Motherhood is often described as a “miracle” and a “blessing.” However, for many women living in poverty, suffering in abusive relationships and enduring difficult pregnancies, the gift of life seems more like a burden than a blessing.
Chaya Katzin, social worker and clinical director at the Israeli nonprofit organization Just One Life, provides support for pregnant women in such crises, often turning their burdens into blessings.
Following are the true stories of three to-be mothers who, through the support of Just One Life, rose to the great challenges of motherhood and found empowerment in many facets of their lives.
Sara’s family moved to Israel in the late 90s from Ethiopia. Coming from poverty in Ethiopia only to experience continued financial struggle in their new homeland, Sara’s family was already under economic stress when she found out she was pregnant during her mandatory army service in the Israel Defense Forces.
Sara, the oldest child in her family, had always been a caretaker, helping her immigrant family navigate a new language and bureaucracy. “She was the support system in her family,”Katzin told Breaking Israel News.
Suddenly in an unexpected situation, overwhelmed, and without the finances, resources, or support she needed, Sara considered abortion. Without any income after being released from the army, Sara’s family was also unable to support her and her baby financially.
After discussing all of her options with social workers, Sara decided to create a life plan for herself and keep her baby. “Even in difficult situations, most of our clients want to follow through with their pregnancies and keep their babies,” said Katzin.
“So we were there for her emotionally and helped her find other organizations that help single moms get an education,” continued Katzin. “She came in for financial planning and therapy every week and referred her to a program for single moms to get support.”
Through this program, Sara worked towards the educational certification that she needed to become a medical secretary in a government-mandated HMO.
“This was a big step up for her,” maintained Katzin.
Once negative, bitter and frustrated, Sara left appreciative. “She told us that she was unsure if she would have made it without our help. Now, she has a good job and we still have a picture of her baby in our office.”
Just as Dina entered her third trimester of pregnancy, her partner, a sports instructor, suddenly died. “He had epilepsy and died in his sleep while she was next to him,” explained Katzin. “He was also under 30 and they had planned to raise the child together, leaving our client in a shocking, difficult and unpredictable situation.”
According to Katzin, Dina was a particularly memorable client because there were no health issues, abuse or cycle of poverty. “It could have happened to anyone,” said Katzin. “That’s what was so scary and made the client so vulnerable.”
As Dina grieved her partner’s death, she felt guilty crying because she did not want to affect the baby, Katzin explained.
“She needed support and so she came to us,” said Katzin. “We worked with her to find her strengths, take care of herself and empowered her to be a great mom while dealing with stressful situations.”
Today, Katzin reported, Dina still has challenges but “she has found ways to cope, able to mother a child in a much stronger place while giving place for her grief – a tremendous accomplishment”
Four years ago, Ira immigrated to Israel from Russia with her husband. Ira had recently lost her mother to cancer and decided to become the full-time caretaker of her blind grandmother in her already small apartment with her husband and their two kids.
“She was already experiencing challenges – learning a new language, grieving her mother’s death, trying to get a teachers degree and feeling tension with her husband after taking in her grandmother,” said Katzin. “When she found out she was pregnant, she felt like falling apart.”
Katzin and Ira discussed abortion and adoption, but Ira decided to keep her baby and went in for weekly sessions to navigate the difficult financial and emotional situation.
“We provided financial assistance to her, giving her a monthly income and inviting her to parenting workshops, mind-body workshops for exercise, mindfulness, breathing and coping with stressful situations,” said Katzin.
“We taught her relaxation techniques with guided imagery and used cognitive behavioral therapy to challenge thoughts and behaviors that were unhelpful.”
Before Ira gave birth, she finished her teaching degree. “She’s a real fighter with a strong will to succeed,” said Katzin. “She had our support throughout the process, but I give her all the credit.”
Katzin, reflecting on her work, maintained, “Having Just One Life there for women during difficult times is like having a walking cane – without it, one might be able to walk, but it is much easier to do so with it than without it,” Katzin explained.
“Just like that, in a small way, we are able to make a big impact on a family. That is what gives me motivation to do this work.”
Written in coordination with Just One Life.