This is a photo of Ms Maya at age 30 days. I never planned to have an 18-month-old baby girl at 32. In fact, this was the year my husband and I would be returning from a sabbatical – we both wanted to study further, travel… and then plan the way forward. One was to start trying for a baby. And I’m currently working on a local investigation for Marie Claire that involves babies… and all around me my friends are having babies, celebrities seem to be experiencing a baby boom… and we are starting to talk about planning for a second. So when I read the headline Dead baby found at Oprah school I was completely floored.
I’m lucky I never had to worry about where the next meal was coming from or whether we’d have a roof over our heads. My parents were always there for us – and my childhood was without any major upheaval. I try to imagine myself in the situation where I fell pregnant at age 17. That means I would’ve been in std nine. My dad was strict and there were times my sisters and I were terrified of asking him for things or telling him that we’d broken or lost something. And then I tried to imagine those privileged girls at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. To be eligible to attend ‘girls must be South African, academically talented, able to demonstrate leadership qualities and come from a disadvantaged family or community.’ So these kids are plucked from a poor family or community and given the world while her family is left behind. And at age 14 they have to represent and shine always. What an incredible opportunity for them and their families but what an inordinate amount of pressure at such a tender age. I haven’t decided to be quite honest what I really think about this academy but after reading about this latest tragedy I’m left wondering: what goes wrong in a child’s upbringing when she resorts to throwing away her newborn baby in a plastic bag? And I say this without judgment as we do not know the circumstances. We do not know whether the child was born alive or dead. We do not know whether the child knew she was pregnant until she gave birth. We do not know how this child came to be pregnant.
All I know is that I can honestly say, no matter how scared I used to be of my father and his steely eyes and stern tongue, no matter if I knew I would be kicked out of home for being pregnant (yes, I wasn’t even allowed to go to my matric dance let alone date), no matter how much education was drilled into me and the pressure to succeed and make my parents proud of me was, I just don’t think I would have chosen that option. And I say this after hours of introspection. What do you think you would have done – if you tried to put yourself in that girl’s position? But perhaps the real question here is what’s going wrong at the Oprah school?