October 9, 1997 in Nation/World

Teen Kept Secret Baby In The Closet Her Mother Stumbles Onto Preemie, Stable After 2-1/2 Weeks

Associated Press

Stephanie Clark was looking for a pair of pants in her 17-year-old daughter’s closet when she heard a noise. There, hidden in blankets on the floor, was a tiny baby boy.

Her daughter, Shanta, had kept her pregnancy secret and given birth alone in her bedroom, then hid the premature infant in the closet for 2-1/2 weeks while she continued going to high school, police said.

“I have a little sister who is only a year old. Now she is an aunt. How does that look? I am only 17,” Shanta said from her home Wednesday, a day after she was arrested on charges of endangering the welfare of a child.

“Unfortunately, this is a criminal case,” said Suffolk County Detective Sgt. John Twiname. “But our hearts go out to her. She tried to care for the baby as best she knew how.”

Police said Shanta fed and diapered the baby when she got home from school each day.

The 4-pound infant - small enough to fit in the palm of a hand - was in the intensive care unit at Stony Brook University Hospital. He was in stable condition and feeding normally, though underweight for a baby born five weeks early said Margaret Parker, head of the pediatric critical care unit.

Stephanie Clark, 41 - who has seven children, ages 7 months to 19 years - said she was stunned.

“At first I screamed and ran out and left the baby in the room,” she told reporters, sitting with Shanta in the living room of her modest house in a working-class neighborhood on Long Island. “Then I went back, called the doctor and police.”

Police said the baby was unusually quiet when they arrived. Parker said the weak, high-pitched cry of premature babies can be hard to hear.

“It was breathing but very quiet,” Twiname said. “It is very plausible no one heard the baby.”

The baby’s father was a longtime boyfriend, also a teenager, who apparently never knew Shanta was pregnant, according to police.

The girl said she gave birth shortly after noon on Sept. 21. “It wasn’t painful. It wasn’t scary,” she said.

She told her mother she went into the kitchen and severed the umbilical cord with scissors that she somehow sterilized. Of the afterbirth, she said, “I cleaned it up and threw it out.”

During the next 2-1/2 weeks, she fed the baby formula and kept him wrapped in blankets in her room, she said.

Police said she never missed a day of school.

Shanta’s mother said that when she found the infant, “The baby was nice, looking like a baby, smelling good, pampered with a nice undershirt.”

After police arrived at the house and asked Clark a few questions, it occurred to her that the baby could be her daughter’s, Twiname said. Shanta returned from Central Islip High School a few minutes later and told her story.

© Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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