Editor’s Note: This organization changes lives. It is heartwarming to see people trying to connect unwanted children with loving parents instead of trying to convince mothers to abort beforehand.
Six times so far this year, Kerry Silverstrom has tracked stories of abandoned babies like the one she adopted, newborns left at fire stations and hospitals in Los Angeles County by mothers too desperate or sick or broke to keep them.
Just since Memorial Day, three infant girls have been relinquished to the region’s Safe Surrender program, one of the largest in the nation to provide no-questions-asked adoption — and legal amnesty — to women who’ve run out of other options.
For Silverstrom, the news reports are a haunting reminder of the call she got in April 2006 asking whether she’d take the tiny, dark-haired boy whose mother gave birth in a hospital bathroom — and then left him behind.
“I was crazed and I was shaking,” Silverstrom recalls. “I had 20 minutes to decide. I called my husband and he said, ‘If this is what you want.’ I said ‘OK, we’re in.’ And the social worker said, ‘Congratulations, you have a son.’”
Eight years later, Gus Nathan Silverstrom is a flourishing soon-to-be second-grader who loves to swim and draw comics. He was the 41st Safe Surrender baby in the LA county program that has now taken in 119 abandoned newborns since 2001 — and among some 2,613 babies nationwide rescued from fates that might otherwise have seen them left in dumpsters, gas station bathrooms — or worse.
But 15 years after the first so-called safe haven law was passed in the U.S, experts say that the need for the programs appears to be greater than ever. Despite decreased social stigma of unexpected pregnancy and greater adoption options, there’s no shortage of mothers who give birth — and then panic about what to do with the babies.
“It’s tragic, is what it is,” said Dawn Geras, president of the Save the Abandoned Babies Foundation in Chicago, who tracks babies abandoned in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. “My mornings start with Google searches of all these terrible stories.”
Just this week, Geras noted, a 17-year-old girl in DeWitt, New York, reported finding an abandoned newborn, but when police investigated, it became clear the child was hers. A 24-year-old Spring Valley, New York, woman pleaded guilty to manslaughter this week after she was charged with strangling her newborn son last November and dumping his body at a nearby recycling center.
“More often, I am just dismayed to talk to people and find out that they still don’t know the laws exist,” Geras said.
That’s partly because of the patchwork of state-by-state safe haven laws enacted across the country, beginning with the 1999 law championed by Tim Jaccard, a former police medic in Nassau County, New York, who now heads the AMT Children of Hope Baby Safe Foundation focused on abandoned babies.
“It took me 10 years to get all 50 states and the District of Columbia,” said Jaccard. Alaska enacted a law in 2008; Washington, D.C.’s went into effect in 2009.
Jaccard and others were drawn to address the problem by heartbreaking discoveries of newborns who died or were murdered because their mothers didn’t want them. In one three-month period in 1998, he said he witnessed a baby girl found in a toilet bowl, another infant girl suffocated in a plastic bag and a boy buried in a shallow grave.
Some states and counties have raised the public profile for safe haven programs, with telling results. In California, where LA County Supervisor Don Knabe has made Safe Surrender a hallmark of his administration, some 560 babies have been saved statewide since 2001.