Women with unplanned pregnancies find support ‘In Shifra’s Arms’
Consulting service seeks to expand in New Jersey
After her family rejected her and she was about to give birth to a third child she could not afford, Gitty Rubin, who grew up in the Orthodox community in Highland Park, needed guidance. She turned to an organization that offers support to Jewish women struggling with unplanned pregnancies and named for a biblical midwife distinguished by her courage and compassion.
Rubin became pregnant for the first time at 18, shortly after she graduated from Highland Park High School.
She told NJJN she had grown up in the town as a “rebel” in a “very, very Orthodox” family, attending day schools until her junior year of high school. Before she transferred to Highland Park High School, she said, “I never spoke to a boy.”
The father of her oldest child, a boy now five, and her three-year-old daughter is a non-Jewish man she met in high school and never married. She conceived her third child — born last winter — with her husband, whom she met nearly three years ago.
“I was really struggling financially when I got pregnant” for the third time, she said. She could not afford to have another child, but for personal reasons, abortion was not an option.
Her parents rejected her. “My mother and father don’t speak to me,” Rubin said. “They said, ‘You’ll never amount to anything if you keep having babies.’”
Deeply troubled, Rubin said she needed “someone I could speak to while I was taking care of two small children and had another one coming.”
A search on the Internet connected her to In Shifra’s Arms (ISA), a consulting service based in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Silver Spring, Md., that offers “Jewish Support for the Pregnant Woman” but that also counsels non-Jews.
The people at ISA “were totally supportive,” Rubin said. “They said I had options and wouldn’t judge me whether I gave up the baby for adoption or kept the baby. That was very comforting to hear.”
ISA is the brainchild of Erica Pelman, who has counseled between 80 and 100 Jewish women since her organization got started in 2005. Its namesake, Shifra, was one of the midwives who, in defiance of Pharaoh’s edict when the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, continued to deliver Israelite boys and keep them alive, Pelman said.
“Our mission is to help struggling pregnant women to build a positive future for themselves and their children,” she told NJJN.
ISA does not refer its clients to abortion services, nor do they discourage it. “We don’t tell women what to do,” she insisted. “It is their choice. A lot of women are considering abortion because they don’t have any support, but when we give them support, they do not want one anymore.”
Should a woman choose to terminate her pregnancy, however, ISA will offer counseling afterward. “They will receive total compassion and care from us,” said Pelman. “No woman who comes to us is going to be left with the impression that she is evil because she had an abortion.”
She estimated that 50 percent of those who contact ISA are Orthodox women and that a “vast majority” are unmarried.
Pelman said the women who turn to ISA do not receive “a cookie-cutter approach.” Although she herself is Orthodox, Pelman insisted that her organization provides “a Jewish place for women to come,” but one that is nondenominational “so that Orthodox and non-Orthodox women feel comfortable.”
ISA, she added, is a “Jewish alternative” to “inappropriate” Christian organizations, many of which hide their mission as evangelical groups that proselytize clients with forced prayer and Bible study sessions.
Rubin said she is pleased with ISA’s Jewish character because “growing up in a Jewish community, it was important that it is a Jewish organization. It felt comfortable because that is who I am.”
She said women “don’t have to go through this alone. There are people out there who can help you.”
Rubin, her husband, and her three children now live in Edison, where the cost of day care “is pretty much what I would be making, so it is not worth it for me to have a job right now.” But she is about to begin training to become a paralegal and hopes to begin law school within three to five years.
Being connected with the organization has also inspired her to help a close single friend who is seven months pregnant. “She is really struggling to decide whether to keep or give up the baby for adoption,” said Rubin. “She sees from me how I was struggling and living day-to-day.
“I told her being a parent is a ‘huge, huge responsibility,’ and I don’t judge anyone for their decision. I told her, ‘Whatever decision you make, don’t let anyone put you down.’”
ISA, which refers troubled callers to trained social workers and other mental health professionals, is looking to expand its services in New Jersey. It can be reached by calling its helpline, 888-360-5872, or logging on to inshifrasarms.org.