by Hannah Ellis, International Program Specialist
In a recent piece on Pregnancy Help News, Heartbeat shared that Life Choices, a pregnancy help organization in Kittanning, Pennsylvania, is on the verge of opening their first maternity home, “The Inn.”
After hearing the story of the home’s beginnings from Christy Pittman, Project Coordinator, and Bri Sherman, Development Assistant, I noticed a prominent theme that may be helpful to share with others in the pregnancy help movement as you strategize for the future.
In the beginning, Life Choices had a plan for the new maternity home.
Initially, they wanted a large structure that had a lot of rooms (eight, if you want to get specific). Yet, in their searching and looking at properties, God kept bringing them back to the idea of focusing on the relationships with the clients more than the structure of the program. When they began praying through properties, that’s when the funds started coming in and God showed them the house He had for them – a smaller, more intimate house with potential for growth.
Throughout the decision-making process, Christy and Bri realized they also needed to let go of their control over the details of the houseparent situation, and just a week after they did, a couple surfaced who wanted to fill the role.
The team officially closed on the maternity house this summer, and they have begun buying supplies and setting up policies and programming—which, it goes without saying, will be easier to implement in the smaller house. The staff is overjoyed about The Inn, and the official housewarming party will be on September 22, 2017. They are inviting supporters and community members, and are fully anticipating a waiting list.
Life Choice’s motto is “every life valued.” At the new maternity home—named after the inn that was too full for our Lord’s birth—the motto is “two lives at a time.” The Inn offers a safe haven for these women, where there hasn’t been room for them anywhere else. These young women now have a place of refuge where they are free to choose a parenting direction that is best for them.
Proverbs 16 tells us, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” Christy and Bri look back now and laugh about their wanting to be in control and said they’ve “learned to let go and let God move.” He has shown that His faithfulness and provision is beyond their own understanding.
Don’t we do that all too often?
We do more planning than praying and more scheming than surrendering, only to find out God’s design is far better than we could think up or imagine. It’s almost like giving an architect a blueprint for how to build our house. Except, add in the fact that the Architect doesn’t follow human rules or reasoning, and sees the whole picture where we see only a part.
When our Crayola-drawn blueprint gets superimposed with His intricate plan, we are humbled to a place of total trust in His more than capable hands.
What about you? Are you holding on to your design with a tight grip? Or, are you letting God hold the pen as He drafts His intricately beautiful plan? Let’s put the crayons down and instead clasp those hands in prayer, asking God what He wants to do. Trust me; He will blow your mind with what He’ll use you to accomplish.
Ephesians 3:20 – “Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”
by Mary Peterson, Heartbeat International Housing Specialist
Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, many of the women served by the pregnancy help movement are dreaming of home. A place that is safe. Walls that protect and people who love.
There has been a lot of wild analysis of The Wizard of Oz over the years, trying to unlock the secret meaning of the story. Without venturing too far into that realm, let’s look at the central themes.
Like the Lion, many of the women seeking housing are deeply afraid. That fear might surface as despair, anger, or some other big emotion but, each is looking to the future and afraid of what they see. Being welcomed into a maternity home eliminates some immediate issues and provides the opportunity to find courage for a new path.
Like the Scarecrow, the women might not know what to do, how to start, or where to go. “I don’t know how to be a mom.” “How can I support a child?” The resources provided by a maternity housing program give her practical skills around employment, life skills, and education. And even more important, they build up her wisdom of her gifts and her identity in Christ.
Like the Tin Man, there is a temptation to revert back, to allow things to “rust” and get stuck in old patterns. Maternity homes wrestle with how to invite change in the deepest part of a woman, in her heart. Loving and being loved is transformational. Having stable, caring figures in one’s life allows the possibility of leaving a life of pain to have the fullness of life. Someone can point to the future and say, “I see more for you. I see a vibrant life. I see your heart fully alive.”
For a long time, Heartbeat’s vision for pregnancy help has included the work of housing programs. In recent years, through a partnership with the National Maternity Housing Coalition, a sense of common work has developed amongst maternity housing providers. As homes began talking to one another, we have looked back to the history of maternity housing in order to know where we have been. We have looked at our current realities to understand our similarities and differences. And we’ve begun to look forward to understand how to strengthen existing homes and support the development of new homes.
