huntsman told police that she gave birth seven times between 1996 and 2006, and that she strangled six of those seven infants after their births, with the seventh being born stillborn. Each body was then wrapped in some sort of fabric, placed in an individual box, and stored in a cabinet inside her garage.
Her neighbors have responded with shock, claiming not only did they have no idea that she had been pregnant so many times over the years and was secretly giving birth, but that she was nothing but pleasant and friendly. A more common reaction seems to be contempt and disgust.
The situation is a horrible one, but even in bleak, heart-wrenching stories like this, there are lessons that can be learned.
1) This is why birth control access is important. Although the motive for Huntsman’s actions are unknown at this time, there is little doubt that this is a woman who did not want these babies, for whatever reason. We can also assume that for whatever reason, Huntsman was not using anything to prevent pregnancy. With three older children, she had at least eight pregnancies in the 10 years between 1996 and 2006 — the seven bodies in the boxes and one teen child — as well as at least two pregnancies prior to that. It would be nearly impossible to become pregnant that many times using contraception, but, living in a highly religious community that frowns on birth control, access would have been difficult. Had she wanted to prevent pregnancy, she could have run into any number of roadblocks ranging from an unsupportive husband, a doctor who would refuse to write a prescription or a pharmacist unwilling to fill it.
This is why it is so important not just for those who want to not be pregnant or have children to be able to access contraception easily — without permission, without roadblocks and, most importantly, without stigma.
2) Safe haven laws matter. Utah has had a safe haven law in place since 2001, halfway through the period in which Huntsman allegedly killed her infants. The law allows a parent to leave an infant at a hospital within three days of its birth and not be punished or questioned. Safe haven laws can provide an out for a pregnant person who gives birth but does not want to keep the child, giving her the opportunity to place that child up for adoption without fear of repercussions and, for someone in Huntsman’s situation, where she had managed to completely hide the pregnancy and birth, it could be done completely privately, keeping her secret safe.
3) Prenatal and postnatal care matters, for mother and child. Were all of the infants that Huntsman put in boxes really full term, or truly born alive and strangled? Much of that information is likely to come out once the trial begins. The fact that she states that one was stillborn does bring about the question of whether each child was in fact “full term” (37 weeks or later) or earlier, whether they suffered any medical issues from lack of prenatal care, or if there were other physical issues that might have been at play as well. What we do know is that without quality prenatal care, a baby is far more likely to be stillborn, to be born prematurely, or to have other health issues.
We also know that pregnancy is not easy, either physically or emotionally, on a pregnant person. There is enough evidence at this point to clearly show that Huntsman was likely pregnant serially for at least a decade straight, a situation that isn’t easy even when you are carrying wanted pregnancies and you have a support network to assist you. Alone, isolated and hiding could only be that much worse. Other emotional issues, such as post partum depression or even post partum psychosis could potentially be factored in as well. Seeing a health care provider both during and after pregnancy isn’t just about the health of the baby, but about the health of the mother as well, and it’s care that Huntsman obviously did not receive.
It will be a long time before we truly understand what happened in this tragedy in Utah. But as we learn more, it might be good to remember that there may have been more than six victims in this situation. Huntsman may be one as well.
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