Safe Haven mom advocates for agency that accepts abandoned babies

MARION — Hoping to adopt a child, Margie R. signed up at her local Children and Family Services' department and was later encouraged to add her name to a waiting list of newborn babies who had been given up by their mothers. She waited and waited and said she soon forgot that she'd added her name to the Safe Haven waiting list for relinquished newborns. Then, three years later, in 2012, she got a telephone call, asking her if she still wanted to adopt a baby. Her agency just learned of a days-old newborn boy whose mother had given him up at a safe haven site in Marion. It took her all of an hour to make up her mind: Yes. In another two days, she and a social worker were driving from her home in northern Illinois to pick up the baby. There he was, No. 75. She eventually named No. 75, Jack. The number designated how many newborn babies had been born and relinquished, or turned over, to the authority of a hospital, police department or fire station since Illinois adopted its Safe Haven Law in 2001. The law allows parents to relinquish unharmed newborn children whom they don't feel they can dare for. "I find it an honor to be the mother of the children that I have," Margie said. She is also hoping to adopt a 6-year-old boy she has fostered for 5-1/2 years. A spokeswoman says the issue is a matter of "life of death." “My heart, it really breaks for the mother that, for whatever reason, is unable to keep a child," said Dawn Geras, president for the nonprofit Save Abandoned Babies Foundation. "It’s not an easy thing to do.” Since Illinois adopted the law in 2001, officials from the Save Abandoned Babies Foundation say it has facilitated in saving 106 new lives. "Not only have we saved 106, that means we’ve also saved 106 sets of parents from going to jail, having a guilty conscious and all kinds of other horrible things," Geras said. "We’ve also made the difference in the lives of 106 families that now exist.” Little lives saved Last year, 15 newborn infants were safely surrendered. That's been the highest number of surrenders to date in a year, since the law was adopted, Geras said. That organization tracks information on these babies. Parents have tried to relinquish a few others, but because of drugs found in the babies' systems, those cases were ruled abuse or neglect and turned over to the state's Child and Family Services. An additional 73 newborn babies were illegally abandoned. Of that 73, a little more than half — 37 babies — did not survive. But, there's still another untold number, Geras said, those newborns who might be discarded soon after birth … and never found. Babies are known to be thrown into trash cans and garbage bins, wooded areas and even left in toilets. “The only rational answer that I can live with is that she didn’t know that there was a safe, legal alternative,” Geras said. “It makes no sense to me that someone would intentionally murder a newborn baby, take the chance of going to jail, which tells me we still have not reached everybody.” She said there does not appear to a socioeconomic profile of the woman or man who decides to relinquish a child. "It covers all classes and all races and all ages, like 13 to 44," Geras said. "Otherwise, it would make it easier (to target vulnerable populations).” The law mandates that Illinois public schoolchildren, in sixth through 12th grades, learn about the Safe Haven Law as an alternative to abandonment, or worse, Geras said. Raising awareness Jack's mother said she has encouraged her single friends who want to become parents to add their names to a Safe Haven waiting list. “I would love to get the message out that Safe Haven is such a wonderful option for young women and women in general who, if they want to give up their baby, they have this option," the woman said. "It makes so many other people the happiest people in the world, and these kids have this wonderful life.” Each April, the Save Abandoned Babies Foundation observes Safe Haven Awareness Month. On the second Saturday in September, Sept. 12, some Safe Haven parents are hosting their first Motorcycle Run in Huntley to also raise awareness. Geras does not have much information — nor would she share what little she has — on the women and men who give up their babies. She is waiting for the day when one returns to inquire about a relinquished child. “I would anticipate some day, along the road, that that will occur,” Geras said. “But isn’t that a nice problem or situation to have? I’ve been to too many funerals (of these babies) and that’s what we don’t want to do.” Geras calls the relinquishing parents "unselfish." “That sacrifice that she makes to give that child a bright future, isn’t that just awesome? Just beautiful, to be able to do that for your child when you can.”

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