Chaunie is a former FFL intern and pregnant college senior.
She has shared her journey in letters (see below) since the fall semester of 2007.
As part of a series entitled, "Chaunie’s Story: An Unexpected Journey," Chaunie has volunteered to chronicle her experiences for all of us. The letter below is her latest installment.
Near the end of the fall semester, as students were clearing the campus, I found myself alone in the library, balancing to-do lists with my final exam notes. I began to feel my baby kick.
At first, the gentle fluttering against my abdomen was easy to miss, but since then it has been growing stronger by the day.
I find myself marveling at my life and how quickly it has changed.
Just a few months ago, I was enjoying an internship with Feminists for Life, supporting student leaders and fighting to overcome the challenges faced by student parents.
Now I am fighting for myself.
The journey thus far has been exhausting, at times overwhelming, but it has also been a wonderful journey of self-discovery. I have begun to discover my strength as a woman.
I realize that the world may see me, a pregnant young college student, as an unlucky statistic, a person to be pitied.
But I am learning to hold my head high and realize that I have become stronger than I ever thought possible.
I have juggled the challenges of early pregnancy, complete with terrible morning sickness, a grueling school schedule, work and championing for women like me on campus, all while planning a wedding and dealing with the stress of an unplanned pregnancy!
Show me a student mother on any campus, and I am sure you will hear similar stories. Even before we hold our babies in our arms, we are learning to balance responsibilities.
I am convinced that women like me will be incredible mothers.
We know the importance of life, and we know how to struggle for ourselves and our unborn babies. We have had to hold our heads up high to disapproving looks, rude stares at our pregnant bellies and bookbags and a society that wants women to choose either education and career or children.
Our journeys will be difficult, but we can be assured by the knowledge that we are truly showing the world that women deserve better than abortion…
As I continue with my pregnancy, I have entered the world of married life. Right before I came back for spring semester, I exchanged vows with the man I love, the father of my child. He is the person who held my hair for me when I was sick before classes, the one who worked overtime during finals week when I needed help with my rent payment. My new husband is simply wonderful, and I know he will make an incredible father. I am so grateful for Ben's support and help during this pregnancy.
While I am happy with my choice to bring my baby into this world with my husband at my side, I have also learned that it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks.
There are single, partnered, separated, divorced and widowed mothers and fathers who love their children as much as any married parent could, and those who parent alone certainly work hard and sacrifice unconditionally. They should not feel marginalized; they deserve better.
I am reminded of the words of suffragist Sarah Norton, who successfully argued for women's admission to Cornell University, "Perhaps there will come a time when… an unmarried mother will not be despised because of her motherhood… and when the right of the unborn to be born will not be denied or interfered with."
What matters is that first and foremost, I know I will be a successful student and mother. And I am proud of it!
I'll write again to update you on my journey!
Happy Valentine's Day,
Chaunie Saelens Brusie
Former Feminists for Life Intern
President of campus Students for Life
You were recently introduced to Chaunie, former FFL intern and pregnant college senior. As part of a series entitled, "Chaunie's Story: An Unexpected Journey," Chaunie has volunteered to chronicle her experiences for all of us. The letter below is her latest installment.
A week after I discovered I was pregnant, I went to meet with our club's advisor. After my experience at the campus Health Center, I decided I needed to address the issue of how our school responds to pregnant women. I spoke with my club advisor, and together we made an appointment with the Director of Health Services to discuss what had happened and broach the issue of bringing the proper resources to campus.
I was incredibly nervous about the meeting. It's one thing to stand in front of fellow students and hand out pamphlets. It's another to bring your concerns to those in your administration who have the power to make change. The stakes were heightened by the fact that the Director's decisions were directly impacting my decisions about how I would proceed in my education, my work, and my pregnancy—and how it would affect other women facing similar decisions.
My advisor and I walked into the office of the Director of Health Services for our meeting. Much to my dismay, I discovered that the Director of Health Services was actually the nurse practitioner that had done my pregnancy test. I could feel my face turning red from embarrassment, and I steeled my spine to address the issues we had come to talk about. So, I began one of the hardest conversations of my life.
The Director remembered me and told me how busy she was that day, that she was rushed because I was a walk-in. She told me that I should have made an appointment, rather than just drop in.
I told her that I didn't know you could schedule an unplanned pregnancy.
