ha•ven - [hey-vuhn] noun – any place of shelter and safety.
My daughter’s friend and I were taking a long walk on a spectacular fall day. The friend had arrived from out of state for the baptism of my grandbaby, who was sleeping soundly in my arms. As we walked, the young woman described her own journey to parenthood.
I’ll call her Stephanie. She and her husband “Jeff” had endured so many miscarriages that even close friends could no longer keep count. One baby had been stillborn. Another had been born alive – a tiny baby girl who was born at just 25 weeks. She lived for four days.
The young couple began to look into adoption. After paperwork, home visits, background checks and a great deal of expense, they received word that a baby boy would be available in a few days.
They scrambled to obtain a car seat, diapers and a few other basics that the baby would need. They could scarcely believe their good fortune.
The social worker involved in their case had the difficult task of informing Stephanie and Jeff about the baby’s background. A few months earlier, a teenage mother had tried to murder her newborn by putting rat poison in his bottle. When the baby refused to drink it, the teen begged a friend to dispose of the baby in a Dumpster. Ultimately, the young mother was arrested and the baby was placed in foster care pending adoption.
This was Jeff and Stephanie’s new baby.
As I listened to her story, I began to cry. Poison a newborn? What about the safe haven laws?
Every state in the country has adopted a safe haven law, which allows a baby to be given to a responsible adult at a designated location. The birth mother may then walk away, no questions asked. If the parents do not return to reclaim the baby, their parental rights are terminated and the child will be adopted by an eager family.
In Connecticut, every hospital emergency room has been designated as a safe haven for babies up to 30 days of age. Taking a baby to a safe haven requires no paperwork or contracts. The process is anonymous, as long as the baby is unharmed. There is no threat of arrest or prosecution.
I cannot possibly understand the pain of a frightened teen who is overwhelmed by a crying newborn. I do not write this story in condemnation. Rather, I offer a desperate plea to such a young woman: hand your infant to another human being who can guarantee a home for the child. Then you can walk away.
Connecticut’s law says that a distressed parent who is unable or unwilling to care for his or her infant can give up custody of the baby, no questions asked.
The parent may simply take the infant to a person at a safe haven location. As long as the child shows no signs of intentional abuse, no name or other information is required. It’s safe. It’s anonymous.
Connecticut’s safe haven campaign concludes with the tag line, “In Connecticut, no one ever has to abandon a child again.”
Nearly 20 years ago, a different campaign was launched with the same goal of saving babies’ lives. This “Back to Sleep” message urged parents to place their babies to sleep on their backs rather on their stomachs, thereby dramatically reducing the likelihood of SIDS – Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
It was one of the most successful public health campaigns in history. In the 20 years since its inception, SIDS deaths have dropped by 50 percent. All it took was educating parents and caregivers.
I dearly hope that the safe haven program is equally successful. If all young parents become aware that they may take their infant to a safe haven location, lives can be saved.
Since its inception in 1999, over 2,000 babies are known to have been positively impacted by the safe haven program.
As for Stephanie and Jeff, their son is now a thriving toddler who is happy, healthy and deeply loved. Such is my prayer for all children.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life.