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Home for life

"Home for life" Continued...

Issue: "Bush's tax-cut plan," March 10, 2001

This fall, Gladney will move across town to a new 11-acre, $14 million campus-a far cry from its humble beginnings as the last stop for the "orphan trains" of the late 1800s. The trains hauled orphans and abandoned children across America, stopping in towns along the rails to "put up" the children for adoption. Midwest farmers and ranchers usually chose the strong, healthy children, those who seemed fit to plant, harvest, or tend livestock. When the trains pulled in for their final stop in Fort Worth, Gladney took in the "leftovers." Today the home is the largest, most comprehensive maternity complex in the United States.

Sixteen-year-old Nikki loves Gladney's on-site, self-paced school. "I sleep till 8:15 a.m., grab breakfast, and they tell me to go to bed if I feel bad. You wouldn't find that in a regular school." Seven months ago, the former varsity cheerleader was shocked when a pregnancy test she took popped positive. "I began throwing up, but I still went to cheerleading camp," she smiles, sitting cross-legged on a business chair in Gladney's plush conference room. "When I got home, I still didn't have a period ... after two more positive tests, I was like, 'Ahhhh!'"

When Nikki broke the news, her mother told her to stop joking. "It was horrible. I cried for a week." And so the daughter of a banker left home to save face for her prominent family. "My parents never said, 'Go!'" she says. "But people shouldn't have to look at me, and then at my parents, and ask 'Why?' I think [my parents] feel more comfortable with me here, though they would never say that."

Nikki first visited a smaller home. Such homes, mostly faith-based and housing four to six residents, make up over three-fourths of all maternity homes in the United States. Some large homes that were arms of social service organizations such as Catholic Social Services, the Baptist Church, or the Salvation Army, closed up years ago as abortion took hold. Others found that more unwed mothers want convenience, lots of options, and homes close to their communities.

With unwed pregnancy less stigmatized, "there is no longer an incentive for girls to go away to a home in another state to keep the pregnancy confidential and place the baby for adoption," notes Peggy Hartshorn, president of Heartbeat International. "Women can find local, small homes in their own communities." Loving and Caring's Anne Pierson said larger homes have withered because "women don't like an institutionalized setting, and prefer a smaller, home family setting."

That's why Krystal, 18, chose Mercy House, a modest, white house set among shady oaks off a one-way street in Arlington, Texas, for her second pregnancy. Krystal, a tall, beautiful brunette, is now the proud mother of 10-week-old Marcus. At 13, she ran away from home and wound up in Dallas, stripping at a club and working for pimps. She became pregnant at 15 and lived at Gladney, where she placed her daughter for adoption. Krystal didn't care for the large-home setting: "It was like a college dorm, except worse. There were over 30 girls in our dorm and no age limit." But Krystal's main objection to Gladney was that she felt pressure to place her daughter for adoption, rather than parent.

Gladney only houses adoption-minded residents, and if a girl decides during her stay to parent, Gladney helps her find another home. "We are set up to be an adoption agency," explains Gladney representative Paige McCoy Smith. "We are not interested in abandoning her if she chooses to parent. But our primary objective is to facilitate adoption for women, and we want to be able to keep our services available for women making this choice."

Still, at Gladney Krystal felt "institutionalized," a feeling she doesn't get from Bev and Jack Strang, the senior couple that runs Mercy House. "They don't treat you like an institution," Krystal says. "You're not a patient, but a regular person that needs help.... It's like living with my grandparents, except that you're all pregnant at the same time!"

Mrs. Strang, 63, floats across the carpeted living room, following a baby's wail. "Somebody's not haaap-py," she sings. Jack Strang, 65, reclines in a La-Z-Boy with white-socked feet hiked up on the footrest. "It's important [for the girls] to have a father and mother figure," he says, hands folded comfortably across his striped shirt. "We provide them with parental guidance, tell them to put things away when they're done, advise them, encourage them, and," he adds, grinning, "irritate them at times."

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