By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Three young women sit in the living room, Morgan on the floor tickling her baby boy, Cristen rocks her baby in a rocking chair, and Jennifer sits quietly on the couch, hands unconsciously protecting her unborn baby. All wear broad smiles.
Along with the couch, rocking chair and several other pieces of furniture are a playpen, a convertible crib, both filled with toys, and in the small dining room off the living room, a high chair. A wooden crucifix holds pride of place in each room; several pictures of saints adorn the walls and a statue of the Blessed Mother stands on a corner table, safely out of the reach of baby hands.
There is a sense of peace and a whole lotta love in the room. This is Nativity House, the only maternity home for adult women, ages 18 and older, in the Kansas City area.
A tall woman enters the room, smiling, reaching out to stroke a baby’s head or cheek and hug his mom to her. Barbara Belcher, executive director of Nativity House makes the visitor welcome just by her presence. She exudes warmth and kindness.
The house, small but with 4 bedrooms, sits on a quiet street near Christ the King Church and school. The large statue of Christ the King in front of the church seems to be gazing right at Nativity House and watching over it and its residents. Belcher feels that way, also.
Retiring a few years ago after more than 20 years as an R.N., and 23 years as a lobbyist for Merck Pharmaceuticals, advocating for the poor within the purview of the firm, she opened Nativity House in 2014.
Young and not so young, unwed, pregnant women came knocking and calling, begging for help.
“The need is so great,” Belcher said. “Most maternity homes in the area are for teenaged moms. We are the only maternity home in the KC area for adult unwed mothers and their babies, but we only have four bedrooms. We had to turn away more than 50 women in our first year. We need a Nativity Village!”
Morgan, 26 or nearly so, was homeless and pregnant. She stayed with friends or in shelters like the City Union Mission and worked until her due date. She contacted Nativity House that day, and arrived a few days later. Fortunately, Richard Isaiah was born five days after she came to Nativity House. He is almost 11 months old, trying to walk, very curious, and enjoys toys that make noises. His big brown eyes and soft skin make him a delight to cuddle, and Belcher, Cristen and Jennifer all take a few minutes to do just that before giving him back to Morgan. His eyes a little droopy, Morgan and Belcher settle the baby for a nap in the portable crib.
“My grandfather was named Richard, and that was also my dad’s middle name,” Morgan said. “I was 12 when my dad died. I felt he was with me when I gave birth to Richard.” If she hadn’t found Nativity House, she would have had to place the baby for adoption. As it is, Morgan and Richard have been able to stay at Nativity House for the first year of his life.
Cristen came to Nativity House when she was six months pregnant. As she was 21, Cristen would have been eligible for shelter and assistance from Light House in Kansas City Mo., if they had had room. They did not, but they referred her to Nativity House. Carter, now about 4 months old, will be baptized Oct. 12. Cristen recalled that Belcher helped her get a doctor and insurance.
Jennifer’s family was unsympathetic and unsupportive, and the girl, who suffers from a type of mental illness, was desperate. She learned about Nativity House from the institution where she was living, and as quickly as she could, knocked on the door. She was just 21. She hasn’t decided whether to keep her baby or place the baby for adoption. Belcher will support her in her decision, whatever it is.
“It was a gift from God, that I got a bed here,” Jennifer said.
Belcher welcomed them all. As Nativity House’s mission statement states, she wants to provide help, hope, healing, shelter and love for young unwed mothers in a faith-based environment, based on the Roman Catholic Tradition.
Belcher, a staunch Roman Catholic, holds a Bachelor of Science and a Diploma of Nursing form Fort Hays State University in Fort Hays, Kansas. She also has a Masters of Arts in Religious Education and Catechetics from the Maryvale Institute through the Open University in Birmingham, England.
She was working for Merck Pharmaceuticals as Director of Government Affairs when her life took a different path.
One day Belcher was driving to a meeting and prayed that it would go well. A voice in her heart said God had something different in mind for her. In faith, she waited for a sign to tell her what that something was. That something was directing, loving and caring for the moms and babies at Nativity House.
A dedicated group of volunteers serve as the Governing Board, Advisory Board and as Friends of Nativity House.
Belcher said, “We believe that a loving, caring environment with access to education and quality medical care in a faith-filled environment will make a significant difference in the lives of the mothers and infants who stay in Nativity House.”
Young adult women are able to live in Nativity House through their pregnancies and birth of their babies. Mothers and babies are then welcome to stay for their first year. Nativity House offers them a safe, secure home, proper nutrition and access to medical care, clothing and personal supplies, prenatal and parenting classes. They have access to infant and child care classes, metal health counseling and positive role models.
Educational and vocational guidance programs are available to the moms as are individual case management, spiritual mentors, access to community resources, after care and transitional resources.
Each room and area of Nativity House is under the care of Holy Helpers. The overall care of Nativity House is given to The Holy Family, St. Michael and all the angels. Every nook and cranny of the house has a patron saint.
“Maternity homes are the most expensive pro-life ministry. These women are precious daughters of God. But they have not been treated that way. It’s a privilege to serve them,” Belcher said. “Grace lives here.”