By Vanessa Denha Garmo
One woman shares her story of choosing life as an unwed mother
I write this story in first person instead of a feature story because I was indirectly involved. I was driving my daughter home from ice skating one early evening when I answered a call from an unknown number which is not typical of me. I usually let those calls go to voicemail. Something compelled me to answer and when I did a woman on the other end of the line asked if I was Vanessa Denha Garmo from the Chaldean News. Speaking to her on Bluetooth in my car, I answered that I in fact was she. She proceeded to say, “so, you are anti-abortion?”
My first reaction was “ahoo, seriously, why did I pick up?” Then, I immediately looked in the rearview mirror at my daughter who had a puzzled look on her face so, I took the call off bluetooth.
“Well, I am pro-life, if that is what you are asking.”
“Well, I just read your article in the Chaldean News about abortions and I assume you are anti-abortion,” she replied.
We wrote a story about abortion in 2015. Apparently, she was doing Google searches on abortions and came across my article.
I have had combatted conversations sporadically over the years regarding articles we have written so I know how to handle the calls.
“How can I help you?” I asked.
“I am pregnant,” the woman responded. “I am not married. My parents will kill me if they find out and I really don’t want an abortion but I don’t know what to do.”
“Oh Lord, help me.” That was what was going on in my mind. That was not the response I expected. I remember putting my hand on my heart and feeling it beat and my stomach felt tight. I wanted to talk to her and prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide my words yet, I had my then 10-year-old in the car.
I asked her tell me her story. She talked while I drove home which gave me enough time to get my daughter in front of the television to entertain her while I chatted with this woman.
She told me her name. Yes, her real name. I will not use it in this article out of respect for her privacy. So, I will call her “Grace” because it was it was by the Grace of God that everything unfolded as it did.
After a lengthy conversation, I promised I would get her help. I immediately called my gal pal and sister in Christ, Teresa Tomeo, prolife activist and talk-show host who suggested I call Dr. Monica Miller, Director of Citizens for a Pro-life Society.
Monica and I chatted for a while and she immediately went into action. She called Grace and then me and suggested I go with her to meet Grace’s parents.
“Not a good idea, Monica,” I replied. I doubt this family is going to respond well to the Editor of the Chaldean News showing up at their door wanting to discuss their unwed pregnant teenage daughter.
Dr. Miller ended up convincing another gal pal and sister in Christ Adora Ibrahim to go talk to Grace about not having an abortion. “I had a similar response,” said Ibrahim. “I asked Monica if she was sure she wanted me to be the one to talk with her, knowing that Chaldeans are private, and they wouldn’t want another Chaldean knowing their business. I wanted to help the situation not hurt it.”
However, Ibrahim felt a tug at her heart to meet with Grace. Meanwhile, Monica kept me updated about Grace.
“When I received the call, I knew that I had to try my best to intervene as I knew from past experience that this woman was going to need real help,” said Miller. “I knew that there is a cultural shame that comes with this pregnancy--out-of-wedlock, and that Grace would need a lot of support, a lot of encouragement, but also if she did not receive the proper support from her family – then Grace also was going to need material aid, and so Ibrahim and I sprang into action and met Grace at a restaurant to talk over her needs and ways to navigate through her challenges.”
I have been wanting to catch up with Grace for a while now and share her story. One day Adora called me and told me she had just met someone very special – Grace’s beautiful daughter.
We ended up reconnecting because of an on-going conversation with Christina Marchetti, Director of Client Services Mother and Unborn Baby Care. This was the place that Dr. Monica Miller referred Grace to during her pregnancy. They focus on reaching out to abortion-minded women online and offering free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, and peer counseling.
“We provided her with a free pregnancy test, ultrasounds, and peer counseling,” said Marchetti. “We also worked with her to try to figure out a plan in the event that her family would kick her out of their home. Whenever a woman is pregnant and at risk for homelessness or currently homeless, we have resources for housing for her during her pregnancy and for after she has her baby. She was also welcomed into our support program and visited us to pick out items for her daughter.”
I finally caught up with Grace on the phone. I could feel her beaming on the other end of the phone line while she talked about her 8-month-old daughter. “Just because I am Chaldean didn’t mean I had to have an abortion,” she said. “I realize that now and I know there are girls who have sex and have the abortion because of the family.”
Grace didn’t want to be one of those girls. “I really don’t believe in abortion,” she said. However, she was scared to tell her family that she was pregnant so she never actually told them, at least not verbally. She wrote a note and packed her bags. “I was sleeping from home to home often driving around aimlessly waiting for my friends to go home so I had a place to sleep at night,” said Grace.
She eventually met with Dr. Miller and Adora Ibrahim. “They gave me hope,” she said. “They told me that everything would be okay and they would have my back and they did. They told me that things will fall into place and even if my family didn’t want me, they would find me a home to live in.”
