.- The year was 1969, three years before abortion became legal in America.
A 20-year-old from rural Iowa fled her rocky upbringing, looking for a fresh start in a big city.
She landed in New York. A great job and a sprawling metropolis bursting with culture invigorated her.
Looking for a carefree life to erase the troubles and scars of her childhood, she immersed herself in the arts and entertainment of the city that never sleeps.
And, not long into her new adventure, she found love. Defying her Catholic formation, she moved in with her new boyfriend. Very soon, his controlling behavior made the apartment feel more like a prison.
Then, she became pregnant. Her boyfriend’s simple directive to “get rid of it” brought them both to a local abortion clinic. Though still illegal, it was not hard to find a place to terminate her pregnancy.
She cried during the procedure, which took place in January 1972. She went home, stuffed her emotions, and lived under the harsh rule of her boyfriend, who refused to let her talk about it.
Just nine months later, she got pregnant again. So, she made a second trip to the clinic, thus having two abortions before the landmark Supreme Court decision of Roe vs. Wade in January 1973.
She tried to forget about the pain, the trauma. Nothing worked — not the alcohol, not her many travels, not her boyfriend’s command of silence on the issue.
Eventually, the anguish drove her to walk out of a bar, cross a parking lot and step to the edge of a nearby freeway, which she intended to dart into and end her life. The boyfriend, chasing her out of the bar, grabbed her and pulled her back just in time.
Today, her two aborted children have names — Daniel Anthony and Esther Maurine. And, the woman, Jeanette Meyer, 63, now works to help other women facing unplanned pregnancies avoid the mistakes that she made.
Or, if they made that mistake, she tries to help them find healing.
Like she did.
That came in 2005, when a friend urged her to go to a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat. More than three decades of regret and agony roared to the surface of her soul like the snowstorm that raged outside the building at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota where 20 post-abortive women stayed for the January retreat.
“We had a memorial service for our babies,” said Meyer, a member of Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville. “You sign a certificate of life. They also give you little dolls about six or eight inches long — no faces, but they’re wrapped in a blanket and they’re very soft. I took them and I slept with them that night. It was like I was acknowledging that they were my children, Esther and Daniel, and I could hold them.
“There was a blizzard outside. Everyone talked about the windows shaking in the storm. I heard nothing. It was the best night’s sleep I’d had, I’m sure, in over 30 years.”
The tears of healing shed that weekend return when Meyer tells her story, which she eagerly does to any young, scared pregnant woman who asks. She never forces it on anyone, but weaves it into the loving conversations she has with women she sees at Pregnancy Choices in Apple Valley, Minn. where she has served as executive director since 2010.
It’s all part of her mission to be what she calls a “person of mercy.”
“When I come to work here and I know someone who has aborted (a child) . . . I feel pain and regret,” she said. “And, it’s not regret like shame. . . . It’s deeper and it takes me closer to the cross. And, that’s what I’ve come to see. I never knew that I’d be working in this abortion realm, trying to save the lives of the mothers as well as the babies. Coming in touch with the pain takes me closer to Him. It’s only in that wound that I really know who he is.
“He gives me incredible graces. Sometimes, when I’m working in the kitchen, I hear him — in that inaudible voice — say, ‘I love you. You’re mine.’ So, I’m OK now being with the pain. I tried to run from it most of my life, but now I’m OK being with it because if I just allow it, it deepens my relationship with the Lord.”
Offering a listening ear
Yet, as much as the Holy Spirit compels her to work in this intense ministry where the success stories are often never known, she has to, at all times, restrain her desire to pull women away from the deeply hurtful choice of abortion. She knows the pain it can cause, but must never, ever give even the slightest hint of trying to control the pregnant woman’s behavior — like her boyfriend in 1972 tried to control hers.
“When people come in here, I’d like to just give them a hug and say, ‘Honey, don’t do that (have an abortion). But, I can’t,” she said. “The most important gift God gave us is free will. And, if you don’t honor that, if you don’t talk about it, then somebody with a bigger voice over here is going to say, ‘Oh no, you’ve got to do this.’ I want them to have a voice. I want them to know about options.”
