Alana* doesn’t call us at first, but her friend does, “My friend’s pregnant. She’s incredibly stressed about it. I just read about you — I really think she needs your help.”
It’s so hard to ask for help, our counselor tells her, but let Alana know we are here for her, she doesn’t have to be all on her own.
Perhaps it will be surprising to learn that Alana is not a teen or twenty-something, nor is she single — althoughIn Shifra’s Arms (ISA) would be there to help her if she were.
Alana is in her mid-thirties. She is married and has two older children, one with significant special needs. She and her husband generally have a good marriage but are under financial strain. She has been on birth control and did not want or plan to have another child. She discovered she was pregnant when she was already 14 weeks along. Her husband insists she must abort because he believes they cannot handle another child right now.
Alana agrees to go to Planned Parenthood, but then cannot bring herself to harm her developing baby. When she finally calls ISA, she has already told her husband she can’t go through with an abortion. He’s angry and upset. She’s feeling shocked, isolated, and alone.
Alana is just one of many Jewish women who have called ISA over the last eight years — at all stages of pregnancy and from all types of Jewish and socio-economic backgrounds. In each case, we offer free professional counseling for as long as a woman requires it, whether it is just for an hour to process her feelings or for months, if needed, to plan for and adjust to a pregnancy and new baby.
At ISA we offer care packages, targeted financial assistance, and connections with other agencies. If requested, we also make referrals to adoption agencies and offer support to women who are considering placing for adoption. (However, we serve only pregnant women, not couples seeking to adopt, and we do not directly facilitate adoptions.)
What we do is unique in the United States. For all the resources in the broader Jewish community, ISA is the only agency addressing Jewish crisis pregnancies in the United States. ISA was founded by a small group of women in Silver Spring in 2009. Initially, we thought we would just create a model for this area that might be replicated elsewhere. As it turns out, through the Internet we have fielded requests from around the country since our beginning. So, we built a program that can help any Jewish woman in the United States.
When we began, we were highly criticized for allegedly having a political “anti-choice” agenda. In fact, our organization is strictly social services — not medical and not political. We focus on loving-kindness for vulnerable women. Our team brings together Jews who are unaffiliated and Orthodox, conservative and liberal.
As for Alana, in December she gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Asher. During her pregnancy, she received the counseling she needed from ISA to support her. Her husband slowly worked through his anger about the pregnancy and came to accept and celebrate the baby. We provided maternity clothes, baby supplies, and year-long targeted financial assistance for diapers. Despite all the drama at the beginning of the pregnancy, it “terminated” with a mother and father embracing their baby boy with complete love.
For those on the edge of motherhood, In Shifra’s Arms can offer a parachute. On the other side is not a simplistic happy ending, but a precious new beginning.
Facing an unplanned pregnancy can be scary and tenuous. That is why it is imperative that the entire Jewish community let women know that they do not have to go it alone. On Shavuot, as we think about the mitzvah of honoring our parents, let’s commit to caring for Jewish mothers and mother-that-might-be, whatever their circumstances.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.
By Erica Sager Pelman for In Shifra’s Arms
Erica Sager Pelman is the founder and volunteer Executive Director of In Shifra’s Arms. She lives in Rockville with her husband and four children. You can find out more at jewishpregnancyhelp.org.