"Your baby is dead. It's the best thing that could happen to you"

Carmen Díaz is facing a legal battle to find out if her child was stolen in 1979

Carmen Díaz reported the theft of her son at the Madrid prosecutor's office in July 2012.
Carmen Díaz reported the theft of her son at the Madrid prosecutor's office in July 2012.Samuel Sánchez (EL PAÍS)

Carmen Díaz, the president of a Madrid association called Madres Unidas contra la Droga (or, Mothers United Against Drugs), has sadly had to bury the children of many other women - children who were drug addicts, and whom she brought to her own home when there was nothing else to be done for them but wait for the end to come.

But she was never able to bury her own son, who was born on July 24, 1979 at a hospital on Madrid's O'Donnell street.

"He didn't die. They stole him from me," she says.

It was her third child. Carmen and her husband, Paco, already had six-year-old Paquito and three-year-old Ana. The couple were young - Carmen was 28 and Paco one year older - and very, very poor.

I wanted to see the baby's body, but they kept giving me the runaround"

"I am the youngest of 13 siblings. When my mother was widowed she came from Don Benito [Badajoz] to Madrid to earn a living. She began by mopping floors for the nuns, and built a shanty home in Palomeras. And when I got married, I moved into another shanty house..."

The social services in the Vallecas district, as well as the church they attended and the doctors that helped her with the delivery, were all fully aware of her precarious economic situation.

"The doctor who saw me during the pregnancy specifically knew about it," says Carmen, who filed a complaint before the Madrid public prosecutor last July.

This doctor saw patients in Vallecas, but he also worked at the Santa Cristina maternity ward together with Sister María, the recently deceased nun who was facing charges at the time of her death for her alleged role in several similar cases.

I was convinced that my baby was not dead, that they had stolen him from me"

"When we found out I was pregnant again, we thought about not having the child," Carmen confesses. "I don't know who it was, whether it was somebody at the parish or a social worker, but they gave me an address where they assured me I could get an abortion for 50,000 pesetas [around 300 euros]. When I got back to the shanty house, I concluded it was madness. I thought about my mother, who had raised 13 children; I talked it over with Paco and we decided to keep it."

The pregnancy was completely normal, and so was the delivery. In fact, the hospital documents, which Carmen gained access to many years later, say the following: "Fetus exit at 6pm. Normal delivery. Live male."

"I saw him. I heard him cry," she recalls. "I was surprised that they did not put him on my chest, like the two other times. They took him away and put me to sleep. When I woke up, a midwife said to me, 'I have to give you some bad news. The baby is dead.' I started to cry. 'What happened? I want to see him!' I said. And then she said to me, 'Come on, don't cry. After all, you already have two children, and this is the best thing that could happen to you'."

Carmen has not forgotten the look of that nurse ("tall, large"), a woman who was capable of telling a mother that the best thing that could happen to her was for her child to die. But she has forgotten her name.

I wanted to see the baby's body, but they kept giving me the runaround"

When Paco came back to the room, he couldn't understand it. "He told me he just rode up in the elevator with a man and our son, and said he was a large baby, very beautiful."

The documents they received at the Civil Registry show the date of birth as July 23, even though he was actually born the next day.

Paco and Carmen, like so many other parents who have filed complaints over the theft of their babies, never saw the body. "I wanted to see it, but they kept giving me the runaround. The doctor told Paco it was better for us not to see it, that they would take care of everything, that we were very young... He asked him to take charge of me and made him sign some papers that he didn't even read because he was so stunned," Carmen recalls.

"I was convinced that my baby was not dead, that they had stolen him from me. I went back to the shanty house with empty hands. I slipped into a depression. And the moment came when I couldn't talk about my baby anymore, because my whole family thought I was crazy. Nobody believed me!" she says in tears.

I was convinced that my baby was not dead, that they had stolen him from me"

Carmen finally got out of the hole thanks to her other two children. In 1981, when the journalist María Antonia Iglesias published a story in Interviú magazine about baby theft in Madrid, including a photograph of the little corpse that was used to show the parents who really insisted, Carmen received lots of calls.

"My sister-in-law said to me: 'We thought you were crazy, but you were right'."

The search

- Legal channels. Relatives of stolen children marched in Madrid on Sunday to protest the dismissal of many cases and the slow pace of investigations despite the advanced age of the alleged suspects. Last December, the public prosecutor decided that these crimes would not expire until 10 years after the victim becomes aware that he or she is a stolen child. All attorneys were also instructed to go all the way in their investigations, including exhumations if deemed necessary.

- Administrative channels. The Justice Ministry promised last October to open a special office to assist victims of baby theft and to create a data bank and a DNA bank to help with investigations. Authorities said this office will be operational by February.

Carmen had fights with Paco, who was worried that his wife would start obsessing again.

But when she saw other cases like hers begin to emerge two years ago, and when she heard other mothers say the same thing - "They told me the baby was dead and that they'd take care of everything." - there was no stopping her.

In July 2012 she reported the theft of her son at the Madrid public prosecutor's office. In October, given the lack of evidence, her petition was dismissed. But she took her case to court, asking for the physicians who assisted with the delivery to testify and for the remains of her son's body to be exhumed from the Almudena Cemetery, where they were allegedly transferred to a common vault, and then to have them DNA tested.

The court also dismissed her case. But Carmen appealed. "I don't care what it takes. I am going to fight to the end."

These days, Carmen works as a cleaner at nightclubs. "I am a floor stylist," she jokes. She no longer lives in a shanty house. After a long struggle, she obtained a subsidized home. But before that, she saw her neighbors' children fall prey to drugs. "Heroin killed an entire generation. My children were young, but we had to do something, so we founded the association of Mothers United Against Drugs."

Now Carmen is caring for two small children whose mother, a drug addict, could no longer raise them herself. Enrique and José Manuel are like brothers to Santiago, the baby that Carmen is sure did not die. Now she wants the chance to introduce them to him.

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