I remember pacing the hallways of school for an hour before I worked up the nerve to go into Health Services that day. It was hard enough to walk in, let alone actually call and schedule an appointment! I probably never would have kept the appointment. She should have recognized the courage it takes for a woman to reach out for help. The fact that I walked in for help should have been, for her, an opportunity, not an inconvenience.
The Director told me that she had felt badly about what happened. She said she was new to her position and she didn't have much support herself. Though she was defensive at first,
the more we discussed my experience, the more she seemed to take my message to heart.
Put simply, the Director of Health Services had no resources to offer me.
At the end of the meeting, the Director was in complete agreement that something needed to change and resources needed to be made available for other women like me!
I was thrilled that she was so open to working together, and surprised that I had made a difference. We scheduled a follow up meeting with her boss to continue up the chain of command, working for resources and support for pregnant and parenting students.
I'll write again soon to update you on my journey! Meanwhile, I encourage you and others at Feminists for Life to continue your work for pregnant and parenting students like me.
Former Feminists for Life Intern
President of campus Students for Life ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
During her oral argument before the Supreme Court, attorney Sarah Weddington argued in favor of legalized abortion —in part— because “a pregnancy can completely disrupt her life….It disrupts her education.” She noted that some women are forced out of college simply because they are pregnant.
Rather than using the legal system to address inequities in education or the workplace, arguing that women are strong and capable, Weddington argued that women need "relief" from these societal pressures through abortion.
Unlike Weddington, Feminists for Life’s summer intern and pro-woman, pro-life student leader, Chaunie doesn't underestimate the ability of women to overcome complex problems.
Chaunie (pronounced “shawnee”) has asked me to share her story with you. This is the first of her letters, and your invitation to share her journey as she faces challenges, receives support, and most of all—to celebrate her unplanned joy.
Serrin M. Foster
I left my Feminists for Life internship this summer fired up about helping pregnant students on my campus. I had no idea that in a few short weeks I would be one of them.
Four weeks into my senior year I took a pregnancy test, sure that the result would be negative, that I was just easing my mind. I looked down to find two bright blue lines staring back at me. Frantic and disbelieving, I immediately took another test. Positive again.
In that instant, staring down at the two tiny lines that represented the most dramatic change in my life, I understood how women facing unplanned pregnancies can turn to abortion. In that moment of panic and fear, it does not feel like a new life, but rather the end of life as you know it. A million questions race through your mind—what will people think, what will I do, how can this be happening? You just wish it wasn’t happening, wish you could rewind time, wish it would go away.
It’s easy to understand women in crisis wishing that the baby isn’t real, so they can make it go away.
The next day, still in denial and in a very fragile emotional state, I went to the campus health service for confirmation.
A nurse practitioner called me into her office and gave me the results of my test. There was no doubt about it, I was pregnant.
When she started talking to me about telling my parents, I broke down.
I sat in the chair, crying hysterically while the nurse examined her chart. After a minute or two, she stood up and said “I have other patients to see, you can stay here if you want.”
She left me crying and alone to see the only other patient in the center, a young man with a sore throat.
My struggles continued after my visit to health services. I gathered all the information I could find about student insurance. Not one plan covered pregnancy. In fact, all of them specifically stated that they would not cover pregnancy.
Though the university used to have daycare on campus, I learned the President got rid of it a few years ago. Housing was another disappointment; once again, the university used to have family housing but dissolved those dorms for the better-paying first-year students.
I have to tell you, as president of my college pro-life group and an active advocate for women, it was frightening to see the complete lack of resources and support available for pregnant and parenting students at my school.
I understood how women in such a vulnerable situation could feel they have no choices.
In addition to physical and material resources for myself and my child, I needed emotional support.
My boyfriend was scared and uncertain, like me, but supportive. He could offer no words of wisdom, but took my hand and told me that it would be OK. He offered his love and stood by my side.
I was absolutely terrified to tell my parents. Every day that passed without telling them was even more horrible because I so desperately needed their support too.
When I finally worked up the nerve to tell my parents, their reaction was unbelievable. They offered me nothing but love and support, and they were even happy and excited for me! Word quickly spread in my close-knit family and, incredibly, every single family member was supportive, offering to help in any way they could and reassuring me that it was right to celebrate this new life.
I am now happily engaged, planning a beautiful Christmas wedding and eagerly awaiting my next doctor’s appointment, when my fiancé and I will hear our baby’s heartbeat for the first time.
