National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Life Changes Life

BY JOSEPH PRONECHEN

June 11-17, 2006 Issue | Posted 6/12/06 at 10:00 AM

 

Prenatal Partners for Life is a “newborn” on the pro-life scene. Only months old, the apostolate is already saving babies.

Before founder and Executive Director Mary Kellet of Maple Grove, Minn., even thought of it, the seeds were taking shape in the Kellet family. When she and her husband Donald were expecting son Peter, their 11th child, he was pre-natally identified as having Trisomy 18, a condition similar to Down syndrome but more severe. It was confirmed after he was born on Jan. 5, 2005.

The days before and after his birth were difficult. “We were given a series of incomplete and inaccurate bits of information,” Mary says. “We were told that, if these babies do live, they live only two weeks.”

She also discovered that abortion “definitely is always offered and, in many cases, strongly suggested. There is obvious pressure.” Kellet’s daughter Elizabeth researched online and found several stories of Trisomy 18 children living to be much older — some into their 30s. That evidence added motivation for what the Kellets desired to do all along.

“We wanted to aggressively treat him,” Kellet says. “We didn’t see Peter having any less value because he had this” condition.

“Prenatal Partners for Life came out of that experience,” she explains. The apostolate took shape last Christmas when she talked to friends and other mothers who had lost babies in similar circumstances. They became board members.

“The whole idea is to connect parents with other parents who have gone through the same thing so they can offer support, encouragement and honest information,” says Kellet. “Our focus is to provide this to resist that pressure and have the baby for however long the baby is going to live because that’s the best thing for mother and baby.”

Support comes in person or by phone, e-mail or written correspondence. The new website — prenatalpartnersforlife.org — also plays a major role in making connections.

Through it come contacts even from some people abroad. One out-of-country mom pregnant with twins, one with Trisomy 18, was being pressured to abort. She read the website’s stories and contacted Kellet, who connected her with three moms who had similar twins. They shared what they had gone through.

“She ended up continuing her pregnancy with both of the babies after talking to these moms,” recalls Kellet.

She finds one of the biggest unexpected blessings is women sharing their stories to help others. In one case, the story carried a gift: Kellet sent a mom-to-be pregnant with a child afflicted with a fatal heart disease a blanket made by a mom who lost a Down syndrome baby.

 “Making these blankets, which she calls Luke’s Blankets of Love (after her son who died), is her own little way of trying to provide comfort for these other moms,” Kellet says, pointing out the blanket-maker mom was inspired to adopt a Down syndrome baby.

Moving stories like these on the website deal with Trisomy 13, Trisomy 18, Down syndrome, liver disorders, congenital heart defects and numerous other conditions.

One story was contributed by Prenatal Partners for Life board member Pam McSweeney, who shares her story about her son Colm. She also counsels other mothers, some after they’ve lost their child, like one mother who said she believed her doctor had deceived her into letting him deliberately break her water in his office, then told her to lie to the emergency room about it. (McSweeney can’t identify the exact location in the country.)

“She was absolute going to carry,” McSweeney says. “She was pressured to end the pregnancy and has been living with regret. She was told all kinds of horrible things by her doctor.” They proved untrue.

Another family she also helped was willing to do whatever necessary to keep their child alive.

The mother of two other youngsters, McSweeney explains her own little son Colm who had Trisomy 18 and taught so many people just how valuable his unborn life was. They still tell her what he meant to them.

She believes Prenatal Partners for Life helps others to appreciate these children.

“They are not a burden to society,” she says. “They become beautiful toddlers and adolescents and live out God’s plan for them — his plans, not society’s. Our calling is to be there for other families, to get them through and let them know they’re not alone.”

Kellet looks forward to hearing from others like Pam who’d like to share the story of their special child and be a mentor helping support other families.   

 

Children Charm

“The concept is so simple yet so timely,” says Father James Livingstone, chaplain at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, Minn. He knows the Kellets well and sees God using their situation to inspire the apostolate.

“They’re helping people see the quality of life people so talk about is not just limited to what an individual does on his or her own, but the quality of life depends on that person being loved,” says Father Livingstone, who’s also a chaplain for Rachel’s Vineyard.

What these children give goes beyond their physical and mental abilities, he explains. “There’s something spiritual they contribute, whether it’s drawing love of out others or being a sign of the cross for this generation,” adds the priest. “The sign of the cross is a sign of contradiction.

“These children today are a sign of the cross for us to embrace,” he says. “Sometimes their lives only last a few hours, sometimes their little lives do span years, that’s a sacrificial love for that long.”

Kellet wants to help parents embrace these children with this sacrificial love and see them as both gifts and gift-givers on loan from God, as she has.

People have told her the gifts Peter gives them. One said Peter has taken away the fear of having a special-needs child. After Easter Mass a sweet little lady said, “Peter, when we think of our little aches and pains, we think of you.”

“Peter has put into crystal-clear perspective that every day is precious and every day is a gift,” says Kellet. “He’s brought living one day at a time into reality for us. And trusting in God for everything — that’s another lesson. Our faith has grown so much and so has the faith of our kids. He’s made us all better.”

Joseph Pronechen writes from

Trumbull, Connecticut.