Our own Yellow Brick Road, if you will.
One strategy is to be a resource for fostering knowledge and skills–and great tools have been developed. One such tool is Maternity Housing Essentials. It’s a guidebook, drawing from the experience of various models and perspectives, to document the key issues related to housing. Laying out the strengths and challenges of various perspectives, the manual invites housing programs to think deeply about their structure and make informed decisions.
A deeper goal is to rally the hearts of those called to or involved in housing. Whenever homes gather, there is a fast sense of “someone who understands.” It’s a work that can be life-giving and draining, all at the same time. By facilitating community and connection, both virtually and in person, Heartbeat is trying to bolster those who give deeply to this important work.
Among homes, there is a great deal of variety in methods. However, there is a strong sense of unity in mission. And that sense of mission reconnects housing to the pregnancy help movement as a whole. Maternity homes exist to support vulnerable women and accompany them through pregnancy related decisions and beyond. In this way, we share a great deal in common with pregnancy centers, pregnancy medical clinics, and adoption agencies.
So, if you find yourself thinking, there is no place like home as you dream about the future, we are ready to help. Just click your ruby slippers together or click here for more information.
by Mary Peterson, LAS, Heartbeat Housing Specialist
It took me awhile to get it.
Geries Shaheen, a Therapist and Adjunct Professor in Psychology, was delivering a workshop entitled "The 3 Indispensable Elements of Holistic Services." It was the last session at the 2017 Heartbeat Conference and my head was already full of faces and new ideas. But eventually, his core message started to click: Doing life together in a maternity home IS the heart of program.
Using principles of pyschology, Shaheen invited participants to think of their work in the maternity home as "naturally conditioning individuals to become active participants in their own reality." In that way, the work of maternity housing staff is less about creating the perfectly managed structure and more about granting the mother opportunities for healthy experiences and helping her make sense of those experiences when needed.
"Organizations tend to ask questions like, 'How many house outings should we plan per month?' but it would be much more natural to approach outings in a more human way. For example, 'How many outings do I go on per month myself? What does my family do?'" Rather than focusing on executing an overly rigid structure, Shaheen encouraged the natural spontaneity of life to have a central place in the life of maternity homes.
"The spontaneous moments of praise that are part of daily life," he taught, "give the brain little boosts of dopamine.” Giving clients these doses of encouragement for small tasks...for example, giving praise when putting on the seat belt...is actually allowing the brain to experience pleasure which in turn, trains the brain to create new neurological pathways. He continued, "We are beings that FEEL first. THEN, we make meaning." Thus, in our interactions with residents, we should allow and invite feelings -- praise, safety, forgiveness, beginning again.
Pointing to various types of therapy, Shaheen acknowledged the role of the clinician. He encouraged homes to actively engage with counselors and therapists. Homes can request "summaries of treatment" and "overview of the goals for the client." Or even “results to a psychological evaluation” which would include mental health goals. But, having been a house-father in a maternity home, he repeatedly returned to the power of relationship.
There is something in his message that I continue to mull on. In my own thinking about the big picture of maternity housing, I've been grappling with the difference and the lack of difference between homes with clinical staff such as counselors, social workers, and therapists, and those without. What is lost? What is gained? In Shaheen's insights, there is a kernel that bridges the therapeutic environment with the loving home. That is simply, the centrality of relationship in experiencing healing and change.
Interested in hearing this workshop or others from the 2017 Heartbeat International Annual Conference? Click here to order.
Geries Shaheen is a Provisionally Licensed Professional Counselor operating in and around St. Louis Missouri. He is the behavioral ministries department head at Saint Louis Christian College and teaches psychology classes. He invested 3 years in the lives of pregnant and parenting teens as a house parent through The Sparrow's Nest Maternity Home. Geries provides Adolescent/ Family Therapy through Preferred Family Healthcare, holding his BA in Intercultural Studies from Lincoln Christian University, and his MA in Professional Counseling from Lindenwood University.
by Mary Peterson, LAS, Heartbeat Housing Specialist featuring Susan Barrett and Peggy Forrest
Years ago, I was introduced to the word magnanimous. It’s a mouthful and hard to spell! But, it is used to describe great-hearted individuals–people of courage, insight, conviction, action.
