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A wonderful, life-saving alternative exists for the desperate new mother

You can reach A Safe Haven for Newborns 24-hour help line at 1-877-767-2229. The Web site is www.asafehavenfornewborns.com

By SUE CARLTON
Published May 14, 2006


Three years ago on Father's Day, a young woman picked up the phone and dialed a 24-hour help line she had seen on TV.

She told the person who answered she had had a baby. She said she couldn't keep it.

They directed her to the fire station in Deerfield Beach, the closest one to where she was.

Firefighters answered a knock on the station door to find a woman standing there. She passed the baby in her arms to firefighter/paramedic James Burge. He asked no questions, except if she was okay. When she was gone, he was holding a tiny baby girl, just two days in the world.

"Someone said, "Let's call her Hope,' " Burge said. So that's what the firefighters named her before they got her to the hospital: Baby Hope.

Doctors deemed her healthy. Then it was time to find her a home.

The Lewises and their three foster children had just gotten home to Fort Lauderdale from a trip to North Carolina. The Chinese food they ordered had just arrived when the phone rang.

A woman they knew from the foster care agency was calling. I have a baby for you, she said. A baby available for adoption.

Lori Lewis was a mortgage broker. Her husband Michael installed acoustical ceilings. They hadn't been able to have children. They wanted to adopt.

In no time, the woman was on the their doorstep with a handful of pink roses and a bundle. You get to name her, she said, and put the baby in Lori Lewis' arms.

She was so small, without a lick of hair. Four days in the world and she was home.

The news stories haunt you: Newborns left in trash bins, found when it's too late. Recently, two more babies died, in Tampa and in Lakeland.

You think of women pregnant and desperate, trapped or tormented or feeling something else you can't begin to know. You wonder if they knew there was another way out.

In 2000, Florida passed a law that says a parent may leave a baby 3 days old or younger and unharmed at a hospital or 24-hour fire station anonymously, no questions asked. Police and the Department of Children and Families don't get involved. A mother has 30 days to change her mind.

Since then, 42 babies have been taken in. "We know the law has made a difference," says Nick Silverio, founder of A Safe Haven For Newborns.

Who knows what might have happened to some of those 42 otherwise.

They named her Gloria Hope, for Lori Lewis' mom and for what the firefighters called her. In 2004, they adopted her along with their foster daughter Erika, now 6. The family lives in Kentucky. When I call, Lewis is washing SpaghettiOs off little fingers. Gloria, nearly 3, is a bubbly kid with a head full of blond curls, smart and "purpose-driven," her mother says. When she is old enough, Lewis has something for her.

Not long after the Lewises got the baby, A Safe Haven for Newborns contacted them. The birth mother had given them something she wanted the new parents to have.

Two things, actually. One was a letter thanking them and talking of things that might one day show up in her, like her own tendency to be strong-willed. And then a book, the kind that comes with blank pages and an embroidered cover. The pages have been filled with the birth mother's words for Gloria.

The book will tell the girl that her mother loved her from the start, but that she knew she couldn't keep her. It will explain that her mother did not leave her because she didn't love her, but because she did.

Sue Carlton can be reached at carlton@sptimes.com

[Last modified May 14, 2006, 20:05:03]


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