Did fear drive teen mom to let her newborn die?
By MICHAEL KRUSE
Published January 11, 2007
[Times photo: Keri Wiginton]
Public defender J. Ray Shaw, left, leads Nicole Batiste out of the courtroom at a pretrial hearing in Brooksville on Nov. 30.
SPRING HILL - About 10:30 in the morning on Oct. 15, 2005, a slim young woman with long dark hair walked into Spring Hill Regional Hospital and told the workers at the registration desk that she had vaginal bleeding.
A nurse asked her if she was pregnant. She said she had miscarried at home a few hours earlier. The nurse asked how far along she was. She said 32 weeks. The nurse asked about the baby. She said it had gasped and cried and then died.
The Hernando County Sheriff's Office was about to know the name Nicole Batiste.
Batiste of Spring Hill, who was 19 then and is 20 now, was charged a little less than a month later with aggravated manslaughter of a child, and pleaded guilty this past November. She is to be sentenced today in Brooksville as a youthful offender - in part because she had no prior criminal record. That means she can't get more than four years in prison, and she could avoid prison time altogether.
That day in the hospital, she told nurses and deputies the baby was still at the home she lived in with her mother.
Then she said it was in her purple pickup parked outside.
Then she said it was in the toolbox in the back, wrapped in a beach towel, in a clear-plastic Rubbermaid tub.
A detective asked why she hadn't called 911.
"I didn't want anyone to know," she said.
Why she didn't call to her mother for help?
"I didn't want to wake her up."
Why she didn't try to help her child when it was gasping for air?
"I didn't think about it."
Those who spoke to Batiste that morning said that she didn't cry and that she was "calm" and "unemotional" and "just sitting there." A nurse asked her to rank her pain on a scale of 1 to 10.
Zero, she said.
* * *
Nicole Batiste was an honor student at Hernando's Central High School and won a 10th-grade business award in a ceremony called an Evening of Excellence. She was active in the Future Farmers of America chapter. She graduated in 2004 and went to Pasco-Hernando Community College. She wanted to go into marine science.
She worked as a host at an Outback Steakhouse on U.S. 19. Her boss later told a deputy that she was a "good worker." Friends called her quiet but not cold.
The father of the baby was her boyfriend. He told deputies he had loved and trusted her.
Batiste found out she was pregnant after taking a test in a stall in the Outback bathroom. Two of her friends were with her.
She told them not to tell anybody.
Friends started to collect baby clothes and told her a crib was on sale for $100 at Wal-Mart. They offered to throw her a baby shower. She said no thanks.
They offered her prenatal vitamins.
"I don't want them," she said.
They told her she should stop drinking.
"I think the baby is going to die anyway," she said.
Later, word started to get around, and her boyfriend and her boyfriend's family asked her twice if she was pregnant and told her it was okay if she was. She said no - no! - both times.
"One could say, 'How could you do that?' " said Nick Silverio, founder of A Safe Haven for Newborns, a statewide organization that allows women to leave an unharmed baby less than three days old at a hospital or fire station and remain anonymous. "But if you're in a state of denial you can do a lot of things. That's real."
Batiste told authorities that she was scared and that she didn't want to "ruin" the life of her boyfriend or disappoint her mother by telling her about the pregnancy.
Friends said she almost turned into "a different person" when talk turned to the baby. That her "whole face" would "zone out."
"It's almost like she split off from the baby growing inside her body," said Andrea Corn, a psychologist who works with Safe Haven and is an expert on children and families.
"She abandoned the baby," Corn said, "but somewhere she was abandoned, too. Why else couldn't she come forward to share her secret?"
Batiste and her mother, Barbara Abrams, a self-employed landscaper, have talked to no one publicly since making statements to authorities. They have not responded to phone messages and letters sent to their home. What is known about Batiste comes mainly from sheriff's reports, court documents, medical records, interviews with friends and records from the state Department of Children and Families.
The DCF records show that when Batiste was 12, she made a complaint that her mother had slapped and punched her. The investigation determined the charges were unfounded. But interviews from that investigation say Batiste suffered from depression and had suicidal thoughts. She stayed away from her stepfather so if he left "she would not feel hurt."
Abrams told a DCF investigator that her daughter doesn't like it when she's with a man. One of Abrams' friends told the investigator Batiste seemed happiest when her mother was alone. Abrams, according to public records, was divorced in 1997 and then again in 1999.
* * *
Batiste first went to a doctor in late July. She had an ultrasound done in early August, when she was about 21 weeks into the pregnancy. The baby was an estimated 15 ounces - the 27th growth percentile.
About a week and a half later she went to an abortion clinic in Tampa. The form she filled out had a long list of medical conditions. She checked no to all of them except one: "Depression." Reason for wanting an abortion: "Personal choice."
But the people there said she was too far along. That clinic does abortions from five to 18 weeks.
She had another doctor's appointment on Oct. 10 and an ultrasound on Oct. 14.
She could see that it was a boy.
She could hear the heartbeat.
The due date was Dec. 22. Friends now say they think she would have told her mother and her boyfriend at some point. She was starting to show more.
But then she started feeling pain in the afternoon on Oct. 14. She went to work that evening, experienced sporadic bleeding and went home at 10:30.
She woke up about 7 a.m. Oct. 15. The pain was worse. The house was quiet.
She got onto the tile floor in her room and started to push and push until she saw the head. Then she used her hands and pulled. Said one sheriff's report: "Pulled and pulled and pulled." The baby came out and gasped. Then she rested on her back.
Then she sat back up and used blue-handled scissors to cut the umbilical cord. The baby was not moving and didn't seem to be breathing, she said later in her statement. She wrapped the baby in a beach towel. Then she rested again.
She went into the bathroom and passed the afterbirth and put it in a garbage bag and tied it shut. She used some socks and a pair of pants to clean the bathroom and the bedroom. The baby was on the floor in her room.
Baby Boy Batiste was 17 inches and weighed 3 pounds, the medical examiner found in the autopsy.
He said that the cause of death was lack of proper immediate resuscitation and that an infection of the placenta contributed, too. There was no way to know, he said in his deposition, if the baby had taken "one breath, two, three, four, five or 10."
Only that he was alive.
And then was not.
Then, in that house, about 8:30 that morning, Nicole Batiste put on some jeans and a sweat shirt and went into the living room and lay down on the couch.
Michael Kruse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 352 848-1434.
A Safe Haven for Newborns
A Safe Haven for Newborns works with hospitals, doctor's offices and fire stations to allow women to leave their unharmed newborns and remain anonymous. For information, call their 24-hour confidential hotline, 1-877-767-2229, or visit www.asafehavenfornew borns.com
[Last modified January 11, 2007, 05:31:02]
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