It came to mind when I thought about two leaders in the pregnancy help community, both with vibrant maternity housing programs, who have recently filed lawsuits against governmental bodies.
Susan Barrett, Executive Director of Aid for Women in Chicago, IL, currently has an injunction against the implementation of SB 1564, requiring all medical providers in the state to refer for abortions and counsel clients as to the "benefits" of abortion. “The law would not allow us to continue our mission,” she stated directly. “There was no escaping. If we were going to be forced to comply, why not fight it?”
Peggy Forrest was in a similar position. As Executive Director of Our Lady’s Inn, she recently filed a lawsuit against the so-called “Abortion Sanctuary City” code (St. Louis Ordinance 70459). The ordinance prohibits any organization, church or business from hiring or firing employees on the bases of what the code refers to as, “reproductive health decisions or pregnancy status.” Forrest passionately noted, “With such infringement upon our rights as citizens of the United States and of the state of Missouri, it left us absolutely no choice but to stand up and fight, or pack up and move out of the city of St. Louis. And moving is not a viable option.”
I asked these leaders to talk about overcoming the fear related to filing a lawsuit. Forrest noted that her staff is fully supportive of the action, “we have each other’s backs and know that the Lord is on our side, so we are not afraid.” Barrett echoed the sentiment, “We are not fearful. We put a lot of thought into it and our faith compels us to be strong.”
However, both noted the importance of a network of peers in maintaining strength in the fight. “I surround myself with a group of people who share the same values and are also very strong leaders,” Barrett noted. “It is much easier when people are doing it together.” Forrest suggested something similar, “If your mission is in jeopardy, find someone to stand with you. There is strength and power in numbers.”
Various laws and codes that further push an abortion agenda have been popping up in various parts of the country. The pro-life movement and maternity housing community are grateful for these two leaders, and others like them, who have chosen magnanimous leadership. May their witness of great-heartedness encourage all of us to do the same when needed!
For more info about these two programs or their strong leaders, please visit their websites:
Aid for WomenOur Lady’s Inn
by Michelle Gibbs, Family of Restoration Ministries
My heart for young single moms comes from my own journey. I was raised by a single mom. My parents never married and separated when I was around five years old. When I was nine, my dad started attending church and eventually became saved, so on our weekend visits with him, my brother and I would also attend church. However, growing up in two different households was confusing. Although my mom believed in God, we did things very differently in both households. There were many times when I wished we could go back to being a “complete” family again.
In navigating the different lifestyles of my parents, I was left confused and led by my flesh. As I moved through adolescence, I was living a lifestyle that went against everything the Bible teaches. Despite my Christian upbringing, I allowed myself to stray from His word and became pregnant at the age of 16.
When my family discovered the news of my pregnancy, they were all so very disappointed. I vowed to get my life in order; I was not going to become a statistic! I immediately transferred to a school for pregnant teens that was geared towards my success. I worked hard during my pregnancy to play catch up in school and two weeks after delivering my son, I returned to finish out the semester. I was blessed to have a nursery in the school where I could bring my son daily while I focused on my studies. I graduated with my toddler son right by my side however, in all my planning, the one thing I did not plan for was single parenting. My son’s father was sent to prison for his criminal activities.
Juggling my many responsibilities, I continued to work part-time at a local department store until I received a phone call from the school social worker who gave me information about a mentoring job at a maternity home for pregnant teens. This was exactly what I had been praying about, a job where I could help others. The ladies and I would go into community agencies and schools to share our experiences of teen parenting in hope of discouraging others from choosing this same path. Most of us were raising our sons and daughters without the help of a father and I could see the brokenness in each of us. I resented myself for not choosing a better man but even more so, for not choosing the path that our Father in heaven intended.
Working as a Peer Counselor led to other job opportunities within the agency. I was asked to start an aftercare program for women in the community but this required schooling so I enrolled myself in college to pursue a degree in psychology.
During this time, my passion for young moms continued to grow. I could see the brokenness in them that I had seen in myself.
My educational journey gave me the degree I needed to pursue my passion but it was the hands-on training that I received that helped me capture the big picture, especially The Parenting Journey facilitator training. This parenting class was different and helped the women look at things through a different lens: the emotional aspect of parenting. It was a safe place to tear through the layers of brokenness in a way that is healing to the heart. Upon completing the 5-day intense training, I began facilitating my first class and the impact was amazing.
