Safe Haven for Newborn Babies

Helen Kobek's picture

And an Easing of Suffering for the Parent

  • Close-up of "Baby Safe Haven" sign on Inman Square Fire Station.
  • Photo of Safe Haven sign on Inman Square fire station, and "emergency bell" sign to the right.
  • Photo of woman closely cradling newborn infant, baby sleeping and swaddled with white cap on head.

It is impossible to predict how someone will respond to having a baby. There can be the best of intentions and expectations: joy, bonding, sharing the moment, and thinking about the future. There can be the best preparation: the stack of wee onesies and diapers, perhaps a rocking chair, a baby shower, childbirth classes, and prenatal appointments. Your baby’s name has probably been chosen. Everything is all set, awaiting the welcoming of your newborn baby girl or boy. The moment comes, and you give birth at home, a hospital, or a birthing center. Or, perhaps, it’s a different situation. A sadder, scared one: You’re a girl or young woman who has been hiding your pregnancy, and none of these preparations have been made. You’re terrified, alone, and it all spills forward in secret, pain, and dread. And you fear the worst: That you cannot handle it, and that you might leave your baby somewhere unsafe. Or, worse, hurt or kill your baby. You might even be feeling so desperate that you are feeling driven to harm or kill yourself.

In either situation, no one in your life who knows or doesn’t know about your pregnancy would expect you to be so overwhelmed that you don’t want to keep your baby. Or that you are so terribly desperate. You feel alone, ashamed. So frightened. Maybe angry, at yourself or others who are not there for you. Or, you’re tired. So very tired. You don’t know what to do.

The Safe Haven Act (commonly called “Baby Safe Haven”) is here for women, girls, and others involved in these situations. The Safe Haven Act was enacted in 2004, as an amendment to Chapter 119 of the Massachusetts General Laws, and similar legislation and programming exists in all fifty States. The Massachusetts Safe Haven Act allows a parent or other responsible adult (including clergy, neighbors, counselors, grandparents, teachers, friends) to surrender - legally and anonymously - an infant seven days old or younger to an employee at a hospital, municipal police station, or staffed fire station without facing criminal charges for abandonment. The legal parent can change their mind- this rarely occurs - within a few days, and explore their options for reuniting with their baby.

As one might imagine, the Safe Haven Act has significantly decreased – though not eliminated – the abandonment or harm of newborns. But the Safe Haven Act isn’t just protection for newborns. Its protection for the tortured spirits, minds, and bodies of parents who, in good but silent company, are not in a place to care for a newborn, or to parent going forward.

Here are the Cambridge locations where newborn babies can be brought and given into loving, protective arms:

Mount Auburn Hospital (330 Mount Auburn Street)
Cambridge Hospital at Cambridge Health Alliance (1493 Cambridge Street)

Cambridge Fire Stations (All Cambridge Fire Stations are staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.):
491 Broadway
378 Massachusetts Avenue
175 Cambridge Street
113 Garden Street
2029 Massachusetts Avenue
1384 Cambridge Street
176 River Street
167 Lexington Avenue

Cambridge (Municipal) Police Station (125 Sixth Street)

It is important to note that university and college police departments are not officially part of the Safe Haven Act. If you are on a Cambridge university campus and wish to surrender a newborn baby, you can, of course, bring the infant to the campus police department and they would take steps to ensure yours and the baby’s well-being, but there is no assurance that they would know how to implement Safe Haven Act procedures. If you wish to be sure to follow the Act, bring the baby to one of the above locations. You cannot call a Safe Haven and ask them to pick up the baby: A responsible adult must bring the baby in to a location.

There is no easy way through the experience of giving birth and having serious distress or regret. But there need be no shame in being unable to take care of a baby. Know that, if you are in this situation, you are cared about, as is your baby. You are part of an extended community of people, and all of us have had something painful, distressing we’ve needed to face and make hard decisions about. It is very powerful and loving to surrender a baby you cannot care for. Know these things: Someone is there for you in that process. You are loved. You are much stronger than you might think you are. You can do what you feel most led to do.