October 18, 2016 // Local

Poor prenatal diagnoses focus of new diocesan ministry

By Andrew Mentock

One of the most trying times a couple can go through are the days, weeks, and months that follow after receiving a poor prenatal diagnosis. The bad news can cause even the most joyous and faithful couples to feel vulnerable and exposed.

That’s why the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend introduced a powerful new ministry last month called Miriam’s Blessing. The ministry’s mission is to aid those who have received a poor prenatal diagnosis throughout their more-difficult-than-usual journey as new parents.

“It’s so that they have the emotional and spiritual support that they need to carry their pregnancy to term,” said Lisa Everett, co-director of the Office for Family Life for the diocese, “and to cherish the time, however long or short, that they have with their child.”

According to Everett, without this support, about 80 percent of couples or single mothers who are in this situation will terminate the pregnancy. Tremendous pressure is imposed on them to do so, especially by the medical community.

The catalyst for the program is Mary O’Callaghan, who reached out to both the Office of Family Life and the Office of Evangelization in order to get the ministry started in the diocese.

“From both my professional background, and personal experience as a mother of a child with a disability, I know that there is little support for carrying a child with a difficult diagnosis such as Down syndrome or other condition to term” said O’Callaghan, who has a doctorate in developmental psychology from the University of Notre Dame. “On the other hand, I know that when given comprehensive support, most parents will choose life for their children.”

The ministry is based on the national nonprofit program Be Not Afraid. The name “Miriam’s Blessing” was chosen by the diocese for the local version of the ministry, after hearing the inspiring story of Gustavo and Lupita Jimenez — a couple who has volunteered their services as peer ministers for the program.

A few years ago, the couple received a poor prenatal diagnosis while pregnant with their daughter, Miriam. She had been diagnosed with anencephaly, a cephalic disorder where an absence of the brain, skull and scalp occurs during embryonic development.

In light of the diagnosis, the couple’s doctor scheduled an induction for them for the following week.

“We spoke to my brother who is a priest. He told us to go home and research what an induction is,” said Gustavo. “After Googling it, we discovered that we were essentially scheduled to have an abortion.”

When Lupita and Gustavo’s brother, Rev. Fernando Jimenez, who is currently a priest at St. John the Evangelist in Goshen, showed up to the scheduled appointment, they refused to go through with the procedure. Their doctor protested.

“We were told, ‘You will suffer. The baby won’t live,’” said Gustavo. “‘Why would you want to keep it? You will only have 20 minutes with your child at most.’”

The couple stood by their decision, determined to do right by God and their child.

“For as long as God permits,” said Lupita, “we want to be with our baby.”

They decided to switch to a more supportive doctor at St. Joseph Hospital in Fort Wayne, even though it increased the financial burden and they were already struggling.

On Sept 5, 2014, Miriam was born. They had plenty of time to have their daughter baptized and confirmed, as she lived for 40 hours.

“We had time to kiss her and hug her, and say goodbye,” said Gustavo. “We loved our time with her.”

Miriam continues to inspire the couple. In addition to volunteering their time as a peer ministers, Lupita, with her husband’s support, has enrolled at IPFW this fall to become a nurse. This way, she can provide medical care to others who receive a poor prenatal diagnosis.

By naming the program after Miriam, it’s hoped that her life and her parents’ strength will be an inspiration to others throughout the diocese.

“When they shared their stories they talked about their daughter Miriam, who has so profoundly impacted the lives of her parents and family,” said Mary Glowaski, director of evangelization for the diocese. “Now, she will continue to impact the lives of the families who will be served by this ministry.”

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