At this point, my life was pretty much “together” and I was building my relationship with the Lord. I met my now husband Darryl who came to my agency to talk about his tragedy on how his 8-month old daughter was shaken and killed by her licensed child care provider. After enduring this nightmare, he found the strength to fight for a change and lobbied to have several laws passed in New York, one being Cynthia’s Law, named for his daughter, which now makes it a crime to shake, slam, or throw a child under the age of five causing serious physical injury. I was so moved by his passion to help prevent and educate others on Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) while keeping his daughter’s memory alive.
Our friendship developed into a relationship and together we combined our passions, mine for single moms and his for saving babies. He became the SBS educator at my agency and I would assist him at his speaking engagements. When we moved to Pennsylvania and I started working at Family of Restoration Ministries, it was only logical that he and I together educate the moms on the dangers of SBS and how to prevent it.
It is important for me to educate the women through the sharing of my own experience but also as an example of family. Far too often, I hear women stand strong in the belief that they can raise their children on their own and while this may be true, it is not what God intended. A single parent who is just scraping by has little time, energy or skill for parental duties and might have children who are at risk for a variety of problems. Women who find themselves in a situation that leads to single parenting need encouragement to seek adequate resources that help provide a stable, nurturing home in which children can thrive.
Today’s culture tends to undermine what parents are trying to teach their children, rather than support them in the their role. Social media, movies, music, and video games often glamorize immorality and promote everything that goes against the institution of family. Sex is presented out of the context of God’s plan to create families and is no longer reserved for marriage by most. We must lead by example. Prayer is the single most important thing we as Christians can offer. I offer my work, with so many others across the country, as a prayer that true family values will be restored in our society.
Michelle Gibbs is the Outreach Coordinator and Case Manager for Family of Restoration Ministries. She has over twenty years of experience working with pregnant and parenting teens and young women. Michelle is a proud native of New York and enjoys spending time with family and friends. Michelle lives in Ephrata, Pennsylvania with her husband Darryl and their five year old son Darryl Jr.
The mission of Family of Restoration Ministries is to restore, teach and equip individuals and families through Christ-centered programs. The current programs of FoRM include:
For more information about Family of Restoration Ministries, click here. Additional information about The Parenting Journey is available here.
by Mary Peterson, Heartbeat Housing Specialist
An interesting conversation sprang up in our Facebook group for housing leaders a few weeks ago. In essence, the question was on how to create a home-like environment. Many made very insightful comments based on the practices of their organization. (If you aren't a part of our Facebook group, you should be!)
My contribution to the discussion was to bring attention to the dynamic tension between "ministry-minded" and "professional-competent." As a former executive director of a housing nonprofit, I felt a tension between the two in a deep way, feeling as if I had to choose between one or the other. In my misguided thinking, it felt like a decision between Jesus and organizational excellence. And, of course, put that way, Jesus wins. It was a major turning point for me to embrace that I didn't have to choose -- that organizations could be BOTH. Rather than detracting from Christ, it glorifies Him to have dynamic, thriving organizations which are focused on serving His beloved with the love of Christ and excellent organizational practices.
Several years ago, I received significant funding to attend top-notch non-profit educational opportunities. I traveled to Stanford for a week of training on leading change, to Mexico for an international conference on reducing poverty, to Harvard for a seminar on social entrepreneurship...plus lots more. For a year, I was here, there, and everywhere to talk about big ideas. In those travels, I realized that many of the nonprofit organizations with missions opposed to a Biblical worldview are thinking deeply about topics like innovation, "best practices", improving impact, replication of a model for rapid expansion, capacity building, and more. They are thinking creatively and networking for a global impact, an impact that is in direct opposition to our Christ-centered missions of recognizing the deepest dignity of women and affirming the precious gift of life.
But, those topics are not just for the liberal agenda. Our missions can think about organizational excellence as well, covered in prayer and ordered to the glory of God. One way of referring to the work of leadership that I picked up from a spiritual mentor was to think of my job as "baptizing" the great practices that I encountered. In baptizing them, I wasn't "selling out" or "failing in my Christian witness." Rather, I was integrating them with the truth of Christianity.
