Jenny Paul knows that one day her 2-year-old daughter, Megan, will begin asking questions about her birth mother that Jenny won’t have answers to.
Jenny and her husband, George Paul, adopted Megan when her birth mother anonymously surrendered her to proper authorities under safety of Illinois’ Abandoned Newborn Infant Protection Act, more commonly referred to as the Safe Haven Law.
There are a few things they do know. Megan was born at home, in a bathtub. An ambulance was called and she was taken to the hospital. They know that her birth mother asked the doctors if her daughter would be taken care of by a family that would love her.
“Your story started when your birth mom gave you a life that she couldn’t,” is what Jenny Paul said she plans to tell her daughter when the time is right.
The Pauls still get overwhelmed when thinking about the “what ifs”. “Megan’s birth mother could’ve been one who discarded her baby, done something really disgusting, or grown up to be the woman who didn’t want to have a child, and that child winds up being taken by the Department of Children and Family Services,” Jenny Paul said. “She did a very mature, grown-up, selfless thing – and this baby is healthy and alive because of it.”
In Illinois, April is recognized as the Save Abandoned Babies Month which helps to bring awareness to the law.
According to the Save Abandoned Babies Foundation’s website, the Safe Haven Law, allows an unharmed newborn, up to 30 days old, to be left with staff at a hospital, emergency medical care facility, police station, college or university police station, Illinois State Police district Headquarters or firehouse, with no questions asked and no fear of prosecution. And though no questions need to be answered, the birth mother is offered a packet of information that will allow her to anonymously give medical history of the child if she so chooses. This information packet also explains her rights under the law.
After the baby is taken care of at the hospital, DCFS is called and will arrange for placement with a licensed adoption agency. The child is then immediately placed in the hands of its adoptive family. The birth parents have 60 days in which they can change their mind and return for custody of the child, however, once the sixty days have passed, an adoption order will be issued.
Dawn Geras is one of the founders of the Save Abandoned Babies Foundation, and part of the group that drafted the first Safe Haven law, which was adopted in 2001 in Illinois. She became inspired to do something after seeing a news article about a baby being thrown in the garbage. “We started out with a simple ‘If we could save just one baby, it would be worth it.’ Now we’ve got classrooms and classrooms full of kids because of the law,” Geras said.
107 children have been safely surrendered at safe haven locations since the inception of the law, Geras said. Additionally, 12 parents who originally planned on using the safe haven law decided to make an adoption or parenting plan for their children after speaking with someone about their options.
The director of security with Centegra Health System, Mike Buchanan, said that in his 12 years on the job, there have only been a handful of times someone has surrendered their baby to a hospital.
When a parent comes in with a child, it’s a “no-judgment zone,” Buchanan said. “We’re just there to put the infant first, and that’s ultimately why the mother is there, as well.”
When the Pauls heard about Megan from their adoption agency, they knew she was small and premature, but healthy. The couple had been waiting for nearly four years to adopt their second child through St. Mary’s Services, an adoption agency in Arlington Heights. One day, they got a phone call that a safe haven baby was available.
That 60-day waiting period was hard, Jenny and George said, because they didn’t want their family, including their 7-year-old son, Dylan, to be disappointed if Megan’s birth mother were to change her mind. That didn’t happen and the adoption was eventually finalized. Megan has grown into a very adventurous, outgoing and talkative 2-year old, her parents said.
As they watched their daughter play with her brother in their home, Jenny and George said they are so thankful for Megan’s birth mother and for the law that allowed Megan to be surrendered safely.
“She’s here; she is amazing,” Jenny Paul said. “I couldn’t even think of what her outcome would’ve been. She completely completes our family.”