LAKE IN THE HILLS – Jenny Paul knows her 2-year-old daughter, Megan, might someday ask questions about her birth mother that will be left unanswered.
Megan’s adoptive parents, Jenny and George Paul of Lake in the Hills, don’t know much about the woman who anonymously surrendered Megan under the Illinois Abandoned Newborn Infant Protection Act, also known as the Baby Safe Haven law.
They know Megan was born at home in a bathtub. They know Megan was sent to a hospital by ambulance. They know Megan’s birth mother asked doctors whether her daughter would be placed with a family who loved her.
“Your story started when your birth mom gave you a life that she couldn’t,” is what Jenny Paul said she’ll someday explain to her daughter.
Two years after adopting Megan, the Pauls still become overwhelmed 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.”
April is recognized as Save Abandoned Babies Month in Illinois to help bring awareness to the law.
Under the Safe Haven law, an unharmed newborn up to 30 days old can be handed to staff at a hospital, emergency medical care facility, police station, firehouse, college or university police station or Illinois State Police district headquarters, according to the Save Abandoned Babies Foundation’s website.
No questions need to be answered by the parent surrendering the baby, according to the law, but the parent can accept an information packet that summarizes the law and their rights.
After the baby is given care by a hospital, DCFS will arrange for placement with a licensed Illinois adoption agency, according to the law. The biological parents have 60 days to return for the custody of their child, and after that time passes, a final adoption order might be issued.
Dawn Geras was 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 was inspired to do something after reading a news article about babies being thrown into the garbage.
“We started out with a simple ‘If we could save one a baby, it would be worth it.’ Now we’ve got classrooms and classrooms full of kids because of the law,” Geras said.
There have been 107 children who have been safely surrendered at safe haven locations since the law was put in place, Geras said. Another 12 parents who originally planned on using the law decided to make an adoption or parenting plan for their children after speaking with the foundation.
Mike Buchanan, director of security with Centegra Health System, said that in his 12 years on the job, there have been a handful of times someone has surrendered their baby to a hospital in the system.
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,” Buchanan said.
Although family health history is helpful to pass along to the baby’s future parents, it’s not necessary to give any information, he said.
When they went through the adoption process, the Pauls knew Megan was a premature baby but healthy.
The couple had been trying to adopt their second child for nearly four years before they heard from St. Mary’s Services, an adoption agency in Arlington Heights, that a safe haven baby was available.
Bringing Megan home during the 60-day waiting period was hard, Jenny and George Paul said, because they didn’t want their family – including 7-year-old son, Dylan – to be disappointed if Megan’s birth mother changed her mind.
The adoption went through, however, and Megan has grown into an adventurous, outgoing and very talkative 2-year-old, her parents said.
Watching their daughter play with her toys and her brother in their home, Jenny and George Paul said they are nothing but thankful for Megan’s birth mother and the law that allowed Megan to be surrendered safely.
“She’s here; she is amazing,” Jenny Paul said of her daughter. “I couldn’t even think of what her outcome would’ve been. She completely completes our family.”