I found that work extremely exciting...and also, exhausting. A major part of what I love about facilitating the National Maternity Housing Coalition is that I now feel as if that "baptizing" work is shared by a community of believers united in a common mission. Our learning community of Christian organizations helps everyone to improve and allows hard-won lessons to be shared more easily. It raises up new leaders and strengthens our industry as a whole.
I asked a few housing leaders their thoughts on this topic and those are below. I would ask YOU the same questions! Let's continue the conversation via Facebook!
These two priorities are sometimes going to be in tension due to limited time and resources. You can't avoid it, but you can use it. We have learned to embrace that tension as opportunities to refocus on our mission. Often a conversation based on professional competency versus ministry is not productive because they are independent goods. When we reframe the question to prioritize mission and vision - what's our mission and what will best help us accomplish it in this moment - that gives us a framework to evaluate our options and make a principled decision. This also gives our "ministry people" and our "professional people" an objective basis with which to discuss and resolve these questions.
Stephen Wallace, Gabriel Network
If you believe God is in control both will fall into place. Sometimes our staff is who God sends to create a balanced, insightful team.
Diane Schofield, Hands of Mercy Everywhere
As a Christian who aims to serve Christ every day, I tend to air more on the ministry-minded side. Humility, appreciation for others, and walking with Christ are all vital ministry components. Ultimately, one must be both professionally competent and ministry-minded to get the job done. In my opinion, being ministry-minded is actually more important, but make sure you are doing it for the right reasons!
Brianne Hansen, New Beginnings - A Home for Mothers
I feel professionalism as well as leadership follows Philippians 2 and Philippians 4. In our humility we become life long learners striving to learn what is good and strong and pure and right for our organizations, our ministries, our staff and volunteers, and ultimately the lives we serve everyday.
Carissa Figgins, The Sparrow's Nest Maternity Home
by Amanda Shaheen, The Sparrow’s Nest
On a recent trip to Israel, I stood in awe at a section of the original wall that Nehemiah had built around Jerusalem. Out of all the things to get excited about in the Holy Land, I was excited about a giant pile of rocks. But, it was more than just rocks. It was a symbol of a recovery from breakdown and ruin, a symbol of change and renewal, and a promise of hope and a glimpse of restored order. These very themes have resonated with me as I have journeyed as a house parent in a maternity home.
Moms come through our doors broken, discouraged, hopeless, and without a purpose and direction. For them, their walls have been ruined, burned and scorched by their past. Their walls lay in rubble around them. They build artificial and unstable walls, protecting themselves from having to trust or building on a foundation of hurt, but those too soon crumble. In those moments, as staff of a maternity home, we pick them up out of the rubble and beckon them to rebuild. Together, we begin the task of rebuilding the many layers: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. We serve as their Nehemiah, guiding them in the arduous task of rebuilding and changing themselves towards the vision God has for their future.
We teach them that change is movement.
Change and rebuilding is one simple stone at a time. Rebuilding doesn't happen by others doing it for you. We desire their walls to be strong and firm with a good foundation, but we can't build it for them. Our moms must come to their reality that movement must be made. Nehemiah realized this. In fact, Scriptures say that when Nehemiah heard the news of the destruction of Jerusalem that he sat down and wept. Our moms often come to that point where they realized the destructive path they have walked down for so long only leads to more pain. We weep along side them, and we activate the moment in them towards change. For Nehemiah, he simply cried out to God and asked what he could do. We stand beside our moms as they lay each stone, guiding and directing to each new stone that begins to rebuild their foundational walls.
We teach them that change comes with adversity.
After all, Nehemiah built a wall having to listen to scoffers and critics. They stood by taunting him over his efforts. They jeered at him with their worst insults: “Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?!? [...] If a fox goes up on it, he will break down their stone wall!” (Nehemiah 4:2-3) The world around our mothers tells them they can't do this, and they will never overcome the odds. Family, friends, birth fathers, boyfriends, and a broken world tells them that their burned rubble will never amount to anything. Maternity homes foster in them a different message--a message of purpose and hope.
We teach them that change enables them to help change others.
