The State Journal, a newspaper in Wisconsin, has announced it will no longer publish birth announcements. Can you guess why?
You could if you understood what it means to be a human being in early 21st-century America in charge of any activity even tangentially associated with children. The reason, of course, is "safety."
Specifically, safety from predators.
According to an article by David Wahlberg in the very paper no longer publishing the cheery announcements:
"The end of the traditional keepsake for parents and notice to the community stems from a growing concern about infant abductions, hospital officials say.
"Birth listings 'set people up as targets for somebody who might want to steal a baby,' said Kathy Kostrivas, Meriter Hospital's assistant vice president for women's health services.
"'It's an effort to improve safety and security for families,' said Kim Sveum, spokeswoman for St. Mary's Hospital."
The article goes on to quote the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's "senior analyst for infant abduction cases." (And what do you want to be when you grow up, Susie? "A senior analyst for infant abductions!")
That analyst, Cathy Nahirny, says abductors "are using every means available to them to select a possible victim infant."
Are they indeed? The center has compiled these baby snatching stats: In the 30 years from 1983 to the present, at least 290 babies were abducted in America, with four cases — most recently in 1993 — linked by law enforcement to birth announcements. (No analysis of how many abductions were by family members, by the way, which you'd think would be pretty key.)
So first of all, it appears that for the past 20 years, there have been zero abductions linked to birth announcements, yet it is suddenly urgent to purge them.
"Our world is so different now than it was 25 to 30 years ago," Nahirny, the child-snatching expert, explained to the reporter.
She's right — but doesn't realize how. Our world is very different from the one 25 years ago. Crime is way down. In fact, it's back to the level it was when gas cost 29 cents a gallon — 1963.
What's also different is that recently, we have been trained to consider any tragedy involving any child, anywhere, as an immediate threat to all children, everywhere.
And so a mom told me she'd been given a pamphlet when she had her baby last summer, with "a whole section devoted to avoiding abduction." It "included this piece of advice, 'Be suspicious of anyone who befriended you during pregnancy.'"
It's like "Paranoia For Dummies."
Another mom wrote to my blog, "Free-Range Kids," saying, "When I had my daughter 12 years ago, the hospital sent in a special person who went room to room telling new parents to absolutely not put any 'Welcome baby' or 'Congratulations' signs in our yard, on our car, or in the paper because someone would come kidnap my brand new baby. Seriously. The hospital PAID someone to do that."
There was a time when a birth announcement or balloons on the mailbox might inspire a neighbor to bring over a casserole or knit some booties.
Now it's considered an invitation to that rarest of criminals, the baby snatcher. Welcome to the world, baby!
Just don't trust anyone. Ever.
Lenore Skenazy is a keynote speaker and author of the book and blog "Free-Range Kids." To find out more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.