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Crisis Pregnancy Led Woman To Deeper Faith

Jennifer Pipp was a college junior when she was raped and discovered that she was pregnant. But today Pipp tells her story which began in despair, as a story of redemption.
by Alwen Bledsoe | Source:
In 1996 Jennifer Pipp, a Denver woman, was raped. A few weeks later she discovered she was pregnant.

Then a junior at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, Pipp´s next few weeks were "very difficult," she said. Overwhelmed by grief and anger, she prayed for a miscarriage.

"I know now why people get abortions," she said. "However, it wasn´t an option for me because it was an unfortunate thing that happened, but it wasn´t the baby´s fault. If you´re pro-life, either you take a stance or you don´t."

Her own mother became pregnant with her before marriage, said Pipp, "and I just kind of always thought, `if she had had an abortion, I wouldn´t be here.´ So to do that to someone else — I just couldn´t do that."

That decision, though, meant nine months of facing the reality of the rape as well as the agony of finding an adoptive family and birthing a child she could not keep.

"You don´t know what the future holds," she said. "You don´t know how this will all work out. It´s a horrible situation to be put in."

Now, five years later, Pipp is telling her story publicly, and though it begins in despair, she tells it as a story of redemption.

"It´s very clear to me that even though there´s a situation like that that´s so horrible, it is amazing what God can bring out of it if you let him," she said.

The first of 30-some "mothers in crisis" to live with the Sisters of Life in New York, Pipp said it was through them that her faith and healing first came alive.

John Cardinal O´Connor founded the Sisters of Life in June 1991 with eight women who took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in addition to their charism of protecting the sanctity of life.

Taking the advice of a religious sister living in her dorm, Pipp contacted the Sisters of Life for counsel after she discovered she was pregnant. Instead of counsel, she received an invitation to live with the sisters.

She accepted, and spent the summer trying to come to grips with the rape and pregnancy.

"You have to be totally honest with yourself and with everyone around you and with God," said Pipp. "If there´s any of those missing, then somehow the healing process can be hindered.

"That´s also the scariest thing — that you have to be honest. It´s scary just growing and looking more deeply at the things that have hurt you."

On her way to healing, Pipp passed through extraordinary anger as well as "a real sadness" at the thought of having chosen to birth the baby, "but not being able to be her mom and be there for her day in and day out."

She felt guilty and wondered, "Was it my fault? Could I have prevented it?"

Often she thought, "God, I know that you do everything for the good, but I don´t see what good you have in store for me in this situation."

That began to change, though, as the sisters´ unconditional love and commitment to prayer began to seep into her.

"They made it possible for her to hope," said Pipp´s mother Kathleen Fleming. "It was very grim. She´d kind of had it with men, had it with life in general, and the sisters very sweetly and gently said `You know, it´s OK. You´ll get through this.´"

More than anything, said Pipp, the sisters helped her to be at peace with her decision to place her baby for adoption as they taught her to pray and "surrender totally to God."

Though Pipp was not required to participate in the sisters´ life of prayer, said Sister Lucy Marie Vasile, S.V., she would arise at 5 a.m. and join them for all of their community prayer — about four hours a day.

She began to grow in "a deepening peace and a joy in coming to understand God´s love for her and then in being able to give that love to others, (especially) her daughter whom she was carrying in her womb," said Sister Vasile.

"You have to be able to love your daughter deeply to surrender her to another family," she said.

Pipp had found an adoptive Catholic family committed to raising her baby in the faith after she prayed before a traveling image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that had come to Steubenville. "You have to find a family — it´s too hard," she prayed.

Soon after, she received a letter from a Catholic family and a picture of the family around that same image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, said Pipp.

The adoptive family was present for the birth in September.

The next day, said Pipp, "I sat in the room (holding the baby) and just cried."

She told the child, "I love you so much that this is what´s best for you."

Closure had begun to come in two ways: in the letter she wrote to the baby so she would someday know who her biological mother was, that she loved her, and why she placed her for adoption; and in confronting the rapist who Catholic Charities located when the baby was placed for adoption.

"I´ll never forget that day," said Pipp, remembering talking with him on the phone in the Catholic Charities office. "I was really shaky and there was a lot of anger there, too, that I had to work through."

She asked him, "Why did you do this to me? I had plans. I didn´t need this obstacle."

He cried through the entire conversation and apologized, she said, and though he couldn´t provide her with an answer, the confrontation gave her the freedom to move on.

Perhaps the greatest closure and healing has come in her marriage and in the births of her two sons.

Though she and David Pipp were best friends, she kept her pregnancy a secret until she was in her fourth month.

"It was really one of those things where she was having a hard time with who she was," said David. "When she told me she was pregnant, we were sitting in a restaurant at two or three in the morning. She said, `What´s so rough about this,´ to quote her, `is that I´ve been used. I have baggage and no one´s going to want to be with me.´"

But, he proved her wrong, and the two began to date that March.

"There was just a real openness there and a real friendship, and he stayed with me the whole time," said Pipp.

The two were married the following July and recently celebrated their fourth anniversary. They have two boys — David, 3, and John, 1.

"Working through this piece by piece has made me a better mom and a better wife because I´m not carrying excess baggage from my past," said Pipp.

Pipp first went public with her story in June when the Sisters of Life awarded her the first-ever John Cardinal O´Connor Award for her courage and personal sacrifice for life.

"It was very humbling," said Pipp, especially because the cardinal had become a father figure for her, often placing his hands on her stomach and praying for the child, or simply bringing a hug when she most needed it.

"He also just accepted me where I was and just loved me, and that was just a freedom to allow me to grow. I can get through this because I´m loved just because of me."

Pipp´s story, said Sister Vasile, taught the community "that we can love in the midst of making a very difficult decision which entails suffering. We can do that because God aids us in that, but we also need other people. Christ called us to live with other people in community. We became her family and she became our sister in Christ."

"It was sheer joy to watch God unfold in a young life as courageous as hers," she said. "We were the privileged bystanders of God´s miraculous grace working in her life and the lives of those she touched."

This article originally appeared in The Denver Catholic Register. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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