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 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 Sarah Saccone, Program Director, Lamb of God Maternity Home
So much has changed in the past 30 years with regards to adoption, especially as it relates to maternity homes.
In past decades, a woman would disappear to a maternity home cloaked in all of the shame of being pregnant out of wedlock. She would then re-enter her community, carrying a huge secret, and in many cases not even knowing into what family her baby was placed.
Although things today are completely different there are still misconceptions from some of our biggest family influences and in the media.
There is a great deal of confusion between private adoptions and foster care. Also, many beliefs that are deeply rooted in families that play a crucial role in what a woman in crisis knows and feels about adoption.
In today's society, pregnancy out of wedlock has become the norm. We as pro-lifers know that life is ALWAYS better than death and strive to work with women to aid them in making the best decisions for their babies and themselves. Sometimes women feel that the best form of parenting they can give, is to lovingly choose an eager couple to take on the job. It is OUR job as maternity home leaders to make absolutely certain that a woman making the courageous decision to place her baby is comfortable, supported, and well informed in our maternity homes. We have found that this can be a tricky task.
There is so much that goes into finding the perfect balance of honoring women who choose to parent and honoring women who choose to place. Below are ten ideas on how to make your maternity home more friendly to women who are making the decision to place their babies for adoption.
Sarah Saccone serves as the full-time Program Director for Lamb of God Maternity Home, daily giving witness to her passion for women in crisis pregnancy through the gift of adoption.Utilizing her Bachelor degree in Sociology from California State University of San Marcos, she worked as a counselor of homeless youth in a shelter-home atmosphere for nine years. She has served on the boards of several mental health non-profit organizations, been a long time volunteer for San Diego Hospice, and spent time teaching children in East Africa. She resides in San Diego, California.
Thinking of conserving power this summer?
Well maybe it’s time to think again.
This summer, Heartbeat International is partnering with the National Maternity Housing Coalition to pilot six highly interactive strategy sessions we like to call “Power Conversations.”
Short, sweet, and packing a punch, these 30-minute conversations are a perfect environment for maternity housing leaders at all stages of development and experience.
Here’s what to expect from Power Conversations this summer:
All sessions start at 2 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time)
Call-in Number: (559) 726-1300Participant Access Code: 705126
Somewhere along the line several years ago, moms started using the title “Baby Daddy” to refer to the man they had been involved with when they became pregnant.
“The ‘baby daddy’ went with me to doctor today.”
“Him? Nah, we’re not dating—he’s the ‘baby daddy.’”
When it was still a new term, I remember hearing it a few times. Soon after, I saw it used in a pop magazine and realized that the term wasn’t just a passing phase. A sign of our times, the phrase “baby daddy” has come to be commonly understood as referring to a specific situation and calling to mind attributes of a specific kind of man.
It is this man who is often connected to the women of our homes.
More and more, I hear pregnancy help organizations reflect on how to better engage men. For maternity homes, this question is framed as, “How do we help ‘baby daddies’ grow into fathers?”
In the maternity home setting, this can raise the question, “If they are choosing to parent, how do we help single mothers—fatherless families—to invite the right type of men into their lives and raise children in the context of authentic masculinity?”
It’s a difficult tension—wanting to honor the role a man plays as a father and simultaneously, wishing a new mom would finally sever a destructive attachment to a man who is just using her, abusive, manipulative, or in and out of jail.
Hope Mansion in Cedar Hill, Texas, led by Angie Hammond, has developed an interesting program to address this tension.
The program, still under development, uses communication with the women as the leverage point. In order to be able to spend time with the mother residing in the maternity home, the man must walk through a variety of steps in a process they refer to as a “Treasure Hunt.”
One of the first steps is to require a formal letter from the “Baby Daddy,” in which he must explain his intentions regarding the resident in the Home and the baby. Once the Home receives the letter, he is provided with the workbook, “The Me I See,” from Loving and Caring. Next, he makes a request to meet with the House Dad, giving the opportunity to engage in a deliberate conversation.
Calling upon his masculine drive to take action, the intent is for the man to realize the mother of his child truly is a treasure—a woman worthy of his sacrifice. If he fails to take the simple steps required, then he is not allowed contact, and the house parents encourage the woman to think deeply about what it means that he was unwilling to make such small gestures in order to stay in her life.
“We are pleased by the level of conversation that has opened up,” Angie says. “The Treasure Hunt puts the initiative and the consequence into the hands of the man. And thus, provides an opportunity for real growth.”
Has your home, like Hope Mansion, discovered effective strategies for engaging men and teaching fatherhood? We would love to hear (and share!) more.
For more information on Hope Mansion, visit: https://www.hopemansion.com.
This story was sent to Heartbeat from Josephine Shoo, Executive Director of Options Pregnancy Clinic of Tanzania.
This child (pictured left) is albino. She almost lost her life before she was born, because her mother didn't have a true commitment to her father, and her family tried to force her to abort.
Herocially, she completely refused to do so!
After her birth, the father was so happy because the baby was albino, he came and suggested to the mother that they could cut her fingers or hands and sell them, so they could become rich and live forever happily together.
This is a lie of the enemy that has been going on in our country for many years. The spirit of death and the Culture of Death have far too often prevailed. Thankfully, this mother--again, heroically!--refused, and ran to our maternity home for rescue.
As for this precious little child, her life was in danger before and after her birth. But, she is now a big girl, and she just joined our school this year.
