When a woman who is unexpectedly pregnant knocks at the door of the Sisters of Life, they’re aren’t shunned or shamed, nor is there any incessant begging for them to keep the baby. Instead, they’re invited to tea.
“After we meet a woman or if she calls us on the phone, we love to have her come in person to our convent and we just sit down with a cup of tea and a plate of cookies and just get to know her,” Sister Maria Anne Michela told the Denver Catholic . “Who are you? What’s your situation? What’s your life like? Just tell me about how you got where you are in life and what you like and what your dreams are.”
From that point on, the Sisters are in it for the long haul with her. Beyond just helping them find material resources, which certainly are an important and necessary piece in their choosing life, the Sisters simply seek to walk alongside these women as they prepare for motherhood and remind them that, despite what the world and other external (and even internal) voices may tell them, they are strong enough to bring that beautiful gift of new life into the world.
“Our main goal in walking with women who are pregnant is to reflect back to them their own goodness, their own strength, and to help them to make an act of faith in themselves,” Sister Michela said.
While the reasons that women seek an abortion are varied, Sister Michela said that it is ultimately fear that lies at the root of that decision, and that it’s oftentimes not in actuality a free choice that the woman makes.
“Our founder, John Cardinal O’Connor, would always say that fear underlies all killing,” she said. “Fear is the root of it. So many fears come in, and that just takes over.
“There are just so many factors that drive a woman to abortion that I would say most of the time, she’s not making a free choice,” she added. “She’s being pressured either directly by the father of the baby or the family or whoever, or indirectly by being told, ‘you can’t do it.’”
Sister Michela recalled one woman during her time at the convent in New York who approached the Sisters. This woman had discovered that she was pregnant with her fourth child and had just lost her job that day. She sat down for tea with the Sisters and laid it all out. She said she didn’t want to have an abortion, but she didn’t see how it could possibly work. The Sisters just listened and lovingly told her about the many resources that exist to help her along the way.
As Sister Michela walked her back to the train station, she looked up at the nun and said, “You know what? Now that I know that I’m not alone, I’m going to do this. I can have this baby. I’m going to do it.” And she did.
“We hadn’t actually given her anything, but it was just being told you’re not alone and there’s somebody who’s going to walk this journey with you,” Sister Michela said. “It might have twists and turns, but we’re going to stick with you.”
It’s that accompaniment and presence that ultimately means the most to women in these situations.
“The biggest thing is so much more than the material support, which they also need when the time comes,” Sister Michela concluded. “But far beyond that is just the emotional support of knowing that they had somebody who’s for them and who believes in them.”
The Sisters of Life just released a 12-part video series on accompanying a woman into life. Watch it at intolifeseries.com.
A place to rest
When one walks into Marisol Health in Lafayette, there are no cold, fluorescent lights or sterile white walls typical of most clinical settings to be found. Instead, shades of light blue adorn the walls and warm lighting illuminates the cozy waiting area. Most important of all is the friendly smile from clinic coordinator Mary Beth, whose first job is to make any woman who steps through those doors and welcome and loved.
For the women who come, all of this creates a caring and compassionate atmosphere to help ease the feelings of fear and anxiety they’re likely feeling in that moment.
This is not done in an attempt to “dupe” or “hoodwink” anybody; it is done first and foremost out of love for that woman. And no matter what walk of life or situation that woman is coming from, one thing is for certain: they will be welcome, and they will be loved.
“That’s the beauty of Marisol, we will serve everyone, and everyone’s circumstance is a little bit different,” said Sara, Program Director at Marisol. “We try to really serve the individual where they are. It’s important for us to really build that relationship with that individual, from the first moment we talked on the phone or the first moment they walk in, to make them feel welcome, to let them know that we are here, to really answer the questions that they have and to support them.”
Every day, the staff at Marisol begins the day with prayer. There is a chapel on-site with the Blessed Sacrament, which is indicative of the reality that in a very real way, Jesus is present with not only the staff but also the abortion-vulnerable women who come seeking care and support. Priests from the nearby parishes will also come to celebrate Mass for the staff. Spirituality is at the root of the important and vital work they do.
“The hidden virtue of our clinic is hospitality,” said Senite, Director of Clinical Services for Marisol. “We always say that we don’t know what someone is walking in with. But the hope is that when they come through our doors, that they can rest here.”
Marisol Health is just one part of a greater continuum of care that can be found among the various services and resources Catholic Charities offers. When a woman experiencing an unexpected pregnancy comes to them, in addition to offering comprehensive medical care through a partnership with Bella Health and Wellness, Marisol has the means to help them find affordable housing and other resources that will empower an expectant mother to be a mother. They receive many donations of crucial baby supplies that they gift to the mothers they walk with. But it’s that first point of contact that is so important.
“We love on her so she feels loved and supported,” Outreach Coordinator Michelle said. “We really take care of mom because if she feels like she’s special and that she’s worth it and she has dignity, then with the life inside of her, she sees that dignity. That’s where we start with her.”
“Love and being loved really does testify,” Senite added. “That’s really our hope. There’s no reason to feel shame.”
With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the tensions between pro-life and pro-abortion rhetoric are reaching boiling points that likely haven’t been seen since 1973. There are many stigmas that exist on both sides, making it extremely important to speak about the realities of crisis and unexpected pregnancies in honest and charitable ways.
“I haven’t met one person who, and this might sound intense so bear with me, wants to kill their baby,” Senite said. “There are so many life decisions that are surrounding it that they’re fearful and they’re debilitated in that fear, and they feel like they have no other choice or option but to consider this. A big part of the supportive side of it is to work with our medical team and trust what’s talked about in the exam rooms and in the counseling room so that everyone is on the same page. We want to support you so that you feel like you can say ‘yes’ well, not coerce you into saying ‘yes.’ We want you to be well, we want you to have a house. It’s not just an isolated moment of, ‘we care about you for this much time.’ We are seeing people for their second babies now, which is so exciting.”
Another major stigma that exists is the role of the father in the pregnancy. The ladies at Marisol admit that dads aren’t always in the picture when they’re walking with the women they serve, but they are so happy when the father is involved. Their support is absolutely vital, Sara stressed.
“Dads matter,” she said. “People often ask, ‘what do you have for the dad?’ And we invite dad into the conversation as early as we can. You’re in this with us, this is your appointment too. The family is so important and we try to emphasize that, even when it’s just asking humanly, ‘how are you doing with this?’ and not just focusing on her. While she is absolutely, extremely important, he’s important too.”