I have always believed God’s word that human life begins at conception. I have taken to heart the poetic expressions of the Psalmist David, “You knit me in my mother’s womb, I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139) Twenty-one days after my first-born son was conceived, I knew the truth of this scripture, “Before you were born, I knew you” (Jeremiah 2), as I formed an instant bond with the tiny human life growing with me.
I have been pregnant eight times. I lost four babies within the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. Any woman who has experienced a miscarriage knows the pain of losing a child. Though the sense of loss may fade sooner than for those with whom we carry more memories, the loss is nonetheless real.
Even though I lost my first baby 23 years ago and my last baby died eight years ago, I think of them often — especially at Christmas. I hang four special snow angel ornaments on the Christmas tree. Each ornament has the names of the four babies we lost. I cluster them together with ornaments of my four living children to remember that our little family lives both in heaven and on earth.
The last miscarriage was especially profound for me, as I passed the remains of a developing baby at about 10 weeks gestation, still intact in the in the small fluid sac. I baptized her “Baby Isabella” and wrapped her little body in soft tissue and placed it in a ring box, which we later buried in the garden.
Since the birth of my youngest daughter Johanna I have become a fierce advocate. There is nothing quite like a fragile child to help parents discover the gift of advocacy. Most moms I know who have kids with special needs become strong advocates for their kids, themselves and for all people with disabilities.
While the last 19 years of my life have largely been spent advocating for my daughter, in the last four years, I have recognized a great need to advocate for the dignity of all human life, especially for those with disabilities, from conception to natural death.
This journey has taken me to the steps of Capital Hill, on national news, sharing my concerns about the nationalized health care and our own difficulties with Obamacare. This past January, Johanna and I joined thousands of protestors in the annual March for Life in DC. This past summer, as the Planned Parenthood videos from the Center for Medical Progress have been released, I have decided that I can’t be silent anymore.
I was planning to travel to Washington DC again for a pro-life rally on Capitol Hill last week but Johanna wasn’t well enough to go. So while she was on IV treatments watching Disney movies, I decided to spend the day in prayer, watching the video clips from the Center for Medical Progress and reading transcripts of interviews.
I went through their entire website, the fact sheets and the statistics, all well documented and supported, mostly from original sources from Planned Parenthood as well as StemExpress and Advanced Bioscience Resources, two companies who deal in fetal tissue procurement for research.
I also read and watched interviews of Planned Parenthood’s Director, Cecile Richards, who refuted the videos early on, while apologizing for inappropriate comments made by her staff.
I encourage you to do your own research and decide. While I think most people have made up their minds on the issue of abortion I still wonder–is there any context which justifies the conversations and practices that these videos highlight?
My daughter lives with CCM3, a genetic disease for which there is yet no cure. I have Multiple Sclerosis and my sister died of MS and Parkinson’s disease. I will tell you beyond any shadow of doubt, I will never support research for these diseases that uses a baby’s body parts to find a cure. Human life must never be reduced to a commodity.
What about women’s rights? This week, at House Judiciary Committee Hearing heard the testimonies of two women, abortion survivors Melissa Ohden and Gianna Jensen:
There are many more of these testimonies that we rarely hear about in the debate for a women’s right to choose. They have rights too and their basic human right to life was almost snuffed out because of the choices of another.
There are numerous support organizations all over the US and right here in Riverhead, who support couples who are struggling with an unplanned pregnancy. Contrary to popular belief, the pro-life movement is largely composed of loving people who are compassionate to both a mother and her unborn child. There’s even an organization whose primary outreach is to those in the abortion industry, to give the resources and support they need to leave the abortion industry and start a new life.
My miscarriages, raising a child with special needs, in addition to countless testimonies of women who have chosen to give birth have all empowered me to advocacy for the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death. But in the last year, the Lord brought a very special young woman into my life to give a real face and name to the uncalculated losses that both mother and child experience in abortion.
I was singing God’s praises up at the Our Lady of the Island Shrine in Eastport. I was at the outside Shrine, alone preparing to lead a women’s prayer meeting. My eyes were closed as I sang, but soon felt that someone was watching me. When I opened my eyes, I saw a young woman sitting beneath a tree crying. The Lord prompted me to go to her to talk and pray. As I walked towards her, God spoke to my heart and showed me some of her pain. We talked and she was very open to prayer. As we prayed together, I asked her about specific situations in her life that was revealed to me. She was stunned that God was showing me the very needs she had for prayer that night. She told me that she asked Jesus to meet her up at the Shrine that night. He did.
That night was the beginning of a beautiful journey for this young woman and a special friendship between us. She gave her life to Jesus and made a commitment to be baptized and was received into the Catholic Church this past Easter. I had the honor of being her godmother.
She has left a life of heroin addiction behind to embrace a life of prayer, study and work.
Shortly after her baptism, she told me she was pregnant. I embraced her, as did her church, her family and friends. As she prepares for this baby, she knows that she, her boyfriend and the baby are all welcome and supported.
While I was praying with her one day, my goddaughter shared more of her story, which included her experience of having an abortion. She wrote an essay, which she gave me permission to share for this column. She entitled the essay: “A Life Taken, a Life Given.”
“I made a decision. A decision based on self, which would place me in a position to be hurt. The brutality of what happened poisoned my soul.
I drove through the many people protesting abortions; signs and words that didn’t seem to impact me much. I got out of my car. As I stepped inside the Planned Parenthood clinic, the whole thing felt a bit more grim than I thought it should. I thought nothing, blank. They put in a needle in my arm to put me to sleep. I woke up in a different room with an emptiness that screamed.
I never took the needle out. I was ruined. I ran hard down a path of endless torture and tribulation.
I succumbed to the desire of drugs and alcohol so easily. After all, I needed something to find escape in. I sought escape desperately. Like the drowning seeks a life preserver, I sought any and all escape. I could not face reality. Death knocked at the door. And I preferred it to the life I was existing in. I hit the wall, and finally began to break open.
I had been a violator of all Ten Commandments. The worst of all, I was a murderer. I had to admit the truth to uncover the lies. I had been living it all wrong. I simply needed to trust God and move along this journey, not knowing everything.
I learned the truth of 2 Corinthians 5:7: ‘For we walk by faith, not sight.’ It meant that life would not always be on my terms. It meant that I may not always get what it think I want but rather I will always get what I need. My soul began to fill with awe and newness at the world around me. I was Blessed.”
My goddaughter shared with me that that when she first found out she was pregnant again, she said, “I heard the old voices that once poisoned me, as fear began to grip me.”
But the horror of the abortion and the path to emptiness and hell that followed that frightening decision led my goddaughter to chose life.
Even as she feared, she continued going to Mass. She wrote, “I went to Mass one Sunday and I heard something ring LOUDLY: ‘Let us pray for the unborn.’ I put my hand on my stomach and tears began to fall. I knew beyond any shadow of doubt:
My baby’s not a choice, she’s a life.”
Today, my goddaughter is seven months pregnant with a growing baby girl. She is completing a teaching degree and working full-time. She is surrounded by love and support from her friends and relatives and from her new church family as well.
We love them both — mother and child. When it’s a matter of life and death, choose the path of life. It makes all the difference.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the point of view of RiverheadLOCAL’s publishers.
Eileen Benthal is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a B.A. in Theology from Franciscan University. She is the author of Breathing Underwater: A Caregiver’s Journey of Hope.
Eileen and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Their youngest, Johanna, is a teenager with special needs.
Eileen can be reached at CareforaCaregiver.com.
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