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.
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.
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, Sarah worked as a counselor of homeless youth in a shelter-home atmosphere for nine years. She has served on a number of mental health non-profit boards, been a long-time volunteer for San Diego Hospice, and spent time teaching children in East Africa. When describing Sarah, Grace noted, "She is able to mentor, inspire, and listen...but also lay down the boundaries and call the moms on their stuff. I wish I could duplicate her for each of our future homes!"
Grace Dulaney is the Founder and CEO of Agnus Dei Foundation. Inspired by her personal experience as a birthmother, Grace established the Foundation to impact the culture of life by being a champion for adoption as a viable and positive solution to an unplanned pregnancy. The foundation opened its first Lamb of God Maternity Home in San Diego two years ago. Because of its supportive and loving environment, 100% of the birthmothers in their program have stayed committed to their adoption plan. The foundation is laying plans to replicate this unique and successful model nationwide. The stories of birthmothers who have lived at Lamb of God Maternity Home are featured in The Sidewalk Chronicles, a beautiful documentary that aired on January 24th. The film juxtaposes the hurt and regrets of women who have aborted with the joy, pride, and peace of women who have chosen adoption [watch the trailer here]. http://www.agnusdeifoundation.org/
Sarah, the 30-year old Program Director of Lamb of God Maternity Home acknowledged, "It's mentally exhausting. My friends will ask, 'How was your day?' and I think, 'I can't even explain to you how my day was.'"
Leaders in maternity housing face the burden of supporting staff, like Sarah, who are daily facing the complicated scenarios of the moms. Plus, they must manage the logistical challenges of keeping an organization going–keeping procedures legal, staff equipped, donors informed, and more! Up against the programmatic and administrative challenges that a maternity-home demands, the role of leadership is particularly important.
The leadership exercised during the start-up stage has unique aspects. When reflecting on her experience of founding a home, Grace Delaney, the founder of Lamb of God Maternity Home, offered this leadership advice, "The most important aspect is to have things lined up before you move forward. There is such a temptation to put the cart before the horse." She continued, "Reign in and be more deliberate. Set realistic goals; have the right people in place; have the right physical location. Because once it begins, things really start happening!"
Once the home is operational, the challenge of finding "right fit" staff is common. Grace noted, "When it comes to getting the right staff, its 10% knowledge, 10% skills and 80% mindset. Mindset includes things like desire to serve, people skills, and flexibility. You need to find those with absolute passion--where it is a vocation!" Continuing on this theme, Sarah quipped, "Every job description should end with 'and it will be ever changing.' There is just something about the work that demands flexibility." After sharing her gratitude for the wonderful staff with which she worked, Angie Hammond, a long-term leader of multiple life-affirming ministries, reflected that recruitment is a work of God, "You have to pray them in."
Reflecting on the different types of authority with a maternity home, Angie described a lesson that she learned, "My office was in the house, so directing things back to the house parents was essential. If a mom wanted to tell me something, I needed to hear it from my house parents. It also went the other way; if a mom needed to hear something, it came from the house parents. That way, I was teaching the moms to honor authority and to follow protocol."
"As leaders, our responsibility is to create safe, positive environment for everyone to learn," noted Angie. "Our staff need the freedom and safe place to share their experiences, concerns and disappointments." As one of the staff working directly with moms, Sarah described her experience, "There are rough days and there are beautiful days... but there are so many little miracles that it makes it joy to be part of."
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
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.
Every day, in every corner of the world, God is moving His people to launch new efforts on behalf of mothers and children at-risk for abortion, as well as efforts aimed at healing those affected by previous abortions and reaching communities with positive pro-life messages focusing on imago Dei and Sexual Integrity.
Heartbeat International is here to support front-line life-savers carry out the unique call of God with excellence in real-life settings and circumstances.
Click any of the below to start with the information you need.
Answering the call to reach, rescue, and renew men, women, and children--even entire communities--from the violence of abortion requires a team effort, with every life-saver pulling on the same rope.
Click one of the below to learn more about your unique calling... and what you can do to become best equipped on the front lines of the Pregnancy Help Movement.
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