It is easy to focus on the monumental task of rebuilding in the present, that we can forget to teach our moms how to activate change for their children and those around them. My favorite Bible character, Queen Esther, followed Nehemiah. A contemporary of Nehemiah, she became a symbol of hope for the still oppressed children of Israel. The odds were stacked against her as she was summoned to the courts of Xerses. It would have been easy for her to fade into the background amongst a harem of women. Instead, she let her faith live outwardly as she found herself in difficult circumstances. Like Nehemiah, she was able listen to God’s prompting and in turn, liberate her people. Our moms have that same opportunity to change the future for their family, to not become stagnant but to constantly cultivate movement towards change. Sharing this vision can help activate urgency.
We teach them that change activates a sense of urgency.
One of the most astonishing facts about Nehemiah is that he finished the walls in just 52 days. If you've ever been to Jerusalem, and seen the size and capacity of the stones you realize the monumental task that was at hand. When a mother walks into our care, there is a sense of urgency: a baby is coming and I can only stay so long. Neither mom nor staff can get caught up in the deception that change will come later, or that we will start when it's convenient. Maybe 52 days is all we have with a mom. Maybe it is more time or maybe it is less time. It simply matters the urgency we operate with during this time.
So what can 52 days do for change and rebuilding in the lives of our mothers? I hope I answer that question with the wisdom and strength of Nehemiah. I pray I weep for the rubble that I learn of, and cry out to God for direction. I pray I share the vision and cultivate change as I lead like a modern Nehemiah.
In short, may our work invite mothers to:
During this holiday season when we remember a very special birth, maternity homes have the unique opportunity to remember their mission of being "a room at the inn" for vulnerable pregnant women. We asked leaders from across the country to tell us about their favorite part of Christmas serving in a maternity homes.
Here's what they had to say:
Christmas at Living Grace Homes begins with Advent, and of course our Christmas Open House, where we invite the community in to meet our residents and learn more about the home they live in. The moms participate by baking cookies and engaging with the community, whether it is a sing-along of Christmas Carols or just talking about their hopes and dreams for the future. As we celebrate our 9th Christmas at Living Grace Homes, many former residents will stop in. Perhaps they will bring a gift for a new baby, or perhaps they are still struggling and need to be included in our Christmas. I think Christmas at Living Grace Homes is summed up in our motto, "Hope is Born here!"
Kathleen Miller, Living Grace Home
At Mary's Mantle every day is special, but during the Christmas Season, everything is just a bit brighter! All of our staff come together with our residents and babies and decorate our trees and the rest of the home together. We always strive to make the house feel like "home" for the women we serve and being part of decorating is a simple, but important way, to do that. We set aside a whole afternoon to bake, do a craft, decorate our trees and do a spiritual reflection. For many of the women we serve, this is their first experience doing something like this. It is one of my favorite days of the year at Mary's Mantle.
Katie Montes, Mary's Mantle
One of the most special parts of Christmas at Precious Life is our annual open house, A PRECIOUS CHRISTMAS. Each year we invite the community, donors, residents and their children to come and enjoy the decorated homes, take pictures with Santa, have apple cider and hot cocoa, and visit with friends. Santa always has books and stuffed animals for every child. They get their picture and carolers sing their songs of joy. For many of our residents Christmas is a difficult time and we hope to have them know how blessed and loved and cherished they are. Stockings are delivered, supporters adopt families and we prepare a feast for them later in the month which is all donated by friends of Precious Life.
Theresa Murphy, Precious Life Shelter
At Foundation House, we use every opportunity -- in classes, in the house, and through special activities like parades and advent celebrations -- to help our ladies build new, happy memories of Christmas. To both understand the Savior behind the celebrations as well as to learn how to build happy family traditions for themselves and their children. For many of our girls, this is their first Christmas without pain or trauma. It's important for them to each learn that there is another way to live - and that they can choose the stable, healthy way.
Suzanne Burns, Foundation House Ministries
Christmas is a favorite time of year at Hannah’s House. We are so blessed! Students from a local college come in early December to decorate the house inside and out. Local churches and civic groups request “wish lists” for resident and their babies (born or unborn), assuring that each has gifts under the tree Christmas morning. Other donors fill our storerooms with enough baby items and paper goods see us through until summer. Lest we overlook the real meaning of this season amidst all of this activity, our most cherished tradition is the reading of the Nativity story. Residents and staff pass around the Bible, each reading a verse by flashlight in a room lit only by Christmas lights.
