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.
Heartbeat International is partnering with the National Maternity Housing Coalition for a seventh round of highly interactive peer discussions entitled "Power Conversations." Short and sweet, these 45-min conversations are perfect for program staff, house directors, and maternity housing leaders at all stages of development and experience.
The next round of Power Conversations begins May 25, 2017 covering a wide range of topics essential for success in your Maternity home.
Summer Power Conversation Schedule:
*All calls begin at 12 PM EST
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
by Mary Peterson, Housing Specialist
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.
by Mary Peterson, Housing Consultant
As maternity housing providers, we regularly welcome women into our homes at a time when they are most vulnerable. Perhaps an even greater challenge, we also welcome these women into our hearts.
As I speak with homes across the country, so many within our portion of the pregnancy help movement are quick to point out, “We aren’t a shelter… it really is a home we are trying to create,” or, “These women really experience love in our homes.” These statements capture what it means to be a home with a heart!
Over the past two years, leaders of maternity homes have been strategizing how to best unify maternity homes across the country, in order to speak collectively, support fledging homes, learn from one another, and help every maternity home to be more successful in facilitating the transformation we hope to see in the lives of the women we serve.
The results of this on-going discussion has been the formulation of the National Maternity Housing Coalition (NMHC), which is now reaching out to the more than 450 U.S. maternity homes to provide support and resources for the unique work of providing housing to homeless pregnant women.Heartbeat International has been a great partner every step of the way. With its extensive history of supporting life-affirming organizations, Heartbeat has given the newly created NMHC a home.
In partnering with Heartbeat, the NMHC is tapping into a wealth of resources, including Heartbeat’s Annual Conference, the ability to host webinars through the Heartbeat Academy, and the opportunity to have more maternity homes take advantage of Heartbeat’s existing resources, such as the Sexual Integrity™ Program, The LOVE Approach™, and Healing the Effects of Abortion-Related Trauma (H.E.A.R.T Manual™).
Heartbeat unites Christ-centered ministries from across denominational dividing lines, and has a deep cultural sensitivity shown by their 1,800 affiliates from across the country and around the globe.
The Coalition is blessed to have such a loving place to call home!
To make sure the Coalition starts off on the right foot, I am now working with Heartbeat as a Housing Consultant. I bring over 14 years of experience in the work of maternity homes, having co-founded and helped to guide Maggie’s Place in several stages of growth since 2000.
As the Housing Consultant, it is my task to listen deeply to the needs of maternity homes and to support the efforts of the Coalition, bringing about unity, resources, and support for maternity home leaders.
Maternity homes are a key response to the questions, “What about that child?” “What about that mother?” “What are you doing to help them?” Housing ministries provide the pregnancy help movement with a valuable response to these concerns.
By their nature, maternity homes meet a wide variety of needs, providing genuine choice and practical aid to mothers and mothers-to-be. Some of these precious women need help meeting immediate needs such as homelessness, while others need help formulating a long-term plan for success.
Aren’t we blessed to be smack dab in the middle of this wonderfully challenging and wonderfully beautiful work?!
For more information about the National Maternity Housing Coalition, please visit our website here.
You can read more about Heartbeat International’s role in the Coalition here.
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!
Image courtesy NorthWestGifts.com
Image courtesy NorthWestGifts.com
The mothers often arrive to our homes without a social safety net. Many have burned bridges in their relationships, or are coming from a history of deep dysfunction.
In addition to all of the other skills we encourage, such as life skills, educational attainment, and parenting strategies, maternity homes are meant to model and teach relationship. In our example and structures, homes invite the moms into regular, healthy interactions.
Beyond the high-drama, over-sharing, or closed-off habits, we invite the moms to build a network of genuine friendships.
We are inviting them into community.
With that said, the big question becomes "How?" Here's a few practical brainstorms to consider!
Goal: Use the physical space to encourage people to interact.
Goal: From the very first moment she arrives, welcome the mom as a true member in the home.
Goal: Build a relational aspect into every part of your structure.
