A Seventh-day Adventist hospital chaplain in Germany was recently awarded for offering distressed pregnant women a safe alternative to abandoning their babies.
Gabriele Stangl, chaplain of Waldfriede Adventist Hospital in Berlin, received Germany's Medal of Merit this month for operating what hospital staff call the "cradle," a padded box behind the hospital clinic accessible by a single unmonitored entrance where women can anonymously leave their unwanted babies.
When a mother leaves her newborn in the cradle, sensors trigger a delayed alarm so she can leave the area undetected before nursing staff are alerted. Stangl says young, desperate mothers have left twenty newborns in the cradle over the past decade.
"Each of these women is terrified for various reasons that her pregnancy might become known," Stangl says.
Later, many of the women find the courage to return to the clinic and register their identities, Stangl says. While only a third of these women ultimately reclaim their babies, almost all end up deciding to at least give their children the opportunity to find out who their mother is, she says.
The women have eight weeks to reclaim their babies. Newborns that remain unclaimed are matched with foster families and given up for adoption.
Stangl says she observed the need for a baby drop-off while working as a hospital chaplain. Patients began sharing their stories with her. One 80-year-old woman on her deathbed finally shared a decades-old secret -- she'd aborted her baby. Stangl watched as a pregnant woman was sent away from the delivery room because she wasn't ready to reveal her identity.
Now, more than one hundred women have given birth anonymously at Waldfriede. Previously, many of these woman would have resorted to giving birth in public restrooms or in remote areas without medical care, Stangle says. Much like the women who drop off their babies, many later return to register their identities or reclaim their babies. Waldfriede provides psychological support and counseling for the women who return and face difficult decisions, Stangl says.
The cradle at Waldfriede is modeled after a similar one located at a non-hospital facility in Hamburg, Germany. "When I heard about [it], I had the idea that a hospital is best suited for such a thing," Stangl says, adding that the clinic and area authorities have been supportive of her ministry.
Stangle has served as chaplain hospital at Waldfriede since 1996. In 2008, the Association of Adventist Woman awarded her the title "Woman of the Year."