‘The Chance at Life’: My Safe Haven Story

By Tera Naset, MS

Many people are unaware that if a parent of a newborn child in Illinois feels unable or unwilling to keep their baby, he or she can bring the infant to a hospital, emergency medical facility or police or fire station and legally and anonymously relinquish the baby.  The baby will be given any needed medical care and then placed with an adoption agency for permanent placement with an adoptive family. More than 125 babies in Illinois have been surrendered safely in this way since the state passed the Abandoned Newborn Infant Protection Act in 2001 to reduce the risk of a parent under extreme stress harming a newborn.

My son Francis is the 127th of these babies. My husband, John, and I are immensely grateful to be his parents, and to the Safe Haven law for giving babies like our Frankie a chance at a wonderful life.

My family’s Safe Haven story started when we signed up with a local adoption agency to adopt a newborn. We were expecting a more traditional type of adoption, when an expectant mom decides to make an adoption plan and selects a family for her child while she is still pregnant. 

We were more than a little surprised when, after 15 months on the agency’s wait list, we received a call to say that a baby had already been born and was in need of a home right away. The baby boy had been brought to a hospital on Chicago’s Northwest Side two weeks earlier by a woman, presumably his birth mother. She brought him to the hospital’s emergency department and told the staff that he had been born that morning and she would like to use the Safe Haven law to surrender the baby. 

‘As cute as they come’

Fortunately, the staff knew exactly what to do and admitted the baby to the hospital, no questions asked. He was examined and found to be healthy, despite weighing only 4 pounds, 15 ounces and likely having been born about four weeks early. (To be surrendered under the law, a baby must be unharmed and 30 days old or younger.)

After a short stay in the hospital, the baby was released into the care of our adoption agency, which chose us to be his adoptive family. We brought him home just two weeks after he was surrendered and named him Francis after my late father, a Rush College of Nursing alumnus. 

Frankie’s adoption was finalized on Nov. 5. Now at 7 months old, he is as cute as can be, quick to smile at everyone he meets and desperately trying to keep up with his big sister Maddie. His super-social personality has made him very popular at daycare, and at the rate he’s crawling and pulling up to his knees, we expect him to be running around on two feet well before his first birthday.

He is truly as cute as they come, and every kiss, snuggle and smile reminds me how lucky I am to be his mom. Although stories of infants abandoned in dumpsters, backpacks or other terrible scenarios are becoming less frequent, they will always be a reminder that everyone needs to know about the Safe Haven law so that every baby has the chance at life that Frankie was given. 

Tera Naset, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian in Rush’s Health Care Management Department.

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