Comments by Chaunie Brusie at Feminists for Life's Capitol Hill Briefing
July 30, 2009
The briefing was moderated by FFL President, Serrin M. Foster. Other speakers included Cayce Utley, author of FFL's "Perception is Reality” report, and student leader Caitlin Devine from Georgetown University.
Two years ago, I was just like many of you. I was a college student enjoying an exciting internship and looking forward to starting my senior year. During my internship with Feminists for Life, I worked on the College Outreach Program, which works on developing resources for pregnant and parenting students. After my internship, I returned to my college in Michigan, dreaming of an easy year, filled with friends and a few drinks, wedding planning, and searching for the job of my dreams.
And then, one night at the beginning of the semester, I took a home pregnancy test and found myself starting at two tiny blue lines: Two seemingly insignificant lines that represented the most significant change in my life.
That moment was absolutely terrifying - I was not thinking of the new life inside of me, but the end of my own life as I knew it. In that instant, this pro-life activist understood how women can turn to abortion. I understood believing that I was too young, too poor, or that a baby would interrupt - or even destroy - my education and life plans. I thought how nice it would be for there really to be a quick fix to all of this, a simple way to make everything just go back to normal.
I was in shock, and I turned to the first place that I thought of - our campus Health Center. At the health center, I took yet another test and waited for the result. When the nurse-practitioner called me into her office, there was no denying it any longer - I was pregnant. When she began asking me how I would tell my parents, I broke down into tears. I sat in the chair, sobbing uncontrollably while the nurse examined her chart in silence. After a minute or two, she stood up and said "I have other patients to see, you can stay here if you want,” leaving me crying and alone while she walked out to see the only other patient in the center - a young man with a sore throat.
I was devastated. The pregnancy was an overwhelming shock to me, and the first place I had turned to for help, my university, had failed to support me. My struggles continued after my visit to the Health Center. I learned that although my school did offer student insurance, all of the plans specifically excluded maternity coverage. While family housing and daycare had been offered only two years earlier, the university's president had gotten rid of it to make way for the expensive first year housing. Furthermore, financial aid informed me that they could not do anything for me either.
I realized that everything that I had learned at my internship with Feminists for Life was true - the struggles of a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy were no longer a distant theory- They were my struggles. The work that Feminists for Life does in promoting resources for pregnant women and parents suddenly became the most important thing in my life. Now, I not only believed in FFL's mission, I was living it.
With no support from the school available to me, I finally found the courage to call my parents and break the news. Their reaction was unbelievable - they offered me nothing but love, support, and excitement about their new grandchild. My boyfriend, Ben, even while struggling with his own shock over the pregnancy, was also a constant source of love and support. He worked overtime during finals week to help pay my rent, held my hair when I got sick before class, and assured me that yes, my stretch marks were beautiful. The emotional support that I received from my family and Ben empowered me to start looking for the tangible resources I needed for myself and the baby.
I researched available insurance options. Not only did the student insurance plan not include maternity coverage, but I couldn't purchase coverage for a baby either. I was eligible to apply for Medicaid, which is government insurance specifically for mothers and children. I also qualified for the Women, Infants and Children or "WIC” program, which provides food coupons to pregnant women and parents of young children. While I am very thankful that these resources exist, using the resources was not an easy or pleasant experience. One time, at the grocery store, I accidentally grabbed a brand of cereal that was not covered by WIC. Seeing this, the express lane clerk called her coworker over and they publicly reprimanded me, screaming at me "What were you thinking?!" I left the grocery store in tears that day, wondering if it was all worth it.
Does choosing to have your baby while in school really mean you deserve to be publicly humiliated over a box of cereal?
I was able to receive the support I desperately needed from my family and husband, but many women will not be so fortunate. Many women will do what I did first: try to find support through their schools. When they are not able to find those resources and support, they will - more often than not - feel forced to choose between sacrificing their children or sacrificing their education and career plans. Women deserve better. Education shouldn't have to end because a new life begins. Student parents deserve to have support and resources while they are in school to help them succeed.
To ensure pregnant and parenting students can find the support they need, we, both pro-life and pro-choice, need to work together to create resources on our college campuses. Resources like healthcare, adoption support, financial aid, affordable housing, childcare, breastfeeding support, scholarships, counseling, and emotional support show a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy that she is NOT alone and that she can succeed both as a student and as a mother or birthmother.
After experiencing the unplanned pregnancy, and experiencing firsthand the frightening lack of resources and support on my college campus, I formed a club dedicated to promoting pregnant and parenting resources on campus. Our club worked with Feminists for Life to create and support the resources that women like me desperately needed. We were able to establish a website for pregnant and parenting students, connect them to healthcare and financial aid, and provide necessary emotional support in the seemingly lonely world of student parenting.
With the practical resources and support provided by Feminists for Life for me and my club, my dreams really did come true. Although my last year of college was far from easy, it was still filled with friends, many drinks (without the alcohol), the most beautiful wedding I could have ever imagined, and I did land my dream job: as FFL's College Outreach Program Coordinator. And through it all, I earned the title that I am most proud of….mom. Exactly one week after I graduated from college, my husband and I welcomed our beautiful baby girl, Ada Marie, into the world. The journey has not always been easy for us, but we have received the encouragement and help we needed to become parents to a wonderful little girl whose hair is always a mess, who loves to read stories, and who has taught us to love more than we ever thought possible. And now, I'd like to recognize my wonderful husband Ben, who has been with me through it all, and introduce you to our beautiful daughter, Ada.
Ben and I want our daughter to grow up in a world where women are respected no matter what they do - as students, mothers, birthmothers, professionals. A world where no women will feel she has to choose between her child and herself. By working together to promote resources and support for pregnant women and parents, we can all leave a lasting legacy on campus for generations to come. Thank you.
Following Chaunie's story, Cayce presented findings from FFL's groundbreaking report about the perceived lack of resources and support for pregnant and parenting students on college and university campuses. Caitlin discussed the programs and assistance available on Georgetown's campus that arose from the first-ever FFL Pregnancy Resource ForumSM hosted by Georgetown University Right to Life.
Serrin shared FFL's mission and the history of Feminists for Life's flagship College Outreach Program. After presentations by other speakers, Serrin asked for a show of hands on some essential questions.
Does your school have family housing on your campus? About one in six attendees replied yes. Does your school have child care? About a fifth raised their hands.
But when Serrin asked if they had maternity coverage in their student health care, no one raised a hand.
Interns on both sides of the political aisle and abortion debate united in the goal to advocate resources and support.