Rich Reese

‘We never stopped trusting’: expecting triplets, couple was advised to make a horrifying choice

Rich Reese
By Rich Reese
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October 24, 2011 (NCCatholic.org) - It’s 10 a.m. in the Holly Springs, North Carolina home of Erin and Jennifer Conley, and it’s breakfast time for their triplets, Jillian, Rebecca and Sarah. The three nine-month-old girls sit in identical chairs as their mom spoons vegetables and cereal to each in turn. Erin and Jennifer’s 3-year-old son, Adam, sits in the living room with their Labrador Retriever, Madison, surrounded by baby toys.

As the girls have grown, their individual looks and personalities have started to emerge. Rebecca, who was the smallest of the three at birth, is now the biggest, while first-born Jillian, who was the biggest, is now smaller than the other two. Sarah is focused on breakfast, while the other two seem happily curious about the visitors who have come to hear their parents’ story.

What is more heartwarming than the sight of a happy baby? And here there are three! It’s impossible to imagine that anyone could ever have wished them harm. Yet, not long ago a doctor who specializes in pregnancy and childbirth had suggested that one of the girls be “sacrificed.”

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At twelve weeks, when it became clear that Jennifer was expecting triplets, her obstetrician referred her to a specialist. The ultrasound showed that the babies, now known as A, B and C, were all doing well. So the parents were shocked when the doctor began to paint a frightening picture.

She recited statistics about the special dangers of pregnancy and fetal development with triplets, the potential birth defects and complications that could attend multiple births. “The glass was always half-empty,” Erin recalled, “never half full.”

“Is there anything wrong with the children?” the parents wanted to know.

“Not at this point,” the doctor said. “But triplets are dangerous. And you know, if they all survive to term, it takes parents more than 24 hours a day to care properly for three infants.”

After listing all the things that could go wrong, the doctor proposed a solution: “Selective reduction.”  By aborting one of the children, she said, there would be more room in the womb for the other two, improving the chances for a “healthy” pregnancy and delivery.

“It didn’t really sink in on me until later,” Erin said, “what she was really suggesting. We had three babies who were doing fine. The doctor recognized that they were living children, our children; they had letter ‘names’ to distinguish them. And she was advising us to kill one of them!”

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Jennifer said. “I let her finish, and then I said there was no way I could permit something like that. It was against my faith.” Not just against her Catholic faith, Jennifer realized, but against her and Erin’s faith in God.

“We didn’t do in vitro,” Erin explains, referring to a procedure where several eggs are fertilized outside the womb and surgically implanted. The Church opposes this procedure because it “dissociates the sexual act from the procreative act. The act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists…” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2377). “We expected one child. That we had three, they were God’s gift to us. All of them.”

The doctor hadn’t given up, though. “If it developed,” she said, “that one of the babies was threatening the health of the others, would you consider ‘reduction’ at that point?”

Jennifer reiterated her opposition to anything that would harm any of the triplets. “We came out of the office traumatized,” she says. “I don’t think Erin had completely digested what she was saying. Later he called me from work and he was crying.”

“That was my first reaction,” Erin said. “And then I felt incredibly angry.”

The parents returned to the referring physician. “I said that if they couldn’t find a doctor who understood how much these children meant to us, I’d find one myself. My babies were healthy!” Erin said. “Fortunately they referred us to a second specialist who remained totally positive throughout the pregnancy.”

As Jennifer carried the triplets in the ensuing weeks, “God was with us every step of the way,” she said. “My friends at work said, ‘If there’s anyone we know with a strong faith in God, it’s you two, and we know you’re going to make it.’”

Hadn’t the warnings from the first doctor made Erin and Jennifer fearful? “Those things were still in the backs of our minds, of course,” Erin said, “but we never stopped trusting that God would be with us.”

“I’d think of those things,” Jennifer said, “but it would be just passing thoughts. Our faith in God is so strong. We believe in Him and depend on Him in good times and bad, and we thank Him for both, because everything we have is because of God.”

