Birth Rights

The Immigrant Baby Born on the High Seas

She’s not a princess. We don’t even know her name. But the image of this child swaddled in a hazmat suit has brought tears of joy and pain to millions of Italians.

05.04.15 2:47 PM ET

ROME — Around the time Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, then in the early stages of labor, hopped into their armored Land Rover and headed to the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital in London on Saturday morning, another pregnant woman started her own journey towards motherhood. 

We know well the minute details of the royal princess’s birth; but we believe the second baby girl born over the weekend has a story worth telling, too.  She was delivered onboard the Italian Navy’s patrol boat Bettica after her mother was rescued from a rubber dinghy with hundreds of other migrants several hours after they left the Libyan coastline.  

The Italian Navy says the young mother was already in labor when smugglers forced her onto the rubber boat on the Libyan coast.  In the absence of an easel or trumpet like the ones brought out for the royal princess, after the migrant baby girl was born the Italian Navy doctors swaddled her in a disposable hazmat suit (used to try to protect the wearer from dangerous chemicals and infections) and tweeted her picture as a sign of hope. 

We don’t yet know the migrant mother’s name, her nationality or why she felt that crossing the perilous Mediterranean Sea to Europe was worth such a risk for her and her unborn child.  She arrived in Pozzallo, Sicily, on the Bettica on Monday along with 654 people who were saved from four sinking vessels over the weekend. 

The mother will be processed and questioned, and both she and her infant daughter will be given basic medical care and a checkup before being moved to a refugee camp somewhere in Italy. If they are lucky, they will get to spend a few nights in a hospital.  Unlike the Duchess of Cambridge who left St. Mary’s ten hours after giving birth, a hospital stay probably sounds like a luxury for the migrant mother after all she has been through.

We don’t know if the baby’s father was with her, or if he was one of the ten men who died over the weekend during which 6,771 migrants were saved from the sea. 

The migrant baby doesn’t have a name yet, either.  But the Italian press have dubbed her “rose petal.”  She is one of now thousands of babies and children who survived the crossing this year so far. 

Italy’s branch of Save The Children says there has been a 60 percent increase in minors and pregnant women arriving by sea over last year.  Of course that means that of the estimated 1,750 people who have died making the deadly crossing since the beginning of the year, many are likely to be children and hopeful mothers, too.  

Many want to make the crossing to have their babies in Europe. Others don’t have a choice. On the boat that went down in mid-April with an estimated 950 people onboard, the women and children were locked in the lower compartments, according to some of the 28 men who survived. No one knows how many pregnant women might have been among the victims, and no one ever will.  

We might predict the fairytale ending to the new Royal princess’s story. In fact, it might just be a search for a normal life in the unreal world in which she was born. That of the migrant baby girl is far more uncertain, but normalcy is likely all she will want as well.  The only difference is that the world will most certainly follow the royal baby, and almost as certainly soon forget about the migrant baby swaddled in a hazmat suit.