When Monica Kelsey was just eight weeks old, she was lovingly adopted and raised by a Christian family in Paulding, Ohio.
Up until the time she was 37 years old, she had a fairly straight-forward understanding of the circumstances of her adoption: Her biological parents had loved her, but were young and couldn’t care for her. So they made an adoption plan.
But when Monica met her birth mother in 2011, she learned the truth.
In August of 1972, Monica’s birth mother, then 17-years-old, was brutally attacked, raped, and left on the side of the road. The young girl pressed charges against the man who raped her and he was arrested. But not long after the incident, the girl discovered she was pregnant and depression overcame her again.
At the time, abortion was illegal throughout most of the country. The girl’s mother—Monica’s biological grandmother—took her to a back-alley abortionist in October of 1972. But the young girl couldn’t go through with it.
“While standing in front of the man that was going to take her child’s life, she changed her mind,” Monica later said. “Thank God.”
Angry about her change of heart, the girl’s mother hid her throughout the rest of her pregnancy.
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Then, in April of 1973, the girl gave birth and abandoned her newborn child at a hospital in northwest Ohio.
Thirty-seven years later, when Monica heard this story, she was shaken.
“Learning all that, I came to the realization that I wasn’t a wanted child at all,” she said. “I was whisked into this world by violence and then thrown away like garbage.”
As Monica began processing what she had learned, questions of her own self-worth began to haunt her.
“I had to really wrestle with the facts of the adoption,” she said. “Was I just given to parents that were praying for the perfect child? I really had to go back into my faith and, and kind of pull out my purpose.”
That process took a couple of years. For the first six months following her birth mother’s revelation, Monica was in denial.
“I was wrestling with the fact that I did not want this to be my life,” she said. “I actually tried proving her story wrong.”
The police report was not enough to convict Monica of the truth.
“So I had this police report in my hand,” she said. “And here I am saying that she’s lying. And so for about six months, I really tried to dig into the fact that I was going to find the truth because she wasn’t telling it to me. And what I found was she was telling me the truth and that the life that I had envisioned for myself did not exist. You know—this is who I am. This is where I came from, and this is my story.”
It took Monica several more months to grapple with her story and to begin sharing it. One aspect of her story that she had to process had to do with her own pro-life convictions.
She had always been pro-life, but had carved out an exception for babies conceived through rape.
“Now here I was, one of these babies that was being dehumanized and was like, you know, you really have to find your worth,” she said.
By trade, Monica was a firefighter and a medic. After learning of the circumstances of her conception and adoption, Monica threw herself into her work.
“I literally buried myself in my work because the more lives I saved on the back of an ambulance, the more I felt that my life was worthy of living,” she said.
Monica thrived on the gratitude she received from the families of people she saved, not realizing that she was still struggling.
Pain and Purpose
It was in 2013 that Monica began finding the purpose in her story. Working with Pam Stenzel, a leading public speaker on abstinence, she began sharing her testimony. That year, Monica joined Stenzel on a speaking tour through South Africa.
“It was almost therapy for me to get in front of people and kind of air my dirty laundry,” she said.
Monica spoke 14 times during the 16-day trip. Then, towards the end of the tour, she discovered something at a church in Cape Town.
There, on the side of the church, was a baby box.
Intrigued, she started asking questions. She learned that women bring their babies to the church in the middle of the night to safely and anonymously abandon them inside the box. Seven babies had been rescued through the box that year.
Monica’s mind was overtaken by the idea. On the flight home from Cape Town, she hand-drew her version of the baby box on a Delta napkin.
That was the beginning.
The following efforts to establish a baby box in her home state of Indiana were considerable. Along with assembling the box itself, she had to build a non-profit, gather a board of directors, come up with a marketing strategy, fundraise, and advocate for policy change to allow the baby boxes.
In 2016, the state’s first electronically monitored baby boxes were installed in fire stations as an extension of Indiana’s safe haven law. In November 2017, the organization’s first baby was rescued at the Coolspring Township Fire Department in Michigan City. The baby, now named Grace Harger, was adopted and is 3.5 years old today.
As of 2021, 11 babies have been rescued through Monica’s Safe Haven Baby Boxes.
“We all have purpose,” Monica said. “We all have pain. And when we combine those two, beautiful things start to happen. And so I’ve taken the pain of my beginnings and I’ve turned it into purpose. And now we just had baby number 11 in our box down in Clarksville, Indiana. And you know, it doesn’t get old.”
This is Part 1 in a two-part story on Safe Haven Baby Boxes. To learn more about Save Haven Baby Boxes, visit shbb.org.
To learn more about Indiana Right to Life’s adoption project, So Many Special Families, visit somanyspecialfamilies.org.