As riveting as her story is, perhaps the most important thing she does is listen. The message she wants to send to the women is that they are not alone, and she and the staff at her clinic believe the best way to do that is with their ears and not their tongues.
Another effective tool is simply time. Though staffers and volunteers can have as few as five minutes with a pregnant woman, their goal is to slow down her thought and decision-making process. They want her to take the time to think through her decision and her options.
In other words, they want her to have a real choice, something Meyer never had in 1972.
Fortunately, she did have enough of a conscience left after the two abortions to consult a priest she had met while living in Nebraska, Father Thomas Halley. She went to him for confession within a year, and that began a chain of events that brought her back to Iowa in 1974 and her mother, Maurine Pickerill, now 84.
It was a bittersweet reunion. On the one hand, her mother welcomed her and took her back under her roof. On the other hand, it rekindled the emptiness of being abandoned by her father when she was five.
The poor way he treated his wife and four children (Jeanette was the oldest) was bad, but the emptiness of his abandoning them may have been worse. Added to that was the instability, with the family moving nine times during Jeanette’s childhood.
But, Jeanette’s sadness upon arriving back home was short-lived. After going to a charismatic prayer meeting in Omaha during her visit with Father Halley, she started going to meetings in Iowa and ended up back together with her high school sweetheart, Tim Meyer.
They dated for a while, then Tim broke it off. In the meantime, she got to know his younger brother Marty. They shared a love for music and playing the guitar, which they did at many a prayer meeting.
The friendship turned to love, and they married in 1975. Within a few years, they moved to the Twin Cities to join a charismatic community, and Jeanette ended up bearing five children, who range in age from 23 to 35. One of them, David, lived for just one day outside the womb.
In fact, he was instrumental in his mother’s move to Pregnancy Choices. It was during a visit to his gravesite in 2010 that she saw something that triggered a desire to help other women.
Embarking on a ministry
She was at Resurrection Cemetery in Mendota in the area reserved for deceased children. Looking away from his grave for a moment, a plaque nearby caught her attention. She had seen it before, but this time the words on it sank in.
“Just about 12 feet away was a plaque where someone gathered 13 unborn babies that were aborted at the Highland Planned Parenthood,” she said. “And, they made a grave for them there. And, it says on the plaque, ‘13 unborn babies. Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ . . . I started crying . . . and I looked up and it just overwhelmed me.”
After hiring a Catholic life coach to help her sort out her career and vocation options, she felt like God wanted her to do ministry with abortion-vulnerable and post-abortive women.
At the same time that discernment process was happening, the executive director of Pregnancy Choices at that time, Jeri Bartek, was experiencing health issues that led her to a decision to step down from her full-time work at the center. The search for her replacement began, and Meyer became one of the three finalists.
“I asked not to be part of the interviewing process, but when I saw that she was in the pool, I started praying that she’d get the job,” said Bartek, who has known Meyer since 1978. “She just has a gentle presence here. She has a bigger vision than I did. She wants to coach clients’ lives beyond pregnancy. And, I think that’s kind of cool. We have to be for the good of these women who are under-equipped.
“I think Jeanette would say we try to leave God’s fingerprint on each of our clients. It’s not our job to evangelize them, but it is our job to love them with truth and gentle presence. They often will say, ‘I just feel good after I’ve been here.’”
Need for love
No doubt, Meyer feels just as good about spending time with these women — women who remind her of the story of the woman caught in adultery from the Gospel (John 8:2-11).
This is a Scripture story that helped her understand how God feels about women who make big mistakes, and who simply seek mercy and compassion from the One who now holds their babies in his arms.
“The first thing they need is love,” Meyer said. “By loving and accepting them, we enter the wounds of Christ, as holy mothers, to greet the potential in each person, mother and child. For many (of the clients), it is an awakening to view their past lives and abortions with hope rather than despair.”
To make sure she stays true to her mission, Meyer has posted a quote from Blessed Mother Teresa on the wall above her desk. It is a simple reminder of what really matters in all Gospel-related endeavors:
“We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”
Posted with permission from The Catholic Spirit, official publication of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.