Andrea Popielski, Hannah's House of Michiana
Christmas centers on Jesus and family traditions and because we use a Christ centered, family model, this is a special time of year for our house families to share special traditions with their residents and give them seeds of faith that will hopefully take root and grow as they leave LifeHouse. Of course Mary’s pregnancy being “unplanned” and her giving birth to the Savior of the world truly ministers to the hearts of our girls.
Sue Baumgarten, LifeHouse of Houston
We had a beautiful Winter Wonderland event at our Family Outreach Center this year. There was petting zoo with pony rides. Parents were able to make blankets as gifts for their children. Children made body scrub and Christmas cards for their parents. Volunteers made a pancake breakfast. Families left with a food box and children left with a book and dental supplies. It was a great way to build social connections and create an atmosphere for positive parent/child interactions.
Laura Magruder, Maggie's Place
Christmas is a special time at SOLVE Maternity Homes. The season helps to further bring our residents into relationships with Jesus Christ, while offering an opportunity (through Christmas) for many of them to see what they have not seen before. We point out at SOLVE's large annual resident Christmas party, that - as they have - Mary had a choice and we ask, "What if Mary had said NO? Would God have then chosen another Mary?" We do not know, but God does! HE knows every path we'll follow and because of this God knew that while Mary would ponder this choosing of her, Mary would respond - as they have - in the affirmative. This revelation is a special programmatic component for SOLVE, best seen through Christmas.
Brian Kerwin, SOLVE Maternity Homes
Yesterday, a young couple was in my office to learn more about our adoption process. One of our 15-year old residents was in the middle of decorating our Christmas tree and she had beautiful Christmas music playing. After I had finished my meeting with the young couple and they were walking out, the young woman doing the decorating asked if they were by any chance wanting to adopt a child and they said "Yes, that is why we came here today." She said to them, "Several weeks ago I had a beautiful son and I placed him for adoption. It was the most wonderful thing that I could have ever done--for myself, my son and the adoptive family!! I will pray that you will have the opportunity to love a child as much as the adoptive family loves my son."
It was a small Christmas miracle to hear her to tell story with such conviction.
Later that day, I received an email from the adoptive couple. It read: "Thanks for meeting with us. When J. and I left, we both were overwhelmed with emotion. He turned to me and said, 'This is where we are supposed to be.' We both know this is only the first step of a long journey and it might not end with the outcome we're hoping for. W are just grateful for an opportunity to potentially help a mother give her child a good home."
I thank God for all the "God Moments" -- just like this one -- that I have been given from my work with Lifehouse!!
Joan Smith, Lifehouse
by Mary Peterson, Housing Specialist
There is no doubt. The situations that women are bringing into maternity homes, pregnancy centers, and adoption agencies have grown more and more complex. Addiction and drug seeking behaviors have become more of a regular occurrence often in conjunction with childhood trauma, criminal histories, sexual abuse, and more.
In an effort to think deeply about how to best serve women who wrestle with addiction, the Leadership Council of the National Maternity Housing Coalition sat down with leaders from Amethyst, a healing community for drug and alcohol dependent women, located in Columbus, Ohio.
The Amethyst model focuses on teaching women how to support one another, how “to do community” as Ginnny O'Keeffe, the Founding CEO noted. This emphasis on relationship is deep in the origins of Amethyst. O'Keeffe recalled the founding of Amethyst as a community of visionary women who came together "as they were getting well" to support the unique needs of other women in recovery.
Sara Niemeyer, the Director of Clinical Services, brought attention to one of these unique components: "The drive to be a good mother is deep in women, even if she has struggled as a mother due to her addiction" she described. "In fact, one of the final aspects of denial that a woman in recovery must face is her faults as a mother." O'Keeffe chimed in, "That can be used for good though! If a woman won't enter a program for her own sake, she may be convinced to enter for the sake of her children."
Amethyst has long been aware of the relationship between trauma and addiction and keeps up to date on research and new findings. Outlining the stages of the Amethyst program, Niemeyer noted that women may be able to address addiction issues (i.e. relapse plan, knowledge of triggers) more quickly than they can address traumas. "Self-regulation techniques allow women to control the physiological response that kicks in when trauma is triggered in women, " she taught us. "Self-regulation skills like deep breathing and stretching are extremely effective at getting women out of freeze, flight, or fight mode." "For women, addressing grief and loss is the gateway to addressing traumas," O'Keeffe added. "As women we have to learn to feel our feelings in healthy ways."
