Years ago, I got into trouble because I wrote a column criticizing women for breastfeeding in public.
It stemmed from an incident in my office where a client opened her shirt and, without asking if I minded, affixed her infant to her breast without missing a beat in our conversation about H-1B visa options. When that caustic little essay hit the airwaves, I got called everything from “Cruella de Vile” to “Lactose Intolerant.” The folks at “Good Morning America” interviewed me for a segment on breast milk, and edited my comments to make me look like Marta Goebbels, right before she poisoned her kids.
Over the years, my views on breastfeeding have changed, and I’ve actually come to appreciate its benefits. With age comes wisdom (and a fear of ever again being on “Good Morning America.”)
I hadn’t thought about the topic in over a decade, until this past week when I read about the Bucks County woman who killed her child with a deadly dose of breast milk.
Samantha Whitney Jones was charged in the death of her baby after he overdosed from a lethal mix of methadone, amphetamine, and methamphetamine in her breast milk. The drug-laced milk was the result of Jones’ alleged opioid addiction. In an affidavit provided to police after her arrest, she admitted that she continued using drugs throughout her pregnancy, and even after the child was born. The baby died of cardiac arrest after a feeding on April 2. He was 11 months old.
There is a sad, morbid symbolism in the fact that one of the most fundamental parts of motherhood — the beautiful way in which the body provides nutrition for the newborn — was transformed into a weapon of destruction by a drug-addled woman who cared more about her next fix than the safety of her child.
I’m sure that somewhere, someone is seeking sympathy for the accused. We are a society, lately, that has a great deal of compassion for criminal suspects, especially those who hide behind the catchall excuse of “substance abuse.” I’ve written about this before, when a wonderful young couple was murdered by an addict who then overdosed before he could even be charged with their deaths.
At least in this case, this Medea is going to be held responsible for killing her child. The charge is “criminal homicide.” In a just world, Jones would be charged with first-degree murder, because she weaponized her infected breasts by giving them to her baby. But we can at least be grateful that she will be made to pay for her crimes.
That’s not a popular concept, these days. We talk a lot, lately, about the scourge of drugs. We are preached at every day, in the pages of newspapers, on the airwaves, by televised talking heads, and from the elected politicians who learn that courting the “addiction” lobby can be a great career move. We are taught that criticizing the addict is wrong, and we are publicly shamed when we point out how they are destroying our communities. My friend Patty Pat Kozlowski, who is running for state rep from the 177th District, was crucified a few months ago when she had the guts to talk bluntly about the devastation wrought by substance abusers in her part of the city.
Apparently, we are not supposed to point fingers at people who have a “disease.”
But when there is a baby who died because his mother was too damn selfish to go into rehab, or to give that precious child to someone with a better heart and an unclouded mind, the only compassion we should muster is for the victim. And we shouldn’t tiptoe around how that victim was created: An addict refused to stop being an addict, and killed her baby. It really is as simple as that.
Catholics venerate a woman named Gianna Beretta Molla, who was canonized by Pope John Paul II on May 16, 2004. Molla was diagnosed during her fourth pregnancy with a life-threatening condition. Instead of having an abortion to save her own life, she chose to have the baby. A week after giving birth to her daughter, Gianna Emanuella, she died of peritonitis.
Few of us have the superhuman devotion of St. Gianna. But I have to believe that we are all better than Samantha Whitney Jones, who chose her addiction over her child.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.