Being open to life is a tenet of Catholic belief and we can all do our part to help nurture it in our own communities.
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When we hear the phrase “openness to life,” many people think of a couple being open to getting pregnant. But openness to life means so much more.
“Openness to life is a way of life,” says Catholic writer Emily Stimpson Chapman. “It’s always welcoming the other, saying yes to the other, and inviting others into our home.”
As author of The Catholic Table and consummate hostess, Chapman has decades of experience in hospitality and a new reason to share her hard-earned wisdom with the rest of us. Chapman just released a new book designed to make hosting guests a breeze. Around the Catholic Table: 77 Recipes for Easy Hospitality and Everyday Dinners is a cookbook “dedicated to cultivating a spirit of Christian hospitality in every heart,” which includes essays on food and hosting as well as beautiful photos.
While the cookbook helps readers cultivate the under-appreciated virtue of hospitality, Chapman’s purpose in publishing it is also to make it possible to open her home to adopting another child. To that end, she is not selling her cookbook, but giving away a free copy to everyone who donates to her adoption fundraiser.
Adoption is not always the first thing people think of when “openness to life” comes up, but it’s a real and critical aspect of it. Chapman says, “We’re asking people to help us open our home and our life. We’re being open to life through adoption. And this cookbook is a way for you to be open to life too.”
Chapman and her husband have one young son through adoption. “Both of us always dreamed of a large family,” she says, but as she and her husband were in their 40s when they married, conceiving proved difficult.
“After 18 months of trying and failing to conceive (and Emily undergoing two surgeries to address possible causes of our infertility), we started praying about adoption,” her website explains. Their son was born in July 2018.
Adoption fundraisers can be controversial, and Chapman acknowledges this reality. “People can get a little tired of fundraisers, and with adoption in particular, it can be controversial because of the danger of commodification of the child.”
Yet the exorbitant expenses for even standard adoptions puts this way of growing a family financially out-of-reach for the average couple.
“People don’t understand how expensive adoption is,” Chapman says. “I think it can be rooted in a misunderstanding of the costs and profits of adoption, and the obligation as a Christian community to give homes to these children who need them.”
This last point, that a Christian community should support families hoping to adopt, is a crucial missing piece of the puzzle. Adoption costs, on average, $43,000. If you stop to think about it, it’s unfair that many couples can have a child at a lower cost, while other couples must pay tens of thousands of dollars—and that’s before all the expenses of raising the baby. It also comes back to openness to life: Supporting an adoptive couple is a profound way to put that Catholic belief into practice.
There do exist companies that offer financial assistance to couples hoping to adopt, but virtually none of them are Catholic. This is a gap in the adoption world that frustrates another mother through adoption, Clare Gephart.
“With the average domestic infant adoption costing over $43,000, it is unreachable for the average couple without some financial assistance,” Gephart says. “I created a master spreadsheet with over 100 different nonprofit organizations who offer adoption grants, fundraising opportunities or covenant loans for hopeful adoptive families. There was not a single Catholic organization on that list.”
Some of the reasons for this lack of Catholic support, Gephart says, may be that Catholics assumed Catholic Charities and other Catholic organizations were offering low cost options for families. “However, due to conflicting legislation, many Catholic adoption agencies have shut down or are no longer offering adoptions … [and] Individuals and organizations with a Catholic faith base never stepped up to take over … The hopeful Catholic adoptive families are not being supported in the same way as I feel they should be and I see a huge hole in the market.”
Gephart and her husband ended up applying for 15 Christian grants, fundraisers, and covenant loans, and were awarded 8 of them. That assistance was life-changing for them and for their precious little daughters: “Had it not been for that financial support, we could not have pursued our second adoption,” she says.
When it comes to the role of the community in supporting adoption, Gephart encourages Christians to support not only the adoptive parents but the birth parents and the children being placed for adoption:
“The Christian community needs to not only rally around the adoptive families, but also the adoptees, the expectant mothers and fathers in the middle of making an adoption plan, and the birth mothers and fathers who have already placed their children in loving adoptive homes … If the hopeful adoptive couples have done their homework and are focused on pursuing an ethical adoption, it is imperative that the community offers up prayers and support for every member of the adoption triad.”
When Gephart shares her adoption story with her one-year-old daughter, the juxtaposition of joy in a new baby with serious financial stress gives a glimpse into the reality of adoption. “We had big plans to do many different fundraisers, apply for grants, cash out 401ks, home equity loans … Whatever it took to be able to afford the adoption,” she says. But they didn’t expect how quickly an expectant mother making an adoption plan would choose them. Gephart and her husband have just welcomed their second daughter, who was born in mid-February. They are still putting together funds to pay off both adoptions.
Whether through baby showers, developing grant programs for couples, donating, or (most importantly!) our prayers, it’s important for Christians to come together in support of adoptive families. Openness to life is a tenet of Catholic belief, and as it comes in many different forms, we can all do our part to help nurture it in our own communities.
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