Archdiocesan Pregnancy Help ministry assists mothers in need
BROCKTON -- Over nearly 50 years, Pregnancy Help has supported thousands of mothers and children by providing a range of free and confidential services -- none of which would be possible without the support of the archdiocese and its parishes.
Pregnancy Help is a ministry of the archdiocesan Pro-Life Office, part of the Secretariat for Health Care and Social Services. With locations in Brighton, Brockton, and Natick, this ministry creates a safe space for pregnant women to talk about their situation and receive unbiased information about their options. It is also a place where expecting or new mothers can receive the emotional support, material assistance, and social service referrals they may need.
The Archdiocese of Boston is one of the very few dioceses in the U.S. that funds its own pregnancy resource centers. Pregnancy Help is one of the ministries supported by the Catholic Appeal, and its greatest source of donations are "baby showers" held in parishes.
"The fact that we have three pregnancy resource centers that are under the umbrella of the archdiocese is incredible, and rare, and such a gift," said nurse supervisor Leah Gunning in a December interview.
Gunning found Pregnancy Help to be "a really beautiful blend of nursing and ministry." This led her to begin working at the Brockton office in November 2021. Part of her job is to give presentations in parishes to explain what Pregnancy Help does.
All of Pregnancy Help's services -- available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese -- are free of charge. These include pregnancy tests, options counseling, information about adoption, maternity and baby clothes, parenting support, advocacy, and referrals for assistance with housing, employment, or school.
Each office is located near a hospital in order to offer ultrasounds to qualifying clients. Because they are not a medical clinic, clients do not need to provide their full name or insurance.
If a pregnant woman decides to become a Pregnancy Help client, she has monthly visits with a caseworker to assess her needs and educate her about pregnancy, childbirth, and infant care. At eight months gestation, she receives a layette with baby clothes, diapers, toys, and other supplies, most of which are donated by parishes.
"For many women, they don't have a baby shower or anything like that, so that's the only real gift that they receive. And that's made possible through generous donations of parishes. We really couldn't do this work without them," Gunning said.
Leontina "Tina" Green, a caseworker at the Brockton office, worked for Catholic Charities before she started working for Pregnancy Help in 2004.
Green speaks Spanish and understands Portuguese, so she has worked with many immigrants during her time at Pregnancy Help. She noted that language barriers with clients can be challenging, though they have access to interpretive services through Catholic Charities.
"We try to be there for (the women), and they see that. And they appreciate that, they appreciate the help, especially when they can communicate in their own language," Green said.
Rachele Monbouquette, the nurse supervisor at the Brighton office, explained that much of what they do is meant to prepare the mothers to take their babies home.
"We want them to be ready, both emotionally and materially," she said.
She noted that some have "absolutely nobody" to support them when they come home from the hospital.
"I think we do bring joy to their lives, ease the stress of having the baby in their circumstances," she said.
The most difficult part of their work, Gunning and Monbouquette said, is not knowing what happens to some of the women they meet, or what decision they make about their pregnancy. Sometimes, they will talk with a woman on the phone for a long time, but then never hear from her again.
"Those are hard calls, because you don't know. And that's when you have to let go and let God, and trust that the work that we do is beyond us," Gunning said. "It's so humbling because, ultimately, each person has free will, and I can't control the ultimate decision someone makes. I just have to give it to God."
Monbouquette said they are like "a bridge over troubled water" for their clients.
"You can't see what God's ultimate plan is for these souls. But I'm happy for them in the moment," she said.
Monbouquette said they receive "a lot of good feedback," and that current clients recommend Pregnancy Help to their friends. Some former clients even offer donations, wanting others to receive the kind of support they had.
What brings joy to the Pregnancy Help staff is when former clients reach out, sometimes years later, to let them know what a difference the ministry made for them and their children.
"Sometimes you just don't know in the moment how much you're helping somebody," Monbouquette said.
Some former clients send pictures of their babies and want the staff to meet them.
"Those kinds of things make me feel rewarded," Green said.
She said her greatest joy is "being able to bring them hope that there is help, (that) they're not alone."
In the months before and after the Dobbs v. Jackson decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade, pregnancy resource centers across the country were threatened or vandalized. But this legal and political shift did not seem to be on the radar of the women who come to Pregnancy Help, many of whom are poor or immigrated from other countries.
"It's very interesting that most of our clients were kind of unaware of Roe v. Wade or what was going on with that. I think each is in their own situation and trying to navigate that," Gunning said.
Even politicians and civic leaders have excoriated pregnancy resource centers, accusing them of preying on vulnerable women and using deceptive tactics to talk them out of abortion.
But the opposite is true of Pregnancy Help. When women call them seeking an abortion, the staff are honest from the beginning about the fact that they do not provide or refer for abortions. This information is also on every page of their website.
"I wish the lies would stop about what we are, and I wish people understood what we truly do here. The help that we provide the women is tremendous," Monbouquette said.
Gunning said that often, the women do not truly want to abort, but think they must because of circumstances in their lives, such as being jobless or homeless. Without those circumstances, many would want to keep their babies.
"If we're able to help them through that temporary life circumstance, it makes all the difference in the world. Usually, that is providing the emotional support and connecting them with the resources they need," Gunning said.
She said it is "a beautiful thing" when an abortion-minded woman calls and is open to considering "the life-affirming choice." She clarified that it is not a matter of being convinced, but of listening to her heart.
"When they come on as a client and then deliver the baby and are sending us pictures of the baby and wanting us to meet the baby afterwards, it's really a beautiful thing that would be impossible without this ministry of the Church," Gunning said.
Information about Pregnancy Help is available on their website, pregnancyhelpboston.sites.bostoncatholic.org.