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When Nobody is Meant to Know

Janine Albrecht (win)
March 21, 2004

German hospitals are required to register births with the authorities and pass on information about the mother, leading some women to give birth alone and leave the baby to die. A Hamburg charity tries to prevent this.

Not always a reason for happinessImage: AP

It's a clear blue sky and the sun is shining on a beautiful winter day in northern Germany. Surrounded by rolling hills near the city of Flensburg, an old farm called Satrupholm offers space for 40 women and their children. A Hamburg charity called Sternipark uses the place to help women who want to give birth anonymously.

The farm's main building includes a kitchen and a communal room for meals. Toys lie on the floor of the living room. An old red-brick barn next door has been converted into a dormitory.

Jenny is one of the women living here. She says the farm is a place for her to be herself, a place where she doesn't have to hide her belly, where she can find some peace. "I can think about what I want to do once the baby is here," she says and mentions adoption and a foster family as two options.

Hiding the growing belly

Before coming to the farm, Jenny had been hiding her belly. She rarely went outside and covered her pregnancy underneath large sweaters whenever she went shopping. The 26-year-old woman didn't know how to go on since she was already a single mother. She couldn't expect any help from her parents nor the father of her unborn child -- it had just been a brief affair. But Jenny didn't want to get an abortion.

Many of the women who come to Satrupholm have similar experiences. At some point, however, it's too difficult to hide the growing belly. The people at Sternipark hope that these women come to them for help on time.

Findelkind Station in Hamburg Babyklappe
A baby slot at a German hospital that lets women drop of their unwanted newborns anonymously.Image: AP

"In many cases, they've not seen a doctor," says Leila Moysich, who helps run Satrupholm. "We invite them here and if they have children they can bring them along as well." Moysich and her colleagues then take the women to the doctor and make sure they have adequate medical care when they give birth.

At Satrupholm, this can even happen anonymously -- something that's important for Jenny and many of the other women and allows them to see their pregnancy as something positive.

"It's a liberating experience," Jenny says. "It was summer and I wore a skirt and a shirt and felt beautiful with my big belly. That was great."

Time to decide

Some women still choose not to give their name when the baby comes. Sternipark helps them, since not every hospital admits pregnant women anonymously. Some hospitals across Germany now cooperate with the organization and the women can return to the farm, with or without their children, after they give birth. Until the women have decided what they want to do, the babies are placed in foster families.

At first, Jenny didn't want to keep her newborn daughter and left her with foster parents for the first eight weeks. She visited regularly and the foster mother came to the farm as well. When she decided to take back the girl, Satrupholm helped her by offering her child care during the day and sometimes overnight. "Now everything is great," she says and looks at her second child that's now six months old. Soon Jenny will leave the farm -- with both her children.

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