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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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signs the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
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Indiana faces backlash as it becomes 20th state to protect religious liberty

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By Ben Johnson

INDIANAPOLIS, IN, March 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – On Thursday, Indiana became the 20th state to prevent the government from forcing people of faith to violate their religious beliefs in business or the public square.

Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (SB 101) into law, saying the freedom of religion is a preeminent American value.

“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion, but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action,” Pence said.

Gov. Pence, a possible dark horse candidate for president in 2016, cited court cases brought by religious organizations and employers, including Catholic universities, against the HHS mandate. “One need look no further than the recent litigation concerning the Affordable Care Act. A private business and our own University of Notre Dame had to file lawsuits challenging provisions that required them to offer insurance coverage in violation of their religious views.”

The new law could also prevent Christian business owners from being compelled to bake a cake or take photographs of a same-sex "marriage" ceremony, if doing so violates their faith. In recent years, business owners have seen an increased level of prosecution for denying such services, despite their religious and moral beliefs.

The state's pro-life organization applauded Pence for his stance. "Indiana's pro-life community is grateful to Gov. Mike Pence for signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law,” said Indiana Right to Life's president and CEO Mike Fichter. “This bill will give pro-lifers a necessary legal recourse if they are pressured to support abortion against their deeply-held religious beliefs.”

“RFRA is an important bill to protect the religious freedom of Hoosiers who believe the right to life comes from God, not government,” he said.

The state RFRA is based on the federal bill introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. The Supreme Court cited the federal law when it ruled that Hobby Lobby had the right to refuse to fund abortion-inducing drugs, if doing so violated its owners' sincerely held religious beliefs.

In signing the measure – similar to the one Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed – Pence and the state of Indiana have faced a torrent of venom from opponents of the bill, who claim it grants a “right to discriminate” and raises the spectre of segregation.

"They've basically said, as long as your religion tells you to, it's OK to discriminate against people," said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a national homosexual pressure group.

The Disciples of Christ, a liberal Protestant denomination based in the state capital, has said it will move its 2017 annual convention if the RFRA became state law. The NCAA warned the bill's adoption “might affect future events” in the Hoosier state.

Pence denied such concerns, saying, "This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way I would've vetoed it."

The bill's supporters say that, under the Obama administration, it is Christians who are most likely to suffer discrimination.

"Originally RFRA laws were intended to protect small religious groups from undue burdens on practicing their faith in public life,” said Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. “It was not imagined there would come a day when laws might seek to jail or financially destroy nuns, rabbis or Christian camp counselors who prefer to abstain from the next wave of sexual and gender experimentation. And there's always a next wave.”

The bill's supporters note that it does not end the government's right to coerce people of faith into violating their conscience in every situation. However, it requires that doing so has to serve a compelling government interest and the government must use the least restrictive means possible. “There will be times when a state or federal government can show it has a compelling reason for burdening religious expression – to ensure public safety, for instance,” said Sarah Torre, an expert at the Heritage Foundation. “But Religious Freedom Restoration Acts set a high bar for the government to meet in order to restrict religious freedom.”

Restricting the ability of government to interfere in people's private decisions, especially their religious decisions, is the very purpose of the Constitution, its supporters say.

"Religious freedom is the cornerstone of all liberty for all people,” Tooley said. “Deny or reduce it, and there are no ultimate limits on the state's power to coerce."

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Fight pornography. Beat pornography. And join the ranks of those who support their fellow men and women still fighting.
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Porn is transforming our men from protectors into predators. Fight back.

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By Jonathon van Maren

Since I’ve gotten involved in anti-pornography work, I’ve met countless men who struggle, fight, or have beaten pornography. Each person seems to deal with the guilt and shame that accompanies porn use in a different way—some deny that it’s “all that bad,” others pretend that they could “stop whenever they want,” many insist that “everyone is doing it,” and most, when pressed, admit to a deep sense of self-loathing.

One worry surfaces often in conversation: What do my past or current struggles with pornography say about me as a man? Can I ever move past this and have a meaningful and fulfilling relationship?

I want to address this question just briefly, since I’ve encountered it so many times.

