Abortion felt like an excuse to avoid helping us. Thankfully, we found another option.
We hear all the time that women need abortions to survive difficult circumstances – but we needed and wanted to choose life. We both found ourselves pregnant and in situations that appeared hopeless. But our experience with maternity homes in the United States gave our families a chance.
I, Mikaela, was living with my parents in northern Virginia when I started college in 2020. I had a bright future ahead of me but, at 18 years old, I discovered I was pregnant. When I told my parents, they were shocked – and not in a good way.
My dad suffered greatly from depression and insomnia in the months afterward, and my mom started having chronic migraines. My father was angry with me at first and wanted me to have an abortion. He would no longer allow me to live at home. My mother didn’t agree with him and wanted to help me, but didn’t have the resources on her own.
Mikaela: I needed that first act of help
I had nowhere to turn. My boyfriend wouldn't let me move in with him unless I agreed to an abortion. So I went to an abortion clinic but felt conflicted about it. My mother understood my doubts and found one of the maternity home programs across the country that support women facing pregnancy in difficult circumstances.
Opinions in your inbox: Get a digest of our takes on current events every day
I was nine weeks pregnant when I reached Mary's Shelter in Virginia that September, and was able to live there until and after the birth of my baby.
The home I lived in operates out of a community of houses and actually allows women to stay for up to three years while they further their education or seek a career. I learned so much there that prepared me for my daughter’s arrival and life in general, including basic cleaning, courtesy toward others and budgeting wisely. I pursued counseling for myself as well. Everyone at Mary’s Shelter was incredibly supportive and one staff member in particular became almost a second mother to me.
Today, I'm grateful to say I have reconciled with my father who adores his granddaughter. And the baby’s father is supportive and he loves his daughter. I love being a mom and I am attending college, with the goal of becoming a history teacher after graduation.
Lila Rose: Science proves Roe v. Wade wrong. Humanity doesn't start at 20 weeks
Shawnte: Stability despite fits, starts
I, Shawnte, first arrived at the same maternity home in 2014. I had two children, we were homeless, and I was three months pregnant. My unborn child’s father was initially excited, but things soon changed. He asked me to have an abortion and then abandoned us altogether. I didn't know how I was going to afford another child. So I moved in with my mother, who scheduled an appointment for me to have an abortion.
A health care worker told me about maternity homes. I stayed at Mary's Shelter with my children until 2015 and was encouraged to learn and grow. So I studied to obtain my commercial driver’s license. I never got the chance to work as a CDL driver because the only opportunities at the time were out of state, but I landed a job with a truck company working in dispatch and billing. I was grateful to have a clean and safe place for my children to live.
Of course life was still difficult. As the years passed I fell into difficult circumstances several times because of abusive relationships, subsequent lack of employment and different things life threw at me – but my maternity home was always there whenever I needed help.
In 2016, I studied for and became a certified nursing assistant. Eventually I moved back to Washington, D.C., and started work counseling people who have experienced trauma. Quickly I got my peer recovery coaching license to help them as well as those dealing with drug addiction. Today I am a member of The Living Water Church in Washington, D.C., where I work in ministry and attend Bible college to obtain my degree in theology.
My children are my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The gift of a truly free decision
While many of our friends and loved ones told us abortion was the answer, it turned out we just needed support to make a truly free decision. We said yes to hope.
Instead of judging us for keeping our babies, we were given resources to thrive. There are an estimated 300 to 400 maternity housing programs in the United States. From providing us with food and lodging as well as counseling, parenting classes, and access to educational resources – support was there when we felt lost and overwhelmed.
USA TODAY's Suzette Hackney: Should race be an issue in the abortion debate? Anti-abortion activists are making it one.
Abortion was used as an excuse to avoid helping us, but choosing life and getting connected to support set us on a positive trajectory that otherwise wouldn’t have existed. Every life is valuable – including our lives, and our babies' lives. No woman should be pressured into ending a pregnancy.
Giving our babies life was difficult, but they make us better and give us the strength to persevere through adversity even when we feel like giving up. In our experience, the pro-life movement is about so much more than ending abortion; it is about supporting and caring for women society would rather reject.
Women should know that abortion isn't their only option, and that there are resources out there to support them. Our stories are evidence that choosing life not only saved our babies, choosing life saved us.
Mikaela Kook is a student at George Mason University in northern Virginia.
Shawnte Mallory works in ministry at The Living Water Church in Washington, D.C. and attends Bible college where she studies theology.
You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Alternatives to abortion: Consider maternity home programs