Pregnancy help organizations often wrestle with what they can do without skilled practitioners in addiction recovery on staff. When that question was posed to the Amethyst team, O'Keeffe was quick to respond, "Clinicians, peers in recovery, supportive individuals...ALL have a role in recovery. It’s a team—use whatever tools you can!"
The discussion begun with the powerful testimony of one of the Amethyst clients. She began by sharing the events of her childhood and summed up by saying, "I lost my voice." It was evident to all in attendance that she had re-found her voice at Amethyst, speaking of her future with clarity and hope. In her story, the housing leaders in attendance heard echoes from the situations of many women they had served. And they carried home a message of hope.
To learn more about this program, please refer to their website: www.amethyst-inc.org/.
Additional Advice from the Staff of Amethyst
by Mary Peterson, Housing Specialist
Early in the three-day meeting, the question was posed: "Has the maternity housing movement, as a whole, strayed from its core mission?" Gulp. Big question.
All present were quick to defend the good work that currently happens in the approximately 400 maternity homes across the United States. There is no doubt of the important role that maternity homes play within the pregnancy help movement. But the question lingered.
Historically, maternity homes developed to support women through an adoption plan, first as large institutional programs often staffed by Catholic religious orders. Trying to protect the confidentiality of the women coming to the program, these early homes were often shrouded in secrecy and silence. Many of the reforms in adoption began from the heartache of women who experienced adoption not as an empowering choice, but rather as a decision they felt was forced upon them without sensitive acknowledgment of the pain involved.
From these roots, as movement toward open adoptions began, the host or shepherding home model developed as families began welcoming a pregnant woman into their homes. And, in recent history, as the needs and challenging circumstances of the pregnant women in need of housing support have increased, a variety of models have developed that allow for increased expertise in supporting women in situations related to addiction, violence, abuse, and trauma. As this progression has happened, the number of adoptions in maternity homes has dramatically decreased.
The 10 housing leaders who serve as the Leadership Council for the National Maternity Housing Coalition (NMHC), a joint-affiliate of Heartbeat International, gathered to think deeply about why this has happened and how maternity homes might restore their heritage as a safe refuge for women considering adoption. It is not as if maternity homes are not supportive of adoption.
Homes, generally, are delighted to walk with a women pursuing an adoption plan. And, several homes, especially those with over 30 years of experience, have deep organizational ties to adoption agencies. Even so, the NMHC Leadership Council collectively wondered, "Can we be doing more? Why do we continue to see declining numbers? Is there something that we, as maternity homes, can do better?"
Shawn Stevenson, the Executive Director of Life Services in Spokane, Wash., raised the question of an organization's "null curriculum". Based on his training in the education field, Shawn asked, "It makes me wonder about our programs. Specifically, What are we teaching by what we are not teaching?"
He continued, "Is there something in the way that we handle adoption that inadvertently communicates a bias we don't intend?" The statement raised a great conversation about the strategies used by homes to introduce adoption.
Through discussion, five major strategies surfaced. All are currently being used by homes to incorporate an adoption message:
While these strategies are a solid starting point, the challenge was raised on how to re-think and re-craft the strategies used to present the beauty of adoption in new and creative ways within the home environment.
Summing up the conversation, Jeannine Floores, a birth mom and adoptive mom who leads Breath of Life in Austin, Texas spoke of the need to create an adoption-positive culture throughout the organization.
"Moms need to know that you aren't focused on WHAT decision she makes," she said, "only that she makes an informed, prayerful, thought-out decision."
The National Maternity Housing Coalition took this message to heart and renewed its commitment to pregnancy decision making as the place of excellence for maternity housing programs.
"It is this decision-making process that makes maternity homes different than any other housing programs for women," Callie Neff of House of His Creation asserted, "In addition to all the other ways that maternity homes support women, we must support her in thinking about her options around how her child will be parented."
A re-examination of our past as a maternity housing movement allowed us to remember our role in championing the adoption message. As such, the NMHC is inviting homes to re-engage the adoption message in a new way this year and keep decision-making during pregnancy at the heart of their mission. You can anticipate dynamic trainings and conversations on how to achieve that goal within the upcoming year.
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