Adora also gave Grace a necklace which Grace hangs in her car. “It has always served as a reminder for me that it’s all going to be okay.”
Grace was also under tremendous financial pressure with some owed bills. “I couldn’t focus knowing I owed this money and Dr. Miller helped out to calm my nerves so I could focus on having the baby.”
As much as the help was greatly needed and appreciated, Grace was still very fearful. “I thought I would be homeless,” she said. “I thought my baby and I would have nothing and we would be living on the street. I thought my life was over.”
After a three-hour conversation with Grace, Ibrahim eventually talked with Grace’s mother. “Grace was convinced that there was no way to take a life of a child and she knew it was murder and she could not bring herself to kill her own child,” said Ibrahim. “I remember telling her she is a child of God. She is someone with dignity, is loved by God, and that her child too is loved by God. She began tearing up and said that no one has ever told her that before. But I knew God had a plan for her and her child. I remember praying everyday that she would have the strength to keep her child and allow her baby to live.”
Ibrahim began to be a support and to build a relationship with Grace, her mother and priest from the community were also brought in to help.
“Grace is a courageous soul,” said Miller. “She in a sense defied the cultural conventions that dictated that an unborn baby should die – to spare that shame should come upon the family – and of course, abortion is a worse shame, a worse sin, but Grace had a heart rooted in respect for life and that made all the difference. I am very proud of her!”
Grace is the exception, not the rule in the community. Grace’s story was very different from the other Chaldean unwed women that are seen at the center because of her strong intention to keep her baby regardless of the pressure she faced to have an abortion. “Typically, when we see a woman in her situation, she has already made up her mind before coming to our center,” said Marchetti. “They often acknowledge that abortion is killing a human being but that they can’t face the shame of having a baby out of wedlock. Grace was willing to risk losing everything to be able to carry this baby to term. She was fearless and protective of her baby’s life.”
“My life was a disaster,” recalled Grace. “I really thought it was all over but I eventually did go back home and my father didn’t speak to me for months.”
The baby was finally born and, “he texted me after I delivered,” said Grace, “that same hour. He came to visit me in the hospital and he truly loves his granddaughter. I can honestly say my daughter has brought us closer together as a family,” said Grace. “My dad adores her. He can’t wait to see her in the morning before he goes to work and he buys her toys all the time. My mother buys her clothes. She has brought us so much joy. I love being a mom.”
As for the father of the baby who is also Chaldean, Grace is trying to work things out. “I was angry that he didn’t have anything to do with me when I was pregnant but he has since come around and we are back together and talking about getting married.”
He is in school working on a program to get a career started and once he is done, Grace has plans in place for a certificate program and a career for herself.
“Everyone told me not to give up on him,” said Grace, “that once that baby was born, he would fall in love with me again. I do believe we can make this work and have more kids after we marry.”
Grace is living a much happier ending than most Chaldean girls faced with an unwanted pregnancy.
“It’s unfortunate that what often motivates people’s actions are what others will think and say,” said Fr. Andrew Seba, associate pastor of Holy Martyrs church in Sterling Heights. “So many people are suffering because they are afraid to seek the proper help or support, they need. They are afraid of the short-term potential scrutiny as opposed to the long-term possibilities of joy.”
As Catholic teaching explains that while pregnancy outside of marriage is not to be encouraged, as a church community we must remember that the sin is in the act of sex outside of the sacrament of marriage and that the resulting pregnancies are a blessing from God. “God has called His people to respond to these mothers and babies with support and love,” said Marchetti. “Any kind of shaming or pressure to end a child’s life is a sin that one will be held accountable for. It is important for parents to have an open dialogue with their children about God’s plan for reserving sexual intimacy within marriage and for the sacredness of human life regardless of the situation in which conception occurred.”
Chaldean clients tend to be the most difficult and sensitive cases. “Because of the vast amount of pressure they feel to terminate, it can be challenging to counsel them and offer support,” Marchetti. “Our typical client who faces an unplanned pregnancy has concerns about finances or a lack of support from their community. In most of these cases, these women feel empowered to choose life because of the services we offer throughout their pregnancy and after they have their baby as well.”
For the Chaldean clients, their reality is that they could lose their home, family, and friends if they decide to continue their pregnancy. “We experience about five of these cases each year. Recently we have contacted and met with several members of the Chaldean community to brainstorm the best method to support these women,” said Marchetti. “The best feedback that I have gathered is that by connecting these women with support within their church community we can create a circle around them with the encouragement that they will need. Our hope is that if a woman meets with a priest and other members of the church and hears them echo our message of the value of this baby’s life and receives direct support from them, she will be much more likely to choose life. We would also like to connect these women with other moms who have walked in their shoes and have chosen life despite the obstacles they faced.”
As a church, we have a responsibility to welcome these women and babies into our communities. “If we create an environment where women feel judged, shamed, and unlovable, we are creating an environment in which women will continue to choose abortion,” said Marchetti. “The change must start from within.”