Compassion on call

Crisis pregnancy volunteers find experience difficult but rewarding


by Kara Hansen
Special to the Leaven

“The most challenging thing I’ve had to do,” said crisis pregnancy volunteer Lisa Blackstock, “is deal with the emotional grief of learning that a woman I had worked with and grown to care for had chosen to terminate her pregnancy.

“These cases never get easier.

“And some of them just break my heart.”

Blackstock started volunteering at Advice and Aid Pregnancy Center in Shawnee in 2002. She comes by her passion for helping unwed mothers honestly.

When she herself faced an unplanned pregnancy 25 years ago, she had no idea she would eventually counsel men and women going through similar experiences.

But she immediately recognized that the few options available to her as a pregnant 18-year-old were dismal, and that women deserved better.

“Abortion was never an option for me, but I got a lot of pressure to abort from the clinic where I had my pregnancy test done,” said the 43-year-old Blackstock, a parishioner of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa.

“I was surprised, even at that time, that no other option was offered to me,” she said. “As I got older, I developed a very strong interest in making sure other young women in a similar situation got factual information about all their options.

“I also came to believe that women who choose to continue the pregnancy, in the face of difficult circumstances or pressure, need ongoing support during and after their pregnancy.”

Still, the experience of being a crisis pregnancy counselor was not what she expected at first.

“My first entire year as a client advocate I had only clients with negative pregnancy tests — not by choice, but by God’s design,” said Blackstock. “I got very good at discussing sexual integrity and abstinence [with clients].”

For clients whose results were positive, the discussions center around the choices of adoption, abortion, or parenting.

Like Blackstock, most any crisis pregnancy center volunteer will tell you that it is the client who chooses abortion whose story stays with them far beyond their day’s work.

“My biggest challenge is always the woman who comes in and has her mind made up that she wants an abortion,” said Pat Harbour, a 54-year-old parishioner of St. Joseph in Shawnee. “I counseled one young woman who had a two-year-old and was five-and-a-half-months pregnant and wanted an abortion.

“I was with her during the sonogram — saw that precious baby. And after the sonogram, she still was sure she wanted an abortion.

“It really rocked me.”

Harbour said after a great deal of prayer and counseling, the outcome turned out positively. Some, however, do not.

“It is always a great challenge to take the ‘abortion’ phone call from a client. You have to think quick, keep them on the phone, try to calm them, and then try to begin to change their heart,” said Harbour, who has volunteered at Advice and Aid for nine years.

“That call comes with no warning,” she added, “and you just have to react at that moment.”

Mary Newcomer, a 48-year-old member of Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park, said that hearing that a client had later chosen an abortion often made her second-guess if she had done everything she could for them.

“One of the greatest challenges of working here is facing the calls where you discover someone you counseled has chosen abortion,” said Newcomer, who has been a crisis pregnancy center volunteer for over four years. “Each time is a heart-wrenching experience that leaves you wondering if you could have done or said more to help the woman understand the magnitude of what she was considering.”

“At times like these,” she added, “we are reminded that we are called to show our clients God’s unconditional love and help them through the difficult process of healing.”

Despite the challenges of crisis pregnancy work, volunteers find there are more benefits than they can count in the relationships built with families facing unplanned pregnancies.

“My biggest joy was working with a 19-year-old who was having twins,” said Harbour.

The client had enrolled in a mentoring program in which she got together with Harbour weekly for education and support. Harbour had met with the young woman for 12 sessions before she encountered complications in her pregnancy and had to be admitted to a high-risk hospital unit two months before her due date.

“I saw her regularly at the hospital — at least once a week,” said Harbour. “She lost one baby shortly after she was admitted. She was so devastated at the loss of one baby and fought so hard to give life to the second. He was born eight weeks premature, but made it and is doing beautifully. Mom and I still keep in touch.”

Seeing clients take positive steps in their lives is particularly rewarding for volunteers.

“My favorite memory is [of] a 19-year-old pregnant client who, after meeting with us, decided to leave a bad boyfriend and reconcile with her parents,” said Jennifer Madden, a 38-yearold parishioner of St. Benedict’s Parish in Atchison.

“Her parents welcomed her back into their home and are helping her raise her baby,” she said. “That was very rewarding for us.”

Blackstock has had the opportunity to see firsthand in her work the beauty and incredible gift of adoption.

“I have had the awesome privilege of working with two girls who chose to place their babies for adoption,” she said. “Both children were placed with Catholic families who coincidentally belonged to the same parish. One of the girls was a unique case, in that I got to walk with her personally from crisis stage, through considering abortion, then exploring parenting, and finally choosing adoption.

“I was her labor coach when she delivered, and I was present when she signed the adoption papers. It was an emotional and humbling experience I will never forget.”

Blackstock’s experiences have touched her so deeply, in fact, that she recently accepted a full-time position in crisis pregnancy work, leaving behind a 20-year career as a financial manager.

“My time here has convinced me that I belong full time in the pro-life ministry,” said Blackstock.

“I have become convinced,” she concluded, “that only when men and women understand God’s plan for their sexuality will the crisis pregnancies and the horror of abortion end.”

 

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