Goal: Have anyone within the home embrace a culture of belonging.
I call it, "we are the world" love.
It's a slightly sarcastic way to describe the love that brings together a lot of different people with different ideas around a noble purpose, but it lasts just long enough to sing a song.
As we know too well, real love, the kind of love that brings deep and lasting unity, only happens when people start bumping into one another. And, although they may feel a little bruised, love starts when individuals choose to listen, to forgive, to seek understanding, to communicate better, to try again. Part of the joy of being a Coalition of maternity housing providers is in the variety of perspectives that are included. We are unified in our common work of offering housing to pregnant women, but we differ on many other issues: staffing models, doctrinal nuances, and length of stay, just to name a few.
Because our work as maternity home providers often involves deep personal sacrifice, it is easy for us to bring passion and investment to the conversation. As we begin the work of building the National Maternity Housing Coalition, we may bump into each other just a bit. But as this happens, we have several things on our side. First is the wisdom acquired from 42 years of holding various works and perspectives together within the same organization. Heartbeat International has been a leader is choosing the difficult but rewarding path of unity amid diversity. Heartbeat has seen again and again that we truly are "better together."
Second, there is the palpable sense of possibility in our work. Whenever leaders from homes are talking to one another, the ideas start flying. In addition, there are deep rumblings of movement in the arena of housing—more interest in starting homes, new programs under discussion, and deeper connection to the pro-life movement. More, new, deeper...all are rumblings of movement.
Finally, we cling to our God who values unity so deeply that He expresses Himself as a union of persons. It is our God, a living unity, who teaches us and gives us the grace to be forgiving, merciful, generous, and kind when we bump into one another.
Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, wrote a simple yet profound book about his work with gang members, “Tattoos on the Heart”.
It’s an impressive story for a variety of reasons, but the chapter entitled, “Success” speaks to any ministry leader who deeply shares life with people. In it, he writes:
Success and failure, ultimately, have little to do with living the gospel. …Jesus was always too busy being faithful to worry about success. I’m not opposed to success; I just think we should accept it only if it is a by-product of our fidelity. If our primary concern is results, we will choose to work only with those who give us good ones. (p.172, 178)
We are all seeking results for our labors, longing for moms to know profound and lasting transformation in their lives…and many times, we get to see incredible successes. But, not always.
Sometimes, we give without ever knowing the impact we will have. Other times, we watch as women make painfully destructive decisions about their future.
In your work as a maternity home leader, you have been called to be faithful to the task of welcoming the stranger…the women standing at the door in need of a loving place. She may arrive bad-mouthing, attention-seeking, closed-off, or beaten-down.
But, regardless of appearance, she is Christ before you in wonderful disguise. In welcoming her into the embrace of your home and your heart, you are living out the gospel…whether you “succeed” or “fail.”
Over 330 homes exist in the US! Our goal is to unify the work of homes across the country so that we can strengthen our programs and better communicate the important role that maternity housing programs play in supporting pregnant women.
NMHC’s Mission Statement: We inspire excellence among maternity housing providers and articulate a collective voice to advance the culture of life and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We do this by providing training and tools, facilitating an exchange of knowledge and experience, and fostering fellowship among members.
“The power of the Coalition is in providing a unified voice to amplify our message of hope to pregnant women who are in need of support,” said Chris Bell, long-time Executive Director of Good Counsel Homes and founding member of the National Maternity Housing Coalition. “In our work of building a culture of life, we need to leverage our voices.”
When asked about the goal of the Coalition, Mary Peterson, founder of Maggie’s Pace notes, “The work of maternity homes has been around for a long time, but the challenges of women now are quite complicated involving addiction, abuse, trauma, and lack of support. In order to be more effective in our work, we need to learn from another.”
“What a great win-win situation to be partnering with Heartbeat,” affirmed Gloria Lee. As a long-term director of Our Lady’s Inn, Gloria has been involved with Heartbeat for many years. “Heartbeat’s mission of building up the capacity of life-affirming ministries is a perfect fit with the direction of the National Maternity Housing Coalition.”
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