PAOLI, Ind. — You've likely heard many stories about Safe Haven Baby Boxes in Indiana — when they're installed at fire stations, when babies are surrendered inside — but what happens afterward doesn't usually get shared publicly.
What lies "beyond the box" is the best part for Tessa and Keegan Higgs of Paoli. It helped create their family.
For the Higgs, parenthood — which was once their greatest challenge — is now their greatest joy.
"I can't imagine anything better than having Jax and Nola. Like, I just can't imagine life without them," Tessa Higgs said.
Their family of four was made complete by another mother's courage.
In 2019, a Safe Haven Baby Box brought the family their final blessing, Nola, who is now 3 years old.
The baby box program allows moms in crisis to safely surrender their newborn with no questions asked.
"She's my hero. I mean, if I could meet her (Nola's biological mom) today, I'd give her a big hug and, you know, I couldn't thank her enough," Keegan Higgs said.
After trying for years for a family, the Higgs were fostering their oldest child, Jax, when they learned a baby was surrendered in northern Indiana.
The child's mom, whose identity is protected under the safe haven law, saw a baby box billboard and called the hotline for help.
"What we do know is her mother very much loved her. It was evident in her care. She was born at a healthy weight. She was free of substances. She was wrapped in a warm towel," Tessa explained. "We have the towel. It's the only connection we have to her biological mom. She also breastfed her baby before surrendering, so we know she was loved."
Out of 400 people who applied to be the baby's parents, and after an interview with a panel of nine people with DCS, the Higgs got the phone call.
"She was like, 'I want to be the first to congratulate you, Mr. Higgs – your family's been selected,'" Keegan said.
They brought Nola home a week later. Both children are now officially adopted.
"I couldn't imagine our life without Nola," Keegan said. "So, I mean, our family, in my eyes, is complete!"
This ending is the reason Monica Kelsey, abandoned as an infant herself, created the program. She's the founder and CEO of Safe Haven Baby Boxes.
"When I look at my own life, being abandoned as an infant, in an era where there was no safe haven law, and now we've created this to allow these mothers the anonymity that they want, it is very fulfilling to see the life that I saved simply because my life was saved," Kelsey said. "Seeing Nola grow up happy and healthy and beautiful has been part of my mission all along."
Keegan, a volunteer firefighter in Paoli, is making sure that mission continues.
He helped install the first-ever baby box at a volunteer fire department last fall, right in Paoli.
The law changed in July 2021, allowing volunteer departments to house a baby box, if they met certain criteria.
"They have to be within a mile of a hospital or EMS station, have to have a four-minute response time and there has to be a camera on the inside of the box," Tessa explained, "so a camera's on a baby at all times until someone can get to the child."
"I'm pretty proud of that and, if we ever get that call, it's gonna be hard to beat me there," Keegan added.
Because he knows what happens beyond the box.
He's living it: a family — grateful for their little girl.
Baby Boxes by the numbers:
Since 2016, 19 babies have been surrendered in Indiana baby boxes and 121 have been handed to a firefighter or nurse in person.
There are now 110 baby boxes statewide. The most recent box was installed this month in Mitchell, Indiana. The Higgs were there for the installation ceremony.