SAN DIEGO — For some pregnant women facing crisis pregnancies, it might seem like they’re on their own and that their options are limited.
But appearances can be deceiving.
On Aug. 15, the Diocese of San Diego launched the Walking with Moms in Need campaign with a special Mass. The yearlong national campaign, a project of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, encourages parishes to accompany pregnant and parenting women and to guide them to community resources that will help them.
However, even before this campaign started, the diocese (through its Office for Life, Peace and Justice) has been an active member of the Association for Life, a consortium of 18 pregnancy resource centers and clinics and 10 “life-affirming organizations” in San Diego and Imperial counties. The association’s members represent the broad spectrum of support available to women who choose life for their children.
“Are you or someone you know experiencing an unexpected pregnancy?” asks the Association for Life on a handout that includes the contact information for its various member organizations. “You are not alone. We can help.”
Culture of Life Family Services (COLFS) is a member of the Association for Life. With two locations in San Diego County, COLFS is a full-service family medicine practice that for almost 20 years has provided care compatible with Catholic teaching. In addition to serving as a primary care provider, it also supports women in crisis pregnancies, regardless of immigration status.
Maria Moreno, president of COLFS, described it as “kind of like a pregnancy center within a medical center.”
Women who believe they might be pregnant can receive a pregnancy test and, if the results are positive, view an ultrasound of their unborn child and meet with one of COLFS’ doctors. There is no charge for this first visit.
COLFS will continue to see expecting mothers through the 20th week and will then refer them to an OBGYN, who will accompany them through the rest of their pregnancy and delivery.
COLFS also offers a variety of programs for mothers, including one that allows them to earn “baby bucks” for completing online parenting and prenatal classes; these credits can be redeemed at COLFS’ “baby bou-tique.” COLFS also regularly distributes diapers, wipes and other essentials, and it hosts a weekly breastfeeding support group.
Additionally, COLFS’ “client support specialists” reach out to clients during their pregnancy to ascertain their needs, even for things like gas money or finding employment. That outreach doesn’t end at the child’s birth, but often continues for years afterwards.
“We become like a family,” Moreno said. Cathy, a 29-year-old stay-at-home mother, was frightened when she found out that she was pregnant with her youngest child, now 1 year old. She still remembered the C-section that had been required one and a half years earlier when giving birth to her son.
When she went to COLFS for an ultrasound, she was already contemplating having an abortion.
Recalling her positive experience at COLFS, where the staff was kind and welcoming and where she was gifted with a basket of baby items, she said, “It didn’t just change my mind. I felt like everything was going to be okay.”
Cathy had barely returned to her car before she received a text from a client support specialist. Though they have never met face to face, Cathy said, the client support specialist has “been there through thick and thin” for her and her family. She said the specialist checked in with them before Christmas last year and, upon discovering that they were struggling financially, asked for her children’s ages, clothing and shoe sizes, and the types of gifts they would like.
Adoption Center of San Diego is another member of the Association for Life. Founded in 1986, it facilitates adoptions between birth mothers and adoptive couples, all of whom must be comfortable with the idea of open adoption if that is the birth mother’s preference.
Sarah Lanza, director of Adoption Center of San Diego, said many women mistakenly assume that their only options are to parent their child or to have an abortion. Less than 1 percent of women in crisis pregnancies choose adoption, she said, though about 2 million couples are currently on waiting lists hoping to adopt.
With open adoption, the birth mother “handpicks” the adoptive couple and is able to take “a front-row seat” as her child grows up, said Lanza. They often feel that, rather than losing a child, they have gained a family in the process.
“The adoptive couples just cherish their birth mom; they’re so thankful,” she said. “Without a birth mother’s courage, the couples couldn’t otherwise have children, and so, she’s a really honored family member as well.”
Lauren, a 30-year-old mother of two, was in the process of getting a divorce last year when she found herself pregnant by a co-worker.
Despite believing that life begins at conception, she was still tempted to have an abortion. She said she may have already had one scheduled when she took another co-worker’s advice and reached out to Lanza at Adoption Center of San Diego.
Lauren said she was “blown away” by the compassion she felt from Lanza over the phone.
In the midst of a divorce, Lauren already knew that her two daughters would grow up in a divided family. She didn’t want to welcome her unborn son, who was born in early June, into a similar situation. So, she decided to place him for open adoption. That decision gave him an intact family and would allow her to continue her education and provide for her two daughters.
Lauren chose adoption for the same reason many women do, Lanza said: “because they love their babies so much.”
Adoption Center of San Diego, which facilitates an average of 20 adoptions each year, commits to working with no more than 25 couples at any given time. As a result, Lanza said, the organization is able to form close relationships with its clients. And those relationships don’t end with the birth mother’s child being welcomed into the adoptive parents’ home.
Lanza said Adoption Center of San Diego has monthly support groups for birth moms and, before the COVID-19 pandemic forced bans on large social gatherings, it held an annual Christmas and summer party where 400 people, including birth parents, adoptive parents and their families, would come together.
“Some of the kids who were adopted 25 years ago are now excited to collect their annual ornament [at the Christmas party],” Lanza said, “and it’s just a chance for them to all gather together … with their larger Adoption Center family.”
For more information, contact the diocesan Office for Life, Peace and Justice at (858) 490-8324. More information about COLFS and Adoption Center of San Diego is available at colfsclinic.org and sdadopt.org, respectively.