Friday, October 28, 2011

“Baby Calls” are a real blessing at Sanctuaries for Life

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Ana Menjivar is the Prenatal Care Coordinator at Sanctuaries.
Ana Menjivar doesn’t look much like a grandmother, but she feels blessed to get to experience the joy of one on a regular basis. Ana is the Prenatal Care Coordinator at our Sanctuaries for Life Program, which helps women facing unintended pregnancies get the wraparound support they need to carry their babies to term. When Ana’s phone jangles with the big news that one of those women has delivered a healthy little one, she calls it “a baby call.”

Ana and Jenny Baker, Sanctuaries' Resource Coordinator
Michelle Williams, the program’s Senior Manager, said baby calls are like finding out you’re a grandmother again and again—“you’ve supported a mother through her pregnancy, just like a grandmother would,” she said. But even better is when the mothers bring their newborns into the Sanctuaries for Life office for a visit. “You remember the mom’s story, remember her face, her countenance when she was pregnant and worried. And then you see the big, beautiful, happy baby—and it’s a reminder that although this is work for us, it’s truly a ministry as well. God has called us to this work.”

As October, Respect Life Month, draws to a close, we celebrate this life-giving and life-affirming ministry and remember all the hard work leading up to those jubilant visits and baby calls. The Sanctuaries for Life staff is devoted to helping women who are expecting get access to the services they need. Primarily, participants in their program are abortion vulnerable, grappling with expenses associated with a high-risk pregnancy, or simply struggling financially to get care. Often the women have no documentation, making them ineligible for government programs. Many other women find themselves needing support due to government cutbacks to Medicaid. But no matter how they come to Sanctuaries for Life, the attention and support they receive there is truly remarkable.
Because the staff works so closely with program participants, real bonds grow between them. A pregnant woman’s relationship with Sanctuaries for Life does not end after one appointment. Even if they must refer a woman someplace else, the Sanctuaries staff follows up with her to ensure that she is receiving the services she needs. The staff also checks in with its own participants monthly, oftentimes just to see if they’re doing OK. “Sometimes they’re so happy,” Ana said. “And sometimes they’re struggling with their pregnancy, or with being a new mother. Some have been through a miscarriage, and they just don’t have anyone to listen to them.”

Listening is a major part of the staff’s ministry. “You have to be strong when you are talking with participants,” Ana said. “You have to be there for them. But if affects you, too.” Sometimes women who seek help at Sanctuaries are victims of rape, or are involved in abusive relationships. “They’re sad and scared,” Ana said. “And we talk with them and pray to God to help them make the right decision about their baby.”

Ana shared some poignant stories about some of the program’s participants with us. One woman, who was a victim of rape, was so hurt from the experience that initially she did not want to keep her baby. She sought out Sanctuaries for Life for support and, after talking to staff there, decided she felt strong and supported enough to have her child. Now, Ana said, she has delivered her baby, and she is so grateful to God for her little blessing.

Ana talked about another woman who learned she was at a high risk for miscarriage. Not wanting to give up her baby, she turned to Sanctuaries for Life. They supported her decision to carry the baby to term, despite the risk, and they helped her financially with prenatal care and delivery services. Sadly, the baby, a boy, lived for only one day. But Ana said the woman was “so grateful to God for giving her baby life for that one day.”
It’s stories like these that make work at Sanctuaries for Life so difficult and so gratifying – and their work so very critical. They don’t just connect pregnant women in need to prenatal care and labor and delivery services. Thanks to Jenny Baker, the program’s Resource Coordinator, women who enroll with Sanctuaries for Life gain access to a full range of programs to assist them with their other needs. These needs might be the basics – food, clothing, shelter. Other times, they range from counseling to medical assistance to legal help.

Yet, beyond those services, there’s something more that women who turn to Sanctuaries for Life receive, something they might not have even realized they needed: a shoulder to lean on, a friend to comfort them, a cheerleader who can root them on. Ana said that baby calls are testament to that. “We show them that they are important and valuable. And when they see we care, they keep it in their minds and thank us…it’s the best feeling ever.”

Sanctuaries for Life is the new name for the Birthing and Care Program, under the Archdiocese of Washington. You can read about the transition in this Catholic Standard article. The program is now located in the Cardinal McCarrick Center. If you’d like to learn more about Sanctuaries for Life, please visit their program page here. They are always in need of donations, both financial and physical, especially baby items: diapers, clothing, strollers, car seats, etc.