Last March, the first crisis-pregnancy residence opened in north San Diego County.
Lamb of God Maternity Home in Escondido, Calif., assists young women who are choosing or discerning adoption for their babies.
"You see how these pregnant mothers feel scared, vulnerable, and they don’t know what to do; and you have that child, who is most vulnerable of all. This home will keep them both safe and find a loving mom and dad for their birth child," says Philip Rivers, quarterback for the San Diego Chargers. Rivers and his wife, Tiffany, are board members of the nonprofit Agnus Dei Foundation, which opened the home.
"Our foundation is more than a maternity home. We want to impact the culture of life by being a champion of adoption, dispelling the fears and enigmas about it," says Grace Dulaney. She and her husband, Kirk, are the co-founders.
The inspiration for this home came while Dulaney was on an Ignatian silent retreat two years ago. She understands the need of these women to place their babies with a "forever family," because, 21 years ago, she made the difficult decision to choose adoptive parents for her son Dylan, with whom she has been reunited.
Board member Sarah Jensen, executive director of the Adoption Center of San Diego, said the home is a needed resource.
"At Lamb of God, it’s not just a roof, but a loving home, decorated in a lovely way," says Jensen. "The host family makes it home. They all eat together. The girls have somebody to come home to from school or work and know somebody is expecting them for dinner. The house parents make dinner each night."
Dulaney adds, "The girls themselves, the families and everyone who walks through the door feel the presence of the Holy Spirit and the joy of the people making it happen."
She "knew when we walked in and saw a crucifix on the wall it was our house."
The home accommodates six girls, and it includes a big apartment for the house parents and their 13-year-old daughter. There are back-country views of fruit trees, and the sound of birds chirping fills the air. It is truly a family home.
"We wanted the girls to understand the value of a two-parent household," Dulaney explains.
Providence has helped along the way.
"God’s hand has been in this very clearly, every step of the way," she affirms. "You know you’re doing his work when things line up."
They did, time after time. When bank after bank would not grant a mortgage, Dulaney says that right after she finished praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet on the way to the West Coast Walk for Life, she got a call telling her a private bank run by Catholics had just approved the loan.
Then, one Sunday, after Communion at Mass, while praying in thanksgiving to the Lord for this house, she included, "You’ve got to put the right house parents in our hands."
After Mass, she recalls, "I literally walked out, and Laura and Armando Soto said, ‘Would you ever consider us to be the house parents?’"
Dulaney thought: "Wow, God! It’s been 20 minutes. That’s fast!"
Dr. George Delgado, the medical director of Culture of Life Family Services in San Diego, which provides free medical care for the mothers and their babies, applauds this house concept as a witness for the young women. "When it comes to making decisions, they see how a good woman interacts with a good man in a marriage and how to choose a good man. This should dramatically increase the chances of them having a good marriage in the future."
Father Richard Castro of Miles Christi, who has seen the work develop, also finds this benefit: "The home environment gives the girls the sense of God’s love for them, which comes manifested through the love of the family in the home."
The home sets aside terms like "giving up" or "putting up" your baby for adoption and instead talks about "choosing a forever family for your baby" or "choosing a mother and father for your baby." These are more empowering for the girls, because they get to personally choose the father and mother.
They also learn "the baby can grow up knowing you," says Dulaney. "Adoptive families here are open to the birth mother’s wishes if she wants to keep in contact with her child."
Since the home opened, there have already been five babies and five placements, with another due any day.
Dulaney says, "Birth mothers have such joy and confidence in their decisions."
The home also helps girls make the transition once they leave.
Continuing their education is important; they are also assisted with job applications.
The spiritual side is essential. "This is a Christ-centered ministry," reminds Dulaney. "The girls have to go to church on Sunday. A lot of them end up going to the Catholic church with us. We know that God in their life is the only way they’re going to get through this."
If a girl wants to attend another church, she may. Everyone works on a virtue a week and attends Bible study, too.
Father Castro notes that some of the girls have wanted to become Catholic as a result, and another Catholic wants to receive her first Communion and be confirmed.
"You can really see they are feeling the love of God there, and that moves them to be closer to God, and they feel drawn to God," he says.
The girls receive all care for free. Lamb of God relies 100% on donations. Groups have adopted rooms to decorate and furnish; Eagle Scouts are building a garden; and a retired priest offers at least one weekly Mass for the ministry.
No wonder Philip and Tiffany Rivers, who are expecting their seventh child in October, "want to support and be a part of this," according to Philip. It seems to be "a wonderful mission led by the Holy Spirit."
This immediate success strengthens the vision of Agnus Dei as a national foundation. As Dulaney says, "Our goal is that this is the pilot home for ones across the country."
"It will inspire others now that it’s the first such maternity home in north San Diego," Rivers explains. "There’s trust in God and the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the foundation, and it will be successful."
And changing and saving lives is the ultimate success, Rivers says: "Who knows what effect it can have on the birth mom, just from the love and compassion and the love of Christ she’s going to be shown in this home? You want to have the most impact you possibly can and save as many lives as you can."
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.