Pressured to have an abortion, one mother gives birth and finds profound joy.
Can you tell us a bit about life before Angelo Pio?
Gina: In my former life, I was a journalist. I started at CBS News, worked for the newsmagazine 48 Hours, was a TV reporter for a local news station in West Virginia, a traffic reporter in New York City and in early 2001, I started working for ABC News: World News Tonight as a Desk Assistant. The real starting point, in many ways, was 9/11, because I was sent as part of a large team of people to Ground Zero that day. I was there until early the next morning and really had a sense of "You don’t know what’s going to happen when you wake up the next day." I had always been very driven, but after 9/11, I suddenly felt this urgency that I needed more balance in my life.
What did you do to try to find that balance?
Gina: I decided to take a vacation by myself to Italy. I had always wanted to go to the Vatican and was very drawn to Pope John Paul II. On this trip, I met someone whom I instantly fell for. Although there were a lot of problems in this relationship, it continued on and off for years. When it seemed that things were starting to come together, and we were talking marriage, I became pregnant, and at the time we both were really happy.
What happened during your pregnancy?
Gina: When I was about three months pregnant, I received a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. It was shocking and heartbreaking. I remember not sleeping during those days and when I would sleep, I would wake up to this tidal wave of despair and sadness and fear. It just strangles you. I was getting pressure to end the pregnancy from a number of people —my doctor being one, but my child’s father being the most painful. It is heartbreaking when they are telling you that your baby should not be born especially when you are so vulnerable.
So, you were being pressured to have an abortion. What did you do?
Gina: In the midst of it, with all the pressure, I made an appointment to have an abortion. After I hung up the phone I remember having this intense heaviness inside—almost suffocating; it was just this absolute despair and brokenness. I don’t have the words to describe it any better than that.
What changed your mind?
Gina: The other people in my life definitely stepped it up a notch. One in particular was a wonderful priest, who would not leave me alone. Now I know that there were a lot of people storming heaven for me and my baby. The power of prayer should never ever be underestimated, because in my heart, fear was winning. I was completely broken down. You know those little cartoons with the angel and the devil on someone’s shoulder? It’s really like that. The evil one was whispering in my ear, saying things like: “This can all be over. Once you have the abortion, life can go on. Things will be normal again. You don’t have to deal with this. You can have another baby.” It went over and over like a broken record. A priest suggested that I call the Sisters of Life. I did and talked to a Sister. There was a lot of back and forth for a few weeks—a battle. But then, finally, I finally received a huge grace. I left my boyfriend, and I moved into Sacred Heart of Jesus Convent.
What made you move into Sacred Heart of Jesus Convent?
Gina: I needed to be able to hear God speaking to me… I needed to know: “God, are you really asking me to be a single mom of a child with Down syndrome?” You know, when you live at Sacred Heart, your prayer life does ramp up, whether you want it to or not. And I was wanting that. I distinctly remember when I did make the decision to move into Sacred Heart, I got that feeling you get when you just say “yes” – this lightness and peace… I guess that’s the reward for surrendering, right?
How were you able to accept being a single mom of a child with Down syndrome?
Gina: The Sisters suggested I go on a silent retreat. My first morning there I went to the cafeteria and the staff was cleaning up. At the time, I was still really sensitive about anything related to Down syndrome. I was still coming to terms with it all. So there I was in the cafeteria figuring out what to eat, and I looked up, and who did I see behind the kitchen window? A guy with Down syndrome, mopping the floor! I was like, “Are you kidding me?”
I don’t remember exactly, but I was a little awkward because I was very pregnant, and I dropped my tray… as I leaned down to pick everything up, the young man with Down Syndrome came over to me and put his arm around my shoulders, and just hugged me.