Supporting Life: Walking With Women and Their Babies
How pro-life groups help women and their families get out of crisis so they can nurture new life.
A year ago, Tranetta Jones found herself in a perfect storm.
After discovering she was pregnant, the Minneapolis single mother of four got sick and lost her job as a certified nursing assistant. It didn’t seem like the time to bring another child into a difficult situation, so Jones started looking online for abortion providers.
Instead, she reached members of the Stillwater, Minnesota, outreach Marriage Material, who walked with her through the storm — offering encouragement, referrals to assistance organizations and financial help — which gave her what she needed to keep her baby.
“It’s basically like a listening ear, someone that can encourage you to do the right thing because abortion is wrong,” said Jones, whose daughter Journey was born last August.
Often the problems and voices surrounding some women facing unexpected pregnancies push them toward abortion. Pro-life providers who offer encouragement and crisis assistance to expectant mothers help them find courage and hope to keep their babies.
“Women have to get up every day and decide, ‘Today I’m not going to abort my baby,’” said Nancy Kiolbasa, founder and director of Marriage Material, which accompanies and helps expectant mothers before and after their babies’ births and encourages them to consider marriage.
Across the country pro-lifers at organizations such as Marriage Material and at pregnancy-resource centers are meeting women where they’re at. Many help not only with pregnancy tests and needed baby items, but with a variety of other resources, offering hope for life-filled futures.
Columbus, Ohio-based Heartbeat International has supported, strengthened and started 2,600 affiliated pregnancy-help organizations in the United States and internationally, including pregnancy medical clinics, pregnancy-resource centers, maternity homes and adoption agencies. Other organizations assisting mothers-to-be and families include Birthright, which has hundreds of centers throughout the United States, Canada and Africa.
Many women in need just want to be heard, said Rita O’Brien, founder and executive director of Emmanuel House International in Carmel, New York, which serves moms, their born and unborn babies, and their families.
“They want that emotional support, and they want to know they’re making the right decision — that they’re making a good decision and that there’s a practical, possible, positive solution,” she said. “They need to be given it over and over because so many other people are trying to make them go the opposite way.”
Usually, the crisis pregnancy isn’t the only problem a woman in need faces, said Astrid Bennett Gutierrez, executive director of Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, which provides care, help and information to women who may be considering abortion.
A former co-host of the EWTN series The Catholic View for Women, Gutierrez currently co-hosts the EWTN Spanish program Ellas lo Dicen (“They Have Said”).
“The majority of the women we meet are worried,” she said. “When we talk with them, the vast majority have some influence in their lives, somebody’s who’s telling them maybe they shouldn’t have this baby.”
Challenge of Poverty
Most of Gutierrez’s clients come from low-income or immigrant backgrounds and are told by doctors, social-service representatives and others that they’re too poor to have a child.
“They’re overwhelmed by the voices of perhaps a physician saying, ‘You’re too old; you’re too young’; a social worker, their husband or boyfriend, parents or societal fears that ‘if you’re pregnant, you’re a statistic; you have forfeited your dreams; you’re a burden to society and your child,’” Gutierrez said.
Teens or students fear they won’t be able to continue with their studies or that their parents will find out, she said.
Financial problems can arise or be magnified by a new baby, O’Brien said.
These women are trying to figure out how they can care for not only the new baby that’s coming but any other children and family members that they’re responsible for as well as themselves, she said.
The family falls into crisis if there is domestic abuse, the father leaves or if having another baby will require getting a larger apartment, too, O’Brien added.
Drug and alcohol abuse also can be factors, according to Linda Mason, a founder of Mary’s Outreach for Women in St. Petersburg, Florida, which also supports women with unplanned pregnancies.
The Human Principle
Finding out the truth about the humanity of their babies cuts through obstacles, allowing women a way forward, Gutierrez said.
All mothers and fathers, deep down, want to have their babies, said O’Brien.
Emmanuel House builds a relationship with each woman by creating an action plan and identifying resources needed for the pregnancy and beyond, which provides an opportunity to talk about life-oriented goals.
Emmanuel House focuses not only on the mom and newborn, but the whole family, O’Brien said.
Helping expectant mothers and families in crisis may involve connecting them with organizations, agencies and food pantries, as well as providing financial assistance for rent, medical services, legal services and other needs.
Emphasizing that nothing changes for clients without love, Kiolbasa and other Marriage Material volunteers try to “step into women’s lives like sisters.”
Mason prays with her clients and has seen prayer change hearts. “I’ve actually almost held back tears because they see the care,” she said. “I think a lot of times that’s what touches them, too, because nobody cares a lot of times.”
Clients tell Gutierrez they most appreciate the information they receive about their babies and also kindness shown.
“It’s so different when that woman, in a crisis pregnancy situation that’s difficult, comes into the pro-life community, [and has access to the] medical community, counselors, a pro-life-friendly church, where at the end of Mass a priest says [a blessing for expectant mothers],” she said. “That helps so much.”
Emmanuel House also offers youth an educational outreach program that teaches teens about chastity. In addition, after Kiolbasa’s clients are out of crisis, she explores with them the possibility of marriage and adoption.
Mason and Mary’s Outreach volunteers offer clients classes on Pope St. John Paul II’s teaching on marriage and sexuality, the theology of the body, as well as one on forgiveness that she said has changed some mothers.
“They have so much unforgiveness in their hearts toward boyfriends who abandoned them or people who have hurt them or who have sexually abused them in the past,” she said.
With the resources God provides, pro-lifers meet women in need with love and urgency — and not on a nine-to-five schedule, Gutierrez said
Those who assist these expectant mothers in need are doing more than helping save their babies, O’Brien said.
They’re “helping the family as a whole to grow in body, mind, spirit and soul and providing the ground work for them then to get up on their feet, get out of crisis and have their families.”
Susan Klemond writes from St. Paul, Minnesota.