Safe Haven Baby Box Installed at Brownsburg Fire Station
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
In August of 1972, a woman was brutally attacked and raped, then left alongside a road. Though the rapist was arrested and charged, this woman’s life was forever changed. Besides enduring the physical and emotional trauma of the attack, she later learned she was pregnant. Pulled from high school, she gave birth in April of 1973, and because she did not feel equipped to raise a baby, she abandoned her daughter two hours after she was born.
Thankfully, this little girl, later named Monica Kelsey, was adopted by two loving parents. Kelsey’s adoptive mother had given birth to a son in 1970, but the day after he was born, he passed away. Because she was a Type 1 diabetic, doctors advised her not to have any more children, as doing so would risk her health. She and her husband hoped to adopt a son, but when they got a call that an infant girl needed a home, their plans pivoted.
Fast forward years down the road, when Kelsey’s best and worst day of her life were wrapped into one.
“That was the day I got to meet my biological mom, which was great, but it was also the day I found out that I was abandoned and that my biological father was a rapist,” Kelsey says.
She describes her husband Joe as her saving grace.
“He navigated me through the process,” Kelsey says.
Nevertheless, after getting this devastating news, she struggled to find her worth. To cope, she buried herself in her work as a medic and firefighter.
“I was on an ambulance seven nights a week,” Kelsey says. “The more lives I saved, the more I felt worthy of a life of my own.”
In the midst of all this, Kelsey went to Cape Town, South Africa, where she found herself at the only church that had what was known as a “baby safe.” Being a firefighter, she knew about the safe-haven laws in America that decriminalize leaving an unharmed infant with statutorily designated persons so that the child becomes a ward of the state. She liked the idea of taking the face-to-face interaction out of surrender, and protecting the mother from being seen should she choose to remain anonymous.
An idea was sparked and on her flight home, she drew on an airplane napkin what would later become a Safe Haven Baby Box. Upon returning to the states, she sought help to construct her vision. She also reached out to her legislator. Then she proceeded to build a nonprofit organization, file the paperwork with the Internal Revenue Service, build a board, and launch her mission.
Protecting babies was important to her, not only because she, herself, had been abandoned as an infant, but also because firefighters and first responders have to witness horrific moments in their careers. For instance, in December of 2014, a baby was found deceased in Eagle Creek woods.
“She had been out there a long time because half of her arms and legs were missing from animals gnawing at her,” Kelsey says. “Anyone who finds a baby in that condition will never be the same again.”
If a mother chooses to surrender her baby, one alternative is to hand it over to a person. However, there are times when women don’t feel safe doing so. A mother can call a crisis hotline and a trained psychologist will walk her though her options.
“Should she choose the safe-haven law after having all of her options revealed to her, I’m not going to talk her out of it because then it may feel like I’m shaming or judging her,” says Kelsey, whose heart walks alongside these mothers on their journey towards healing and peace. “We have to trust that she’s making the best decision for her. Their life is in a crisis that you and I may never understand.”
The first Baby Box was installed in April of 2016. First, a hole is cut in the side of a firehouse, as if a window were going to be installed. The box is then installed in such a way that the outside is accessible for the mom to place her baby, which will be retrieved from the fire station employees on the inside. The babies are placed in medical bassinets that are heated and cooled, so they are comfortable for the newborns. There is also a soft light inside.
When the mom is ready to safely surrender her newborn, she opens the outside door and immediately a 911 call goes out. A second alarm sounds when the baby is placed inside the box, at which point the outside door locks. That alarm is not connected to the first alarm, as this acts as a backup system. Should the mom change her mind about leaving the baby, at this point she has to wait for fire and medical personnel to arrive, which happens quickly. The longest time a baby has been in a box has been four minutes and 20 seconds. The average time is two minutes.
“We know a baby’s life is on the line so we make sure these babies get care immediately by medical personnel,” Kelsey says.
To install a Baby Box, a community must raise $10,000. Once it’s installed, the installation company maintains them, changing any electronics and making any necessary updates or repairs. The $10,000 not only covers the cost of the install, but also includes marketing (such as billboards, training and signage), alerting the community to the fact that one exists.
In April of 2021, a Safe Haven Baby Box was installed at Brownsburg Fire Station 131, located at 55 East Main Street. The Sertoma Club of Brownsburg donated $6,000. Another $6,000 was donated by the Knights of Columbus of St. Malachy Catholic Church in Brownsburg.
“We knew this was a valuable resource for mothers who are in crisis,” says Zach Bowers, division chief of Brownsburg’s emergency medical service. “The Baby Box gives these women another option to keep their baby safe anonymously.”
In the last four years, 12 babies have been surrendered in these boxes. Two of the 12 mothers who surrendered their babies now volunteer with the organization.
“That speaks volumes,” says Kelsey, who has three grown children of her own.
As for her birth mother, she never had another child, which is common with rape victims. She passed away the year before the first Baby Box was installed, but she knew what Kelsey was spearheading and was proud of it.
“I think this work is helping to give my birth mom peace,” Kelsey says. “For her to save a child who is now saving the lives of others by being a medic and a firefighter, and now with the Baby Boxes, she was very proud.”
For years, Kelsey had been writing down her thoughts and experiences for a book she planned to publish one day. When her dad, whom she describes as her biggest fan, was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, she knew she had to get the book out there. In May of 2021, “Blessed to Have Been Abandoned: The Story of the Baby Box Lady” was released. She chose the title because she feels blessed with the way her life has unfolded, and the fact that she was gifted with two wonderful parents.
Within three weeks of its release, the book became an Amazon best seller. It has also prompted interest in installing baby boxes across the country.
“I took my pain and turned it into purpose,” says Kelsey, who takes her message across the globe, having spoken in Peru, Ecuador, South Africa, Japan, Canada, and throughout the U.S. “I think people just want to hear the hope that life brings.”
To find a Safe Haven location or to speak to a licensed counselor, call the national Safe Haven crisis hotline at 866-992-2291. For more information about Safe Haven Baby Boxes, visit shbb.org.