Friday, August 8, 2008

Helping Pregnant Women: the Family Home

There's been some discussion lately about charity and openness to life, especially in the context of Christian families. May I offer some related thoughts?

Sometimes a pregnant woman is not married. Sometimes she is a teenager. Sometimes she needs emotional, financial, or psychological support. Sometimes she has no safe or loving place to live. Who will help her?

In our diocese (Arlington, VA), Catholic Charities offers pregnant women in crisis a "family home". They live with a functional family in a loving environment throughout the pregnancy and sometimes for a short time afterwards. Meanwhile, each young woman and her social worker deal with current problems and make a plan for the future.

We've offered a family home for about a dozen years now. I must have inherited a hospitality gene from my mother, because I called Catholic Charities almost as soon as I saw the bulletin announcement asking for homes. There was plenty of paperwork (It's like becoming a foster home, especially as some of the moms are under 18.), but we were approved in less than three months.

In all these years we've actually housed less than ten young women. There were many "dry years" when we didn't get any calls. Other times, a social worker would call to see if we were open to a placement (We always said yes.), but then no one came. It was discouraging until I was told that just knowing someone was willing to take her in was enough to nudge some women and their families to work things out. Just being available helped in a small way. This past year three different women have lived with us for 3-4 months at a time.

I certainly don't mean to imply this is some sort of rainbows and butterflies existence. It's real life in our real family, with someone new added in. When our oldest was about seven, we received our first teenager. Thank goodness my husband is so level-headed!

Being a family home entails setting another place at the table, but of course there's more to it than that. As our family has grown too large to have a dedicated guest room, we've needed to rearrange bedrooms whenever a mom moves in. We have to adjust to a new, fully formed personality (so different from adding a baby to the house!). There may be less privacy. Our flaws are out there on display. And every woman who needs a family home has a unique but always difficult story. I'm not a cryer, but I did shed many tears this year over one mom's situation.

The benefits for us far outweigh any negatives I can think of. We've come to love all these young women, and that can only be a good thing. Having someone new in the house livens things up--we joke, work, play, and pray together. My children contend that I cook more "good" meals, too. ;-) For some young women, ours is the first functional family (even though we're not perfect) they've been a part of, and Len is a wonderful example of a godly man, husband, and father. Living with us (and our babies or toddlers or teens) is one long teaching moment for these moms-to-be.

Being a family home also gives us a chance to practice what we preach—about being pro-life, hating the sin but loving the sinner, and sheltering the homeless. I want my children to believe I'll love them no matter what kind of trouble they find themselves in, and caring for these women gives me a chance to prove it.

Before you ask, I'll answer some FAQ:

  • We tell our young children that God wants people to be married before they have babies, but that sometimes people don't follow His plan. We don't need to explain much to our teens--they get it.
  • In our experience, most moms have chosen to parent rather than place their babies for adoption.
  • We work hard to respect confidentiality. We introduce our women to friends and neighbors, but don't share their stories. Sometimes they themselves choose to share.
  • Catholic Charities provides support for us as well as the moms, helping with rules or negotiations or information sharing or driving to appointments.
  • Not all of the moms are Catholic, but they understand they're moving into a Catholic home.
  • Catholic Charities provides a daily stipend, so finances aren't an issue.
  • Most women move out right after delivery.
  • Keeping in touch is up to the moms. Some have, some haven't.

Why am I writing all this tonight? It's definitely not to brag. I think every family has a calling, and this is ours. I'm hoping to inspire other families to consider this mission to help pregnant women. Our diocese has just two homes right now, and has recently been getting more and more calls. It would be a shame to turn away someone who is asking for help. Ask me some questions or call your Catholic Charities office or crisis pregnancy center. If they don't have a program already, maybe they'd like to start one.


Maria said...

Great post Barbara! Thanks for sharing. I am really inspired.

patjrsmom said...

I think this is wonderful. We have been called to adopt three children and my extended family has eleven adoptees and many, many foster children.

As you said, not a call for everyone, a prolife people we should spend as much time carefully discerning how we support the culture of life as we do discerning when to (or not to) welcome another child.

God Bless,

Barbara said...

Thanks, Maria. Great perspective, Jane.

Dawnzlights said...

Awesome. I will be linking your post on my blog if you don't mind

I really was excited to read what you have been doing and now I am interested in becoming a family home here in Georgia. So I will be checking into it..if you have any resources for me, it would be appreciated. Thank you for sharing!


Dawnzlights said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Barbara said...

Dawn: Of course you're welcome to link to this post. Whatever we can do to get the word out is a good thing.

As far as your hope to provide a family home, it's been helpful for us to work through an established agency program, even though it sometimes means more paperwork and formality. You might check a local crisis pregnancy center or your diocese's Catholic Charities. If CC doesn't have a program in your area, maybe they would like to start one! I'll bet they could contact ours in Arlington for ideas, procedures, etc. We work out of Children's Services, which also fosters babies. If you want more info after checking in your area, I can contact my local providers for help. Just comment again. (All blog comments are emailed to me, so I'll get it.)

Sorry to not reply to you directly, but I couldn't get to your blog without joining something new, and last week's computer issues have me skittish right now!

God bless you. Barbara