She still remembers it like it was yesterday.
D.H. approached the Safe Haven Baby Box and pulled it open, watching a little orange backpack filled with resources for surrendering mothers fall out as she placed her newborn inside.
Safe Haven Baby Boxes are in four states currently and offer parents a way to safely surrender their newborns.
With her baby girl, a handwritten letter would convey the heartbreak, agony, and love of the mother who placed her inside that box. D.H. still says it was the hardest decision she has ever made in her life.
We've heard from mothers who have adopted the babies placed in Safe Haven Baby Boxes, but for the first time, we're hearing from a mother on the other side of the box.
D.H. is sharing her story to help fight the stigma that seems to follow the mothers who have surrendered their children.
"These mothers come from all walks of life," Monica Kelsey, founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes, said. "We have had a Registered Nurse come through our program, a mom with four kids, a single mom, and career dads. This option of surrendering is available to anyone who finds themselves in a crisis if they feel this is the best option for them."
"After a mom calls us, the first thing she wants to know is 'Is my baby safe and is my baby healthy'. That speaks volumes about these moms. These moms absolutely love their children; they are just in a crisis that you or I may not understand," Kelsey said.
For the safety of the mother and to protect the identity of the child, we will not be using the woman's name in this story.
D.H.'s story began several months earlier when she found herself unexpectedly pregnant and dealing with outside circumstances she had no control over.
This baby wasn't her first, but it would have been the first D.H. would have had to raise as a single mother while trying to navigate a new life she had very little control over.
D.H. felt ashamed and alone.
"Obviously, I knew I was pregnant, and I was trying to decide what I was going to do," D.H. said. "If I was going to try to do it … be a mom … and I just knew that I wasn't going to be capable of it. It wasn't possible. Financially, and all the things I was going through, I wasn't going to be able to do it."
Weeks before she was due, D.H. found herself online researching what options she might have once the baby was born. She still hadn't told anyone she was pregnant.
"I'm still not sure how I kept it a secret," she said.
D.H. was working long days —up to 14 hours at a time — throughout her pregnancy while she tried to get her life back in order. She still wasn't sure what to do about the child she would soon birth.
Then one morning, just 30 minutes before she was supposed to be at work, the labor began.
By the time D.H. thought about calling an ambulance, she knew she wouldn't make it to the hospital in time.
After six hours of labor, she gave birth — alone — to a beautiful baby girl.
She called her Mila.
An Agonizing Decision
Although D.H. was certain she wouldn't be able to keep the child, she had been doing her research so she could do what she felt was best for the baby – and her future parents.
"The one thing I did do… this thing called a 'lotus birth,'" D.H. said. "It's when keep the baby attached to you, to the placenta, and you stay attached for 30 minutes so they can get all the nutrients. I went as far as to do that, then I cut the cord and did all of the other stuff. I bathed her… and made sure to breastfeed her."
D.H. kept and cared for the infant for two days while she struggled with the decision of what to do. She continued to research all of her options so she could make sure she made the best choice for baby Mila.
She considered every option available, like taking the baby to a fire station or a hospital, but with the situation she was in, she didn't feel safe knowing that someone would want to know who she was.
D.H. needed anonymity; to get that, a Safe Haven Baby Box was her best option.
"It's a huge mental decision, and I was selfish – I wanted as much time as I could get with her," she said. "But I kept going back and looking at all of the Safe Haven information."
"I just went ahead and decided, after I read that there were medical people there and that they pick the baby up within four minutes," D.H. said. "That was by far the hardest decision I have ever made in my life.
"A lot of people probably don't know this, but when you open that box, you have the opportunity to change your mind," D.H. said.
She remembers walking up to that box and opening it up like it was yesterday. She watched the orange backpack fall out as she placed her precious little girl inside with a handwritten letter.
"I wrote a letter before I decided to take her, just to try to give as much information for whoever her parent would be – or where she would be going temporarily," she said. "I included medical information, what I named her – I named her Mila. I included things about myself, so they knew that I really did care and that I loved her and that I really did want to keep her, but I wanted what was best for her."
"I just want them to know that in those two days, she was loved, and she was taken care of."
After closing the box, she stepped away and watched from nearby.
"It took them four minutes to open it up and get her. It felt like longer, but it was only four minutes," D.H. said.
After she knew Mila was safe, she had to force herself to walk away.
"I don't care what anyone says – that just because you made that decision; you're not a mother – you still are. I waited just to make sure they saw her."
"I wanted her more than anything."
When asked what advice she wants to give other women who may find themselves in this situation, D.H. said she wants them to know they have options.
"All these babies that are dying, there are options for women, so that doesn't have to happen," she said. "If they're in danger if they have an abusive ex… this is one way to make sure that your baby can live and be loved."
While some may feel they've given up or feel ashamed of their decision, D.H. says it's important to remember you're giving another family and your child the best gift possible.
"I wanted her more than anything," D.H. said. "I just had to think. This isn't going to happen. It's not a fairy-tale. Things are going to get way harder before they got any better, and she (Mila) didn't deserve that at all."
Kelsey says one of the main things they want women, and men, who are thinking of calling their Safe Haven hot line to know is that there is no judgment.
Whether you are in a situation where you need to surrender your child, or you are looking for help and have nowhere else to turn, they want you to call them.
"The one thing we want women to understand is that we will not judge them or shame them," Kelsey said. "We have made this law for women to use, and if we can assist her in any of the options, we have we are thrilled to do so. This includes adoption and parenting!"
"It doesn't end when you open the box."
It wasn't until after baby Mila was taken in by the firefighters that D.H. finally looked inside the backpack.
"There was other information inside for after you made your decision. Numbers you can call for support. After I did that… I did go through with calling – I called the Safe Haven hot line so I could find out how the baby was doing."
Now that she's been through the experience and has been in contact with the women at Safe Haven Baby Boxes, D.H. is sharing her story so that other mothers out there – who are struggling to make the hardest choice of their lives – know they don't have to make it alone.
"I just want them to know that there are people they can talk to. There's a hot line. They will talk to you," D.H. said.
D.H. has been talking to the women with Safe Haven Baby Boxes since the day baby Mila was surrendered, and that relationship continues to this day.
"I almost wanted to try to get her back. Even after I did it, I wasn't sure if I had made the right choice. But I talked with Monica (from Safe Haven) and everything, and I just knew that I did the right thing," D.H. said. "It doesn't end when you open the box."
"I've personally been able to hug five of these women and thank them for keeping their babies safe," Kelsey with Safe Haven Baby Boxes said. "Three of these women, I still have a relationship with today and would consider them friends. We also have two of these women who are now volunteers for our organization!"
D.H. says it's also crucial for parents struggling with this decision to know that it's OK to have regrets.
"I regret that I wasn't more prepared," she said. "I know with … how much I work – all of these things – I wouldn't have been able to give her everything that her parents now are giving her. I regret making the decision, but I also keep reminding myself that I made the right one. So it's bittersweet."
About Safe Haven Baby Boxes
Baby boxes are safe incubators that have alarm systems, so 911 is notified as soon as a baby is placed inside. The baby boxes also have heating and cooling features.
Indiana's Safe Haven law allows people to anonymously surrender their healthy infants at any fire station in the state without fear of criminal prosecution.
The Safe Haven Baby Box organization also staffs a 24-hour hot line (1-866-99BABY1), so parents can talk to trained professionals about possibly surrendering their baby.
Safe Haven Baby Boxes currently has boxes in four different states: Indiana, Ohio, Arkansas, and Arizona. Founder Monica Kelsey says they are working to launch in at least two more states this year.
This story was originally reported by Katie Cox on theindychannel.com.