Jovana and her son, David
by Vesna Radeka, Executive Director, Choose Life Center
In our pregnancy help ministry, we have experienced the joy of assisting clients who chose to go against the Culture of Death surrounding us, deciding to keep their babies even in the midst of a crisis pregnancy.
While these women would listen to our advice and receive encouragement by our words and whatever help we could provide—including baby clothes, diapers, and money—we would still see them struggle from day to day.
These women are usually young, and do not have the support of either their baby’s father, their families, or both. When we come into contact with them, they are either far along into their pregnancy, or now have a baby up to about three months old.
These women need to be able to work in order to pay their rent, but there are precious few opportunities for a pregnant girl or a new mom to find a job. If they are able to find a job, who will take care of the baby?
I am so sad when I think how the first year of motherhood looks for some of these women. But beyond feeling sad about the situation for so many of these, I dare to dream of a better situation for these precious mothers and children.
What if we were able to offer accommodation and care to women in this fragile state, to give them the chance to enjoy being moms? What if this could become a place where moms are coached how to make better life choices, to follow Christ, to change their mind about relationships, to choose to wait, and to learn how to be good moms?
I know this dream could become reality if Christian families were willing to accept pregnant women into their homes. But in Serbia, we face two challenges: First, we have a very small number of vibrant, practicing Christians; and second, our culture largely lives within multigenerational homes—married couples with children, living with in-laws, and usually in small flats.
Social help in Serbia for single moms is around 12.000 dinars, which is around $140 per month. With that income, a single mom can only rent a room, to say nothing of paying bills or putting food on the table.
In the last two to three years, we at Choose Life Center have had to go beyond our month-to-month budget limits to help women as needs have arisen. Whenever we could, we have helped pay rent, bills, or grocery costs, but this type of care was not planned into our budget, so we had to stretch—and sometimes overextend—for the sake of these moms.
As we’ve gone through these seasons, we have thought and prayed about the direction in which Choose Life Center should develop. Is it to become a medical clinic, offering free ultrasound? Is it preventative services? Developing school programs? A housing ministry?
Slowly, God’s leading became clear to us, and Sarah House For Women began to take shape as a maternity housing ministry, adding to the everyday work we remain committed to doing at Choose Life Center.
In addition to reaching and assisting women in the midst of all the difficulties surrounding a crisis pregnancy, we pray Sarah House For Women will also have a huge impact on how the city officials see us as a Christian organization.
Rather than perceiving our work as threatening or as a nuisance, we pray—and expect—city officials to see that what we are doing really does benefit and bless the whole city.
Who knows? Maybe this new work will allow us to apply for and secure future grants and funds from the government, allowing us to continue reaching and rescuing women in Novi Sad, while renewing communities all over Serbia for life in the years to come.
By Mary Peterson, Housing Consultant
Ever tossed a coin into the air, caught it, and cupped it on the back of your hand to see if it's "heads" or "tails?"
It's a classic way of making simple decisions. The two sides of the coin are unique, each with distinguishing marks, but together, they make one coin.
In the context of our maternity homes, we face a wide variety of challenging situations. We know we must always respond in love, that's a given. But just as there are two sides to a coin, there are two sides to the love we live out in our homes: tough and unconditional.
Rather than the random response of a coin toss, though, we get to choose which side of the “love coin” to apply in any given situation.
Tough love is the love of coaches, teachers, and mentors. It’s the love that says, "I know there’s more in you, and I want you to challenge you to make the most of it." It’s the love of accountability and direct feedback.
Tough love involves rules, structures, and consequences. It’s the type of love God expresses when He prunes and judges, when He commands us how to live, and when He allows consequences to unfold.
Unconditional love is the love of friends and family. It’s the love that says, "No matter what, I am going to love you." It’s the love of second chances, leniency, and forgiveness. Unconditional love involves overlooking things said in anger, or giving the benefit of the doubt when another isn't at their best.
Unconditional love is expressed in those special moments when a mother gazes at her child. Mercy and forgiveness are expressions of the unconditional nature of God’s love.
As a people defined by love, we are not called to become merely hard-nosed rule-enforcers nor feeble doormats. Love is not an either-or proposition. Love requires the both-and virtue of fierce tenderness, unconditional-yet-expectant.
We are called to live out both dimensions of love— tough and unconditional—in the context of relationship as we face daily life in our maternity homes. But we need the Holy Spirit’s help to know when and how to rightly apply love in each situation, and so we pray:
Come Holy Spirit! Make us more capable of perfect love!
Tina Turner got it wrong.
When answering with the question, "what's love got to do with it?" she called it “a second-hand emotion." No way. In the Christian walk, love is both the ultimate goal (being unified in Love with God) and the way to get there (loving God and our neighbor).
In our homes, the demands of love are a constant invitation to show up, speak up, and lift up. Here’s a few ideas for how you live and love incarnationally within the work of maternity homes—loving tough, yet unconditionally.
There is a spiritual insight that suffering expands one's capacity to love. The women who join our homes have often known great suffering—some due to their own decisions and some due to the horrific decisions of others.
We have the noble challenge of trying to help each mother understand that the heartache of their lives can produce a bedrock strength and a beautiful ability to love deeply. Starting with themselves and their children.
As we exercise compassion—literally, suffering with—the moms, we too are being perfected in love!
by Mary Peterson, Housing Consultant
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