This story was published in partnership with The 19th, a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom reporting on gender, politics and policy.
In June 2020, M., a community college student in Massachusetts, checked into the hospital with intense stomach cramps. Within hours, M., who didn’t realize she had been pregnant, unexpectedly gave birth — a phenomenon doctors call “denied pregnancy.”
Soon after the delivery, M. started panicking — she hadn’t prepared for single parenthood. When her baby was moved to a different hospital for specialized care, M. didn’t follow and went home, alone. But a few days later, after an emergency session with her therapist, she built up the confidence to return to the hospital, ready to be a mom.
It was too late: The state Department of Children and Families had already taken M.’s daughter into foster care. And because of the pandemic, she was told that her first official visit with her newborn would be more than a month later — by Zoom.
“It’s just impossible to bond with her over the screen,” M. said. “Ever since, I’ve been asking basically, ‘Can I hold my daughter?’”
When state child welfare officials place kids in foster care due to parental neglect (as long as there’s no physical or sexual abuse), their parents are typically entitled to regular, supervised in-person visits that allow hugging, playing and, in the case of newborns, breastfeeding. But as the pandemic raged last spring, these visits went virtual in…