Abandonment issue highlighted by ‘Baby S’

Baby Suzi sleeping in an incubator at Helderberg Hospital.

The discovery last week of a newborn, “Baby Suzi”, in a dustbin in Main Road, Somerset West, once again brought abandonment to the fore.

Shortly thereafter, there was the discovery of a frozen baby in a black bag in Lwandle.

The fact that we have the Helderberg Baby Saver in the area, only a few blocks from where “Baby Suzi” was found alive is most distressing (I am the founder of the Baby Saver).

I can’t help but wonder if this desperate, terrified woman did not know about the existence of the Baby Saver, if she was too tired to walk any further or if she was too scared to use it for some reason?

Abandonment is a complex issue with many different facets, and a highly emotive one too – which makes discussions around it sensitive.

There are traditions, laws, religions and cultures as well as lifestyles and levels of education and resource at play.

It is a growing problem around the world and we are seeing increasing cases of abandonment across South Africa, which is the reason the Helderberg Baby Saver was established in 2014.

The story of the Helderberg Baby Saver stems from when a Somerset West Neighbourhood Watcher, Judith Cross, was the first responder to the scene when “Baby Amber” was found, newly born and dumped next to a river in the Somerset West CBD.

She was covered in ants and would have died fairly soon had the dog of some vagrants not sniffed her out, and they then immediately raised the alarm.

A week later another abandoned baby was found in the CBD and this prompted me, a fellow Somerset West Neighbourhood Watcher, to investigate how a ‘final safety net’ could be put in place to try and help prevent the unsafe abandonment of babies in the area.

Judith and I decided to install a baby bin, along the lines of the Door of Hope in Johannesburg, established in 1999 to save the lives of abandoned babies.

We approached Choices, who deal with crisis pregnancies in the Helderberg area, and got permission to build the Baby Saver in to their building. Choices is situated on Schapenberg Road, across from the Vergelegen Spar, behind the Engen Garage on the Old Sir Lowry’s Pass Road.

There were a number of issues taken into account when deciding where to place the Baby Saver as the location is key:

1. As Choices deal with crisis pregnancies there is a hope that desperate mothers might approach them prior to giving birth. The sticker on the Saver advises that they can seek help at Choices.

2. The building needs to be accessible to people walking from the taxi ranks, Main Road, the N2, the train station, etc.

3. The Saver needs to be accessible and fairly private – but not isolated and thus risk putting the mother in danger.

4. The Saver needs to be in a location that the respondents can safely access at all hours.

5. The Saver needs to be in a place where it will not be damaged or vandalised.

6. A woman walking to Choices with a baby would not stand out – it would look normal in the environment.

Should someone place a newborn in the Baby Saver, the pressure mat triggers an alert via a panic alarm to Secure Rite Security (who monitors this at no cost, 24/7).

They alert a responder who will be on scene within minutes. Secure Rite also dispatch an armed response vehicle for safety precautions, as well as an E.M.O. ambulance.

The Saver door automatically locks on the outside when closed and access is only possible inside the building.

The responders are all volunteers who feel strongly about the protection of children – there are five of them to ensure that there will always be someone available: Sandy Immelman, Amanda-Lea Jones, Sophia Warner, Karen Bufé and Grant Immelman. E.M.O. gave first aid training for newborns and also supplied first aid kits with umbilical clamps to be kept next to the Baby Saver.

If a baby is found in the Saver it will immediately be taken to the local hospital by ambulance and they will contact a child protection organisation such as Wandis (an adoption agency in Somerset West – which will be featured in one of a series of related articles), to arrange a temporary Safe Care Mom – while all the legalities are implemented, and to facilitate the fostering or adoption process.

The purpose of the Helderberg Baby Saver is simply to provide a safe alternative to dumping a newborn in a bin or drain, and to make sure that the infant is taken to the hospital where it can be cared for as quickly as possible.

The only baby that has been placed in the Baby Saver thus far was Baby Ayabonga, who was placed there in October 2015.

With the assistance of Wandisa he was successfully adopted by a family overseas and is now a happy, healthy little boy.

His mother chose the Helderberg Baby Saver and thus gave him a chance to not only survive, but to thrive.

There have been a number of other interventions due to the Baby Saver, and its existence continues to raise awareness around the topic of crisis pregnancy and abandonment.

Raising awareness about the Saver is critical as it can only be used if the people who need it, know where it is and that they can safely use it

You can assist by self-printing the A4 poster and/or leaflets (two-up on an A4 page) from the ABOUT tab on the website, to hand out to any staff, friends and colleagues, at www.babysaver.co.za

Thank you for helping to honour Amber’s legacy.

Contact me at 082 494 0983 or sandyimmelman@gmail.com, for more information.