Women who Give Birth “Secretly” in France, 2007-2009

Catherine Villeneuve-Gokalp  By the same author

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AbstractEvery year in France, between 600 and 700 women ask to give birth “secretly” in a maternity unit. This study, conducted in 83 of the country’s 100 départements, collected administrative information on 835 such deliveries from July 2007 to July 2009, along with the socio-demographic characteristics of 739 of the women concerned and information on the context of their pregnancies. At the time of birth, 10 % of women requesting a secret delivery indicate their name on the child’s birth certificate, thereby establishing filiation, 13 % record it in the child’s hospital file, while 29 % leave it in a sealed envelope so that, if several other conditions are met, the child will later be able to learn his/her birthmother’s identity. Three main birthmother “profiles” were identified: “young women dependent on their parents” (25 % of the women), “independent women” (25 %) and “women living alone in precarious conditions” (15 %). Very young women “abandoned” by their partner and in a precarious situation are thus not the only ones to give birth in secret, though such women are over-represented. In the two-month period following delivery, during which birthmothers have the legal right to reclaim the child, 14 % choose to do so. The women who most frequently change their minds are those who were obliged to abandon it under family pressure or due to economic constraints. Women who have acquired economic independence or are living with a partner less frequently give birth in secret; birthmothers in this category appear more determined and less frequently change their mind.