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Home for life

"Home for life" Continued...

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

Mercy House can accommodate four women in crisis pregnancy, but right now three call the place home, along with another permanent resident-a dog named Annie. Annie's paws click across the kitchen floor to greet 15-year-old Belinda, who smiles shyly, lugging books from her alternative high school.

"I cried when I came because I missed my family," she said later. "I thought it would be a big house of nuns slapping us with rulers. But it's just like a home." Belinda's red T-shirt barely reveals her seven-month pregnancy. "[Mercy House is] OK sometimes, but I wish we wouldn't have chores," she grins. "We get in big trouble if we don't get them done, even when I'm tired from school." Belinda plans to get her master's in psychology and to become a high-school counselor. She is the only Mercy Home resident choosing adoption. "It's not that I want to give my child away," she argues earnestly. "I do want to have a kid, but I'm only 15. What am I going to do? I can't even drive yet." Where would Belinda be without Mercy House? "Probably with some guy dropping out of school, halfway on the streets," she shrugs.

Susan Hulet, a midwife who founded Mercy House nearly three years ago, believes in small maternity homes. "A home setting with house parents and a small [number] of girls gives a modeling of a normal home and family. Girls have close interpersonal relationships with house parents. They do chores, go to the grocery store, prepare meals, and conduct family devotions every evening."

Door of Hope Church donated the facility for Mercy House, and the home runs on $50,000 annually. Mercy House volunteers throw a baby shower for every mother, and local families "adopt" residents. The home's location is kept confidential, says Ms. Hulet, to guard residents from anyone "irate or abusive who wants to find a girl, usually the boyfriend."

In one of the Mercy House bedrooms, Angela, 22, cradles her 17-day-old son Jonathan while a tape player whispers soft music. "My life was going well, and then the next minute it was falling apart," she said, patting her son's back. After her boyfriend "left me standing," Angela obtained a list of homes from a hospital, but "everyone said, 'You can't come here unless you give your baby up.' I said, 'No, that's not an option.'" A white lacy bassinet sits a few feet from Angela's bed. "Its not like you're here only until you have your baby. They help you get your life back together." Had she considered a larger home? "Uh-uh!" she says emphatically, revealing that she herself grew up in a children's home: "It's like you're a number instead of an individual. I like the family setting."

Back in the Mercy House kitchen, Krystal explains how she wound up in crisis pregnancy twice. After her probation time at Gladney ran out, she says she returned to the only thing she knew: working for escort services and clubs. "I was underage, but they didn't ask any questions." Eventually, Krystal fled back to her parents' home. But at 17, a crisis pregnancy center told her she was going to have another child. "I went into denial for a month," she says. "I got really sick and I ate like a cow. I was showing, and still saying no." When Krystal's parents found out, she feared the worst: "I thought [my mom] would be mad and kill me. But she wanted to help, and didn't know why I didn't tell her. That's when my dad went researching through crisis pregnancy lines. He came home from work one day with Mercy House's number. And here I am."

Krystal smiles over the tile kitchen table where the girls take turns preparing meals. "When I first came here, everyone was together making lunch. Angela was putting dishes away in the dishwasher. I thought it was a show because I was coming. I thought they would change. But they didn't."

Krystal earned her GED at Mercy House and plans to attend the University of Texas in the spring. Like other 18-year-olds, she is considering a career. "Maybe a sonogram technician in a crisis pregnancy center," she muses. "I want to talk to girls who are abortion-minded."

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