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November 28, 2011 | Volume 87, Number 2






– Necrology


photo: Christin West, right, and Nita GrignolParents who choose life need ‘Be Not Afraid’

A poor prenatal diagnosis (PPD) changes everything.

The moment expectant parents hear this news, elation over a new baby is capsized into heart wrenching fear, worry and concern. Their situation can feel hopeless, and their options limited.

It is in this space “Be Not Afraid-Richmond,” a new peer support ministry within the Diocese of Richmond, was created. It seeks to offer comfort, referrals and resources for families who have a poor prenatal diagnosis.

A PPD may be the detection of a heart defect, spina bifida, a genetic syndrome condition such as Down Syndrome or other conditions with potentially fatal results for an unborn child.

Parents in this situation are often asked to make decisions based on well meaning, yet one-sided advice.

“They are presented with a ‘language of compassion’ that often can be confusing,” said Christin West, volunteer Ministry Coordinator for BNA-Richmond.

“Many are told their baby’s condition is ‘incompatible with life’ and they are all too often persuaded that the best thing for the family and the unborn child is to have a medically induced labor.”

More than 100,000 expectant couples a year hear the devastating news of a PPD. In the Diocese of Richmond it operates under St. Matthew’s Respect Life Committee in conjunction with the diocesan Office of Persons with Disabilities, whose director is Nita Grignol.

According to statistics in an article on the Americans United for Life website found on the website, 80 percent of PPD pregnancies end in abortion when families are not given enough information on the resources available should they decide to carry to term.

In contrast, when made aware of the comprehensive support available to them, 80 percent of parents choose to take the pregnancy to term.

“The problem has been that up until now parents with a PPD in our diocese really had nowhere to turn for specific information on what it could mean to carry their baby to term,” Christin, a member of St. Matthew Parish in Virginia Beach, told The Catholic Virginian.

Late in 2007 Valerie Jones of Virginia Beach was told at 27 weeks into her pregnancy that her baby girl had Trisomy 18 (T-18) or Edward’s Syndrome, spina bifada, and Encephalocele.

Doctors encouraged her to have an abortion even after she said she could feel the baby moving. In spite of no significant means of support, she gave birth to Bethany on January 22, 2008, the 35th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. Bethany survived a mere 10 minutes, but her life’s legacy continues.

“Covertly, a doctor had given Valerie a few names of women who had carried to term under similar circumstances,” said Christin. “She contacted them and realized the significant influence doctors have on the choices parents make.”

An avid supporter and peer minister of Be Not Afraid, Valerie has become instrumental in the development of the local ministry which began in March of 2010 in Ms.Grignol’s living room. BNA-Charlotte founders Tracy Winsor and Sandy Buck had been invited to stay at the Grignol home on their way to Northern Virginia.

Taking advantage of an opportunity, Ms. Grignol invited several people including three deacons from throughout the Diocese to hear more about the organization.

On Christmas Eve of 2010, Ms. Grignol received a call from a Richmond family who had received news their unborn child had a disability. She immediately contacted Tracy Winsor who was able to instruct and coordinate services for the family who wanted to carry their child to term.

Deacon David Nemetz of Saint Michael Parish in Glen Allen, who had been to the presentation in March, was familiar with the need for support for this family and went to visit them in the hospital.

Deacon Darrell Wentworth from St. Matthew’s in Virginia Beach was also at the presentation and referred Christin West to the ministry.

“My parents had instilled in us from an early age a respect for life: young or old, born or unborn,” Christin said. “Deacon Darrell knew I was finishing my Master’s degree in counseling from Regent University and that I have a keen interest in helping new parents facing these kinds of crises.”

Still in its infancy, BNA-Richmond is modeling itself after BNA-Charlotte and has formed formal partnerships with organizations such as the Crisis Pregnancy Centers of Tidewater and Noah’s Children, a pediatric hospice and palliative care program in Central Virginia.

Two trainings in Richmond and Virginia Beach have been teaching parishioners how to serve as volunteers and/or how to become a peer minister within their church.

Volunteers, who are screened, don’t always have direct contact with parents, but play a role helping prepare gowns, baby blankets and hats, cooking and delivering meals or serving as interpreters or prayer sponsors. Peer ministers, who are also screened, are more specifically trained to share their own experiences of prenatal diagnosis, perinatal loss and/or the parenting of a child with a disability with the parents being served.

Typically a family member, friend or parishioner refers a family to Be Not Afraid. After receiving the parents’ permission, a trained representative contacts the family to assess their needs, and then matches them with a peer minister familiar with their diagnosis.

Peer ministers are then available to walk the family through every step from the pregnancy diagnosis to one full year after the birth of the baby.

“Regardless of the outcome, peer ministers are there to support the family whether the baby lives 10 minutes, 10 hours, 10 days or longer,” Christin said.

For more information, visit the Richmond Diocese website, or contact Christin West, volunteer Ministry Coordinator of Be Not Afraid, in Virginia Beach, at or 757-749-0990.

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