Option Line helps Safe Haven crisis teams give newborns a chance at life

Option Line helps Safe Haven crisis teams give newborns a chance at life (Pixabay/Pexels)

When a woman has hidden her pregnancy from family, friends, even the child’s father, she can panic when her baby is born. Sometimes there was pressure to abort, and the mom hoped the child's father or other family members would come around once the baby arrived. If that doesn’t happen, panic can lead the mother to abandon the baby.

April is Safe Haven Awareness Month, aimed at raising awareness about Safe Haven laws which provide parents of newborns who may be unwilling or unable to care for their child a safe and anonymous option to relinquish parental rights within a set period of time. 

The first Safe Haven law was established in Texas in 1999, according to the National Safe Haven Alliance (NSHA), and within 10 years, all fifty U.S. states had enacted individual Safe Haven Laws to protect vulnerable babies and mothers in crisis. The laws and the length of time in which a woman can surrender her newborn vary by state.

The NSHA has Safe Haven locations listed by state HERE

The Alliance counts 4,596 safe surrenders since first the law, with 13 of those this year. Just in the last few weeks two newborns were surrendered at the same Carmel, Indiana, Fire Department’s Safe Haven Baby Box.

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Heartbeat International’s 24/7 bilingual contact center Option Line has partnered with the Safe Haven Alliance in connecting women who are seeking to relinquish parental rights with the resources they need. The NSHA is one of a number of organizations for which Option Line takes calls.

Some nine in 10 women who surrender their babies through Safe Haven laws do so by walking into an emergency room or other Safe Haven location without notice, according to Heather Burner, executive director of NSHA. 

In the other 10% of cases, women contact the Safe Haven Alliance by phone number or website, with the contacts initially answered by Heartbeat International’s Option Line. From there they are directed to a local Safe Haven Crisis Response Team. 

The relationship between Option Line and the NSHA has been in place for more than 15 years.

Option Line Director Nafisa Kennedy explained the call process. 

Option Line consultants receive Safe Haven contacts through a designated NSHA number, 888-510-BABY, available by call or text.

“Then we function in a triage role,” she said, “either directing contacts to their local pregnancy help organization if they have not yet delivered the baby or doing a live transfer of the call to NSHA's Crisis Response Team.” 

Contacts coming in through that number are often still pregnant and thinking about whether they might parent the baby, Kennedy told Pregnancy Help News

“In that case, affiliate pregnancy help organizations, such as pregnancy centers, adoption agencies, and maternity homes can be of great support,” she said. “Our role is to ease some of the caller's immediate worries and help get her connected with a resource for more long-term support.”

NSHA's Crisis Response Team consists of nurses and social workers, Kennedy said, who then help a mom who wants to relinquish parental rights get to a safe place, receive medical care if needed, and legally relinquish parental rights. 

Option Line receives about 20 Safe Haven contacts per month. 

While the Safe Haven contacts constitute a small percentage of Option Line’s thousands of contacts each month, they are memorable.

“We have so many great stories from this partnership,” Kennedy said. “I can recall one from several years ago that is still fresh in my mind.” 

“A young woman called on the NSHA line early in the morning,” said Kennedy. “She was crying and hyperventilating, so I talked her through some deep breathing.” 

“She was able to calm down enough to explain what she needed,” Kennedy said. “She explained, ‘I didn't know I was pregnant...there's a baby on the floor crying and I don't know what to do.’”

“At first, I thought it might be a prank,” said Kennedy, “but as is our practice at Option Line, I treated her with compassion and asked her to tell me more about what happened.” 

The young woman continued, “‘I was in a lot of pain last night, I thought I had appendicitis or something. At some point I passed out and I woke up covered in blood with a baby on the floor. Please help me...I don't know what to do! I can't have a baby right now, I just can't...Where can I take this baby?’”

“I reaffirmed that she had called the right place,” Kennedy said, “told her that we were going to help her get medical care and find a way to safely relinquish her parental rights, if that's what she decided.” 

Kennedy was able to immediately put the young woman in touch with a gentleman who at that time was the entirety of the Crisis Response Team. NSHA has since grown to have many Crisis Response Team members.

“I trusted that she would get the care she needed,” Kennedy recalled. “About two hours later I got a call back from him and he let me know that my caller and her baby had been transported safely to a hospital, that they were both healthy, and the mom was receiving counseling about Safe Haven Laws.” 

“It is such a privilege to partner with this group of life savers!” Kennedy.

Burner likewise expressed gratitude for the partnership.

“We are so thankful for Heartbeat International and Option Line and they support they give,” Burner said.

Option Line consultants are prepared to assist and offer support to NSHA contacts who are in the midst of a variety of scenarios, which, as was the case in the example with Kennedy, are often urgent. 

Tweet This: Option Line consultants are prepared to assist and offer support to National Safe Haven Alliance contacts, who are often in urgent need.

An Option Line consultant account:

Not long ago, a young woman called to say "My best friend just had a baby in a hotel room all alone. She is 17 years old...Can you help me?" Our Option Line consultant remarked that it showed bravery for her friend to give birth all alone and assured the caller that we could help. We connected her with the Safe Haven Crisis Response Team instantly and she was able to receive help for her friend & baby. The interaction on our end was brief, but meaningful. We know that these girls were so scared when they called, and it was a blessing to support them both.

Another consultant shared this exchange:

My caller’s baby was in the ICU, and she knew she could not offer the care her baby needed. I was new to Option Line, and this was one of my first calls-several years ago. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life. She was crying at first, but after we spoke for a few minutes, she said she felt better knowing there was help. Often women who call us are ashamed and afraid of judgment, but we convey empathy, love, and respect. She shared more about her thoughts-that she couldn’t wait there at the hospital until the baby was discharged, she knew that she was not ready to take a baby home. She agreed to let me connect her with the NSHA Crisis Response team, and of course they answered right away. I know she received the highest level of care and support from the Crisis Response Team. 

A third Option Line consultant offered this encounter:

I had a young woman who called, frantically crying. She was driving around town and her baby was also in the car, crying very loudly. 

She was hysterical and said "I can't do this anymore. I can't take care of this baby anymore. I don't know what to do."  She sounded exhausted. 

I don't think she had the resources or family support. I realized that Safe Haven was who she needed. I asked her if she had heard of the Safe Haven Law, and she had not. I explained Safe Haven to her and let her know that we could help find a safe place for her baby and also get her some support for the things she was dealing with. 

As ALWAYS, someone was there to answer when I connected her with the NSHA Crisis Response Team. She was so warm and compassionate, and as soon as I explained my caller's situation, she said that familiar phrase "Yes, please put her through." Whenever I get a Safe Haven call, I KNOW that someone will be there to answer and with warmth and readiness to help.

Burner stressed the need to foster awareness for Safe Haven options for women in need and their newborn children.

“I feel that this mission to raise awareness is so important,” Burner said. “People have been abandoning babies for hundreds of years, but now we have the option of safe haven here so that doesn’t have to happen, and these newborns have a chance at life.”

For more information about the NSHA and Safe Haven laws and programs click HERE

Editor's note: Heartbeat International manages Pregnancy Help News.

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