Jennifer also began attending support meetings with Triangle Moms of Twins and Triplets. “It was great going there and seeing what was possible,” Erin said. “I thought if they can do it, why not me?”

When a mother is pregnant with multiples, especially with three or more babies, “making it” comes with slightly limited expectations. The babies will probably be born early, and often require some hospitalization after birth. When Jennifer talked to a nurse about scheduling a C-section, the nurse suggested a “pretend date” at 32 weeks of gestation.  “No one makes that,” she said, “but it’s a goal. If it’s sooner, we can handle it.”

Jennifer made it easily to 32 weeks, then 33 and 34. At 36 weeks, she walked into the hospital. Hours later, her daughters came into the world. Jillian was first, at 6 pounds, 3 ounces; then Rebecca, at five pounds; and finally Sarah, a few ounces short of six pounds.

At home, their family suddenly doubled in size, Erin and Jennifer gratefully welcomed the help of her parents, who came to North Carolina from their home in upstate New York and spent three months helping. They also hired an au pair, Vanessa Fernandez from Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Her journey to the Conleys was an answer to Vanessa’s prayers. After signing with an agency that finds employment in the U.S. for au pairs, Vanessa, a devout Catholic, found more than one couple eager to hire her. “We chose her because she was Catholic,” Jennifer said.

While Jennifer was carrying her children, Vanessa was praying for guidance in choosing a family to work for. “When I saw that they would have triplets,” Vanessa said with a smile, “I wasn’t so sure I could handle that.” But when she learned the scheduled date for Jennifer’s C-section in November, 2010, it had a special significance for her. Her father had passed away four years before. She still missed him and prayed for him, and Jennifer’s delivery date turned out to be his birthday.

Erin, Jennifer, Vanessa and all their children make it to Mass at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Cary each Sunday, but they find each day, with its ups and downs, an occasion for thanks, and an affirmation of the trust they continue to place in the Lord.

“It’s kind of strange sometimes, isn’t it,” Jennifer said, “the way God speaks to us? We just have to open our ears, our hearts and our souls and listen.”

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Note: Rich Reese is the editor of NC Catholic, the online magazine of the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh. This article originally appeared in NC Catholic and is reprinted here with the generous permission of Reese.

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PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received more than $400 million in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

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If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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The Wunderlich family Mike Donnelly / Home School Legal Defence Association
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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

One year to the day since a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, and forcibly removed all four of the family’s children, aged 7 to 14, a state appeals court has returned custody of the children to their parents.

The reason given for the removal was that parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were returned three weeks after being taken, following an international outcry spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

However, a lower court imposed the condition on the parents that their children were required to attend state schools in order for them to be released, and took legal custody of the children in order to prevent the family from leaving the country.

In a decision that was still highly critical of the parents and of homeschooling, the appeals court decided that the action of the lower court in putting the children in the custody of the state was “disproportional” and ordered complete custody returned to the parents, according to a statement by the HSLDA.

The Wunderlichs, who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, said they were very pleased with the result, but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.

“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said.

“The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate—only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”

The Wunderlichs are now free to emigrate to another country where homeschooling is legal, if they choose, but they said they intend to remain in Germany and work for educational freedom.

“While we no longer fear that our children will be taken away as long as we are living in Hessen, it can still happen to other people in Germany,” Dirk said. “Now we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”

Petra Wunderlich said, "We could not do this without the help of HSLDA,” but cautioned that, “No family can fight the powerful German state—it is too much, too expensive."

"If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”

HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, Michael Donnelly, said he welcomed the ruling but was concerned about the court’s troubling language.

“We welcome this ruling that overturns what was an outrageous abuse of judicial power,” he said.

“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines.”

Donnelly pointed out that such behavior in a democratic country is problematic.

“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he explained.

“Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed.

"Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow,” Donnelly warned.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said that acting on behalf of the Wunderlichs was an important stand for freedom.

“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” Farris said.

“Their fight is our fight," Farris stressed, "and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”

Visit the HSLDA website dedicated to helping the Wunderlich family and other German homeschoolers here.

Contact the German embassy in the U.S. here.

Contact the German embassy in Canada here.

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