Lily's Gift helps ease family's pain when prenatal diagnosis is grim
Catholic News Service photo
Chantell Reagan touches the hand of her newborn son, Gabriel John, after his birth in 2007. Although he lived only two days, his mother now counsels other families who receive a poor prenatal diagnosis about their unborn child as part of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's Lily's Gift program.
Catholic News Service
PHILADELPHIA — Lily's Gift is a new Philadelphia archdiocesan pastoral initiative named for the flowers of Scripture and an infant who never took her first breath.
It offers support to parents who receive a poor prenatal diagnosis for their unborn child for a variety of conditions, including genetic syndromes, heart problems and spina bifida.
The initiative, launched last fall, is modeled after Be Not Afraid, a private nonprofit corporation that supports families who receive such a diagnosis about their unborn child's condition and trains local organizations to offer the same support.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia's Office for Persons with Disabilities, Office for Life and Family and Catholic Social Services are partners in Lily's Gift. The website is www.lilysgift.org.
The ministry offers a free service focusing on meeting the needs of expectant parents who have received a poor prenatal diagnosis by connecting them with trained volunteer peer ministers and professionals. They provide care with birth plans, referrals to community support systems, compassionate guidance through anticipated grief, neonatal and stillbirth care, and medical decision-making.
"I have been so inspired by the loving response of our Lily's Gift volunteer peers," said Sister Kathleen Schipani, a Sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who is director of the archdiocesan Office for Persons with Disabilities.
"As they related to me their stories and the desires in their hearts to help others who have similar experiences, I realize what a profoundly sacred endeavor this is," she added. "For the families we have served already, the presence of a peer for support and the knowledge that there are many people praying for them gives them a great deal of comfort."
Lily's Gift has 23 volunteers including 20 trained peers -- parents taught through the Be Not Afraid program who themselves have been through a poor diagnosis for their unborn child.
Kate and Gaetano Chetta learned of the new initiative from their parish bulletin the same week they received the news their 22-week-old unborn daughter had serious health complications.
At that time, the initiative did not have a title. It was later named for their daughter, since they were one of the first families helped.
Members of Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Trooper, the couple was encouraged by the leader of Visitation's respect life group to call Sister Schipani, who reached out to them immediately.
"Sister Kathleen spent hours talking with us, praying with us at the hospital; she helped us think about how to memorialize Lily Anna; she gave us a medal for Lily; she took her time and was very thoughtful," Kate Chetta recalled in an interview with CatholicPhilly.com, the archdiocesan online news site.
A professional photography nonprofit group called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep also took free remembrance portraits for the family, in accord with its mission.
"The best thing we got out of Sister Kathleen's ministry was knowing that someone was praying for our daughter and us," added Gaetano.
Lily was stillborn at 26 weeks in April 2013. About a month later, Sister Schipani contacted the Chettas and asked them to pray about using Lily's name for the new initiative. They put it off until Kate's due date that August when someone gave her the Bible verse: "Consider the lilies of the field."
"We shouldn't have any anxiety in our lives because God is with us," Kate said. "That gave us so much comfort. In some ways it's hard because there's a lot of reminders of sadness, but we find a lot of joy in memorializing our daughter. As a mom, one of my biggest fears is people forgetting her. It's amazing that a 26-week-old baby could have such an impact."
The couple were saddened by advice they received from a doctor at the Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania who said if he were in their situation, he would abort.
"Think of what we would have missed: that love, sanctity and honoring the beauty and purpose of her life," Kate Chetta said. "We hope and pray that Lily's Gift reaches parents and gives them the support it gave us."
The Chettas have a 2-year-old daughter, Sophia, and the couple is expecting another child.
"The fight for life hasn't been so important as it is now," Gaetano added. "We've become the support in an organization that all life should be honored."
Another couple helped by Lily's Gift is Chantell Reagan and her husband, members of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Springfield.
The couple's oldest son, Zachary, is now 9. Seven years ago, doctors said the second son they were expecting had anencephaly, a fatal defect where the head covering isn't developed and the brain is exposed. The ultrasound technician suggested abortion. Chantell was 20 weeks pregnant.
"There was a lot of pressure, so I scheduled the DNC (abortion) procedure," Chantell Reagan said. "I felt rushed. I'm Catholic, but you can't even think in that situation. I didn't want to make a bad decision, but I couldn't process within a 24-hour timeframe."
She reached out to her parents and priests. All advised her she didn't need to make a decision in a day. That gave her time to build courage and proceed with the pregnancy, she said.
Gabriel John was delivered via cesarean section to give him a better chance at life. He lived for two days, which is rare. The family was able to bathe and change him, and Zachary held his little brother.
Since then, the Reagans' conceived another son, Patrick, now 5.
Chantell volunteers with Lily's Gift as a peer minister helping couples coping with a grim diagnosis for their unborn child.
"Having gone through this horrible, lonely thing that happens, you want to help, to be of any kind of service, to listen, ask questions. That's a really important resource -- what else can I do with this but help other people?" she said.