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Childbirth under X: how does it work?

by Content Editor
Childbirth under X: how does it work?

A pregnant woman who cannot or does not wish to raise the child she is expecting can give birth under X to have her baby adopted. If there were 10,000 births under X in the 1970s, they were only 625 in 2014. Update on childbirth under X.

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The tradition of anonymous childbirth is ancient. As early as the 17th century, the young mother would place the newborn in a tower in the wall of a hospice. On the other side, someone tilted the tower and collected the infant without seeing the mother’s face. In 1941, a law organized the birth under X with the assumption of free expenses of the stay in the maternity. Yesterday as today, the goal was the same: to fight against clandestine childbirth, wild abandonment, or infanticide, still too numerous in the news.

Who are the women who give birth under X?

  • 15% of women are isolated, in a precarious situation;
  • 25% of women have no material difficulties, maybe living as a couple and already have a child;
  • 25% of women are financially independent;
  • Half of the women concerned are young (<25 years);
  • One woman in ten is a minor;
  • More than one woman in five has foreign origins, where the birth of a child out of wedlock is perceived as a family shame;
  • One woman out of two does not inform the father of this pregnancy.

For what reason(s) do they give birth under X?

According to a study by the National Institute of Demographic Studies published in 2010, the most common reasons given for giving birth under X are related to the father (43%): separation, violence, or refusal to have a child. Other women mention their precarious economic and social situation (28%) or their young age (19%); some women consider that the child is an obstacle to their studies or careers. Finally, the fear of family or community rejection pushes some women to hide their maternity (11%).

In 13% of the cases, the women retract their decision within two months.

What happens to the baby in the event of birth under X?

The newborn child is immediately entrusted to the departmental child welfare services or taken in by a French organization authorized for adoption. French law declares the child a temporary ward of the State upon birth, and guardianship is structured from the date of this declaration.

The mother has two months to reverse her decision. This time is extended to six months for fathers and mothers who have not committed the kid to the service. Following this time, the guardian, with the approval of the family council, makes the option to accept or deny the return of a State ward. In the event of refusal, the applicants may refer the matter to the High Court.

Suppose the child is returned to one of his parents. In that case, the president of the departmental council proposes medical, psychological, educational, and social support for the parent and the child for three years following the return. The aim is to guarantee the establishment of the relationships necessary for the physical and psychological development of the child as well as its emotional stability.

What about the mother?

To help her in her painful choice to give birth under X, the mother can benefit from psychological and social support from the child welfare service (ASE).

Childbirth under X: anonymity respected

Without the right to secrecy, childbirth under X would no longer be applicable. In 2003, the European Court of Human Rights (Françoise Pascale Odièvre case) refused to condemn France, recognizing that French law was “designed to protect the health of the mother and child during pregnancy and childbirth to avoid clandestine abortions or uncontrolled abandonment.” A young woman accused France of prohibiting the lifting of secrecy about the identity of her parents, according to the biological mother’s wishes.

Birth under X: the reception at the maternity hospital

Whether in a public or private establishment, whether under an agreement or not, the young mother can request a birth under X, and therefore the secrecy of her admission and identity. To respect her choice, no identification can be requested, nor can any investigation be conducted.
However, to enable her to act in a considered manner, the woman is informed, as soon as she enters the maternity hospital, of the consequences of giving birth under X, of the abandonment of the child, and the importance for the child of information on his history and origin.
She is therefore invited to leave the information on :

  • Her health and that of the father ;
  • The circumstances of the child’s birth
  • The child’s origins;
  • His identity, which will be kept in a sealed envelope.

The first names were given to the child, mentioning that the mother gave them if this is the case, the sex, the date, the place, and the time of birth are written on the outside of the envelope. If the mother did not wish to express herself at the time of delivery, she might do so at any time, either to reveal her identity in a sealed envelope or to complete the information given.

Note that according to a study conducted in 2016-2017 by the agency ASDO Etudes at the request of the General Directorate of Social Cohesion, only 10% of the 457 mothers who gave birth in 77 departments left their identity in the child’s file. And 42% did not hand in a sealed envelope.

Paternity in childbirth under X

Until recently, a mother who decided to give birth under X automatically deprived her (ex) partner of paternity. The father was only invited to present his identity under sealed cover. But on 7 April 2006, the Court of Cassation overturned the whole operation of the birth under X.

Acknowledged paternity in childbirth under X

The facts date back to 2000. Philippe Peter’s father had clearly expressed his desire to recognize and raise his child two months before the birth. However, the mother gave birth under X, and the child was entrusted to a couple who wanted to adopt him. It took a seven-year legal battle for this to change!

There are three court decisions for the judge to grant the father to recognize his son born under X. As the father’s lawyer explained to the newspaper Le Monde: “This ruling marks the end of maternal omnipotence. A woman who gives birth under X can no longer deprive the father of his paternity”.
Still, the father must be aware of the pregnancy

Searching for parents after birth under X

By a law of 2002, Ségolène Royal, then Minister for the Family and Children, created the National Council for Access to Personal Origins (CNAOP). It is responsible for collecting and preserving information on the identity of the birth parents and elements of the child’s original history.

39% of parents have their identity removed

Its most delicate role: to seek out the biological mother and obtain her consent if the child asks to know his origins. The council will have to act with respect for the birth mother’s privacy, indiscretion, ensure both parties’ accompaniment, and propose mediation to seek an agreement between the parties concerned. 39% of the birth parents contacted by the Cnaop agreed to lift the secrecy of their identity.

Yet, despite being eagerly awaited by children born under X, as of 28 February 2005, only 1,740 requests for access to personal origins had been referred to the CNAOP, i.e., by 1 to 2 % of adults. And if the child has not made any research request, the lifting of secrecy by the birth mother will not be reported to them.

And from 2002 to 2010, the CNAOP registered only 4916 applications from children “born under X,” adopted or wards of the State, seeking the identity of their original parents. In contrast, the figure of 400 000 potential applicants living in France is mentioned. In 86.9% of cases, the files were closed (mainly due to the impossibility of identifying or locating the birth parents, the refusal of the birth parents to lift the secrecy of their identity or the lifting of the confidentiality).

Birth under X: when the parent dies

The wording of the law (art. L147-6 of the code of social action and families), which leads to the possibility of accessing the identity of the mother or the father, leads to confusion. A father (or mother) who does not agree to see their child again must formulate an explicit refusal. However, the text does not allow the mother or father to object while still alive to reveal his identity after his death. People born under X often prefer to wait until their biological parents have died to avoid a traumatic refusal. This raises a major ethical question.


On birth certificates, parents can now specify an “X” gender marker. Experts explain how this can assist parents in raising gender-neutral children, but there are many questions about what the “X” implies as these youngsters grow up.

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