First, however, I’ve written before how I at times dislike the language of “struggling” with pornography or pornography “addiction,” not because they aren’t accurate but because too often they are used as an excuse rather than an explanation. It is true, many do in fact “struggle” with what can legitimately be considered an addiction, but when this language is used to describe an interminable battle with no end (and I’ve met dozens of men for whom this is the case), then I prefer we use terminology like “fighting my porn habit.” A semantic debate, certainly, but one I think is important. We need to stop struggling with porn and start fighting it.

Secondly, pornography does do devastating things to one’s sense of masculinity. We know this. Pornography enslaves men by the millions, perverting their role as protector and defender of the more vulnerable and turning them into sexual cannibals, consuming those they see on-screen to satisfy their sexual appetites.

What often starts as mere curiosity or an accidental encounter can turn into something that invades the mind and twists even the most basic attractions. I’ve met porn users who can’t believe the types of things they want to watch. They haven’t simply been using porn. Porn has actively reshaped them into something they don’t recognize and don’t like. 

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Porn is this generation’s great assault on masculinity and the role of men in society. It is essential that we win this battle for the sake of society’s survival. Contrary to what the gender-bending and family-morphing progressive elites claim, good husbands and good fathers and good church leaders are necessary for a healthy society. But pornography is destroying marriages, creating distant and disconnected fathers, and, metaphoricaclly castrating men, hindering their ability and desire to make a positive difference in the society around us.

So, with this sobering set of facts in mind let’s return to the question: what do pornography struggles, past and present, say about a man?

The proper way to respond is with everything that is good about masculinity. We have to fight pornography as men have fought countless evils throughout the ages. We need to fight pornography to protect women, and wives, and children, and our society at large. This is how pornography threatens society, by castrating men, and turning them from protectors into predators. Rooting out the evil in our own lives allows us to better fulfill the role we are called to perform in the lives of others. Battling our own demons enables us to battle the wider cultural demons. Every day without porn is another bit of virtue built. Virtue is not something you’re born with. Virtues are habits that you build. And one day without porn is the first step towards the virtue of being porn-free.

Many men ask me if men who have had past porn addictions are cut out for being in a relationship or working in the pro-life movement or in other areas where we are called to protect and defend the weak and vulnerable. And the answer to that is an unequivocal yes. Our society needs men who know what it means to fight battles and win. Our society needs men who can say that they fought porn and they beat porn, because their families and their friends were too important to risk. Our society needs men who rose to the challenge that the evils of their generation threw at them, and became better men as the result. And our society needs men who can help their friends and their sons and those around them fight the plague of pornography and free themselves from it, too—and who can understand better and offer encouragement more relevant than someone who has fought and been freed themselves?

So the answer to men is yes. Fight pornography. Beat pornography. And join the ranks of those who support their fellow men and women still fighting. Lend them support and encouragement. We cannot change the fact that porn has left an enormous path of destruction in its wake. But we can change the fact that too many people aren’t fighting it. We can change our own involvement. And we can rise to the challenge and face this threat to masculinity with all that is good about masculinity.

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Red Alert!

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By John-Henry Westen

I don’t like having to do this, but we have always found it best to be totally upfront with our readers: our Spring fundraising campaign is now worrying us! 

You see, with just 6 days remaining, we have only raised 30% of our goal, with $125,000 still left to raise. That is a long ways to go yet.

We have no choice but to reach our minimum goal of $175,000 if we are going to be able to continue serving the 5+ million readers who rely on us every month for investigative and groundbreaking news reports on life, faith and family issues.

Every year, LifeSite readership continues to grow by leaps and bounds. This year, we are again experiencing record-breaking interest, with over 6 million people visiting our website last month alone!

This unprecedented growth in turn creates its own demand for increased staff and resources, as we struggle to serve these millions of new readers.

And especially keep this in mind. As many more people read LifeSite, our mission of bringing about cultural change gets boosted. Our ultimate goal has always been to educate and activate the public to take well-informed, needed actions.

Another upside to our huge growth in readers is that it should be that much easier to reach our goal. To put it simply: if each person who read this one email donated whatever they could (even just $10) we would easily surpass our goal! 

Today, I hope you will join the many heroes who keep this ship afloat, and enable us to proclaim the truth through our reporting to tens of millions of people every year!

Your donations to LifeSite cause major things to happen! We see that every day and it is very exciting. Please join with us in making a cultural impact with a donation of ANY AMOUNT right now. 

You can also donate by phone or mail. We would love to hear from you!

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