While I have received so much support and love from all of my family and friends, it has still been a struggle adjusting to my new life. There is no easy way to get through an unplanned pregnancy, but with the support I have received, I am managing, and every day brings me more happiness and excitement.
As FFL’s Honorary Chair Patricia Heaton says, “Women who are experiencing an unplanned pregnancy also deserve unplanned joy.”
I am so fortunate to have received love and support. Sadly, this is not the case for many women who face situations like mine.
More than ever, I realize the vital importance of FFL’s work. I not only believe in Feminists for Life’s mission, I am living it.
I am grateful that FFL is changing the way people think about pregnancy, particularly in higher ed.
It is possible for women to continue with their educations, with their career goals, with their dreams. FFL refuses to choose. So do I.
Serrin, I wanted to share my story because I believe that there is a better way for women. There is a better way for me.
How reassuring it would have been for the campus nurse practitioner to talk to me, discuss my options, offer me support and encouragement, and connect me to community resources.
Instead, she left me alone and in tears.
I can’t imagine how a woman unsure about abortion, uninformed about her resources, lacking support from those she counted on the most, feels she has a choice—what hope is there for a good outcome?
Thank you for helping mothers like me. I’m deeply grateful to the many people who support this important work.
I’ll keep you and everyone at FFL posted with photos and updates.
Former Feminists for Life Intern President of campus Students for Life
5 May 2008
This week, our former intern Chaunie, now a pregnant student on campus, continues her journey through her senior year and makes every one of us—pro-life or pro-choice—take a personal inventory of how we treat pregnant and parenting students.
When our club began planning our Rally for ResourcesTM I was struck by the desperate need to change the social stigmas attached to being a student parent. I have worked so hard to find the resources that are available to students like me, only to find out that using those resources is often associated with shame.
Student parents may need to turn to assistance programs and government healthcare to help them make it through school, but utilizing these resources is made difficult for women, even married ones like me, thanks to the negative stigmas that surround them.
As a pregnant student attending school full-time, running my club and working part-time, I have taken advantage of the resources that we’ve promoted to help pregnant and parenting students. For instance, I have qualified for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which provides low-income mothers with coupons for food. I have used this program with the peace of mind that every dollar I can save is going towards supporting my baby. However, using the WIC program has been, at times, an embarrassing experience.
A few weeks ago, I used the express lane in the supermarket and used a WIC coupon to purchase some cereal. Unknowingly, I had grabbed the wrong brand of cereal (WIC only covers certain brands), and the cashier proceeded to call over another cashier and together, they very publicly reprimanded me.
As the line grew behind me and impatient foot-tapping filled the air, my eyes welled with tears and my face burned red. I knew what all the customers behind me were thinking—“Stupid girl, didn’t know better than to not get pregnant, now she doesn’t even know how to buy cereal!” When I finally got out of the store, I burst into tears and cried all the way home—all this because I am doing what I need to do for the health and life of my baby and me.
Why are mothers treated like this? Is it really any wonder that women perceive abortion as the only solution? Does choosing to give life to your baby while still in school mean you deserve to be publicly humiliated over a box of cereal?
Students facing unplanned pregnancies really are often facing a no-win situation.
Not only are we are looked down upon for having unplanned pregnancies, but we are judged for continuing the pregnancy—and for using the few resources that are available to help us.
Pro-life or pro-choice, we need to not only make resources available to pregnant and parenting students, we need to end the negative stigma attached to unplanned pregnancies and fully support the use of resources for student parents.
A woman should be commended, not condemned, for doing all she can to support herself and her child during school.
Chaunie Saelens Brusie
Former Feminists for Life Intern
President of campus Students for Life
Join Chaunie in the next step of her journey when she shares the story of her campus group’s Rally for Resources, where she takes these issues to the public square. Email update coming soon! Please visit our website to read earlier letters about Chaunie’s story.
Chaunie’s story confirms everything that we’ve found in our recent survey, Perception is Reality. Your support of FFL’s College Outreach Program brings attention to vital resources pregnant and parenting students need on campus. Please consider giving a tax-deductible contribution to continue this important work for those we serve.
Because women deserve better,
Serrin M. Foster
REFUSE TO CHOOSE® WOMEN DESERVE BETTER®
PS Please feel free to share this letter with whomever you think needs to know what is really like for pregnant students.