A labor of love

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A mother never forgets the birth of her child. No matter what the circumstances of her pregnancy or delivery, the end result is almost always the same: one life changed forever and one life just begun.

Rosemary Antunes, a parishioner of St. John the Baptist Church in Front Royal, is very familiar with the birth process. Not only is she a mother of eight and a grandmother of six, she's been a nurse for 33 years this June and estimates she has witnessed hundreds of births - experiences that have fueled her passion for her Catholic faith and a culture of life. Today, Antunes teaches childbirth education classes at two area hospitals and works as a certified doula, offering individualized support and encouragement to women in labor.

Antunes first became interested in working as a delivery nurse because of her mother, who could remember vividly each of her seven deliveries.

"She could tell you every detail," Antunes said. "I find that kind of vivid impression is common with women. Ask any 10 women and eight of them can tell you in minute detail what went on at their delivery."

Because giving birth is such a big moment in women's lives, Antunes believes it's crucial they are treated with kindness and respect through the entire process.

"You can't always control the circumstances of what happens to women, but at least you can control how the professionals around the women respond," she said. "Were they courteous? Were they compassionate? Were they competent? All those things contribute to the mom's feeling of well-being and accomplishment, and that, I think, is key."

Being able to help other women welcome their children into the world is incredibly fulfilling, Antunes said.

"The most rewarding part is helping to introduce the moms to their brand-new baby and seeing the satisfaction she takes in a job well done," she said. "It's where the rubber hits the road as far as your faith goes. You pray throughout the whole thing because anything can happen so you're praying to God to bring this to a happy and healthy conclusion for everybody."

After hearing the stories of the new parents she works with, Antunes said she's more grateful for the family she was born into. She's also become more compassionate and has a stronger dedication to building a culture of life.

Antunes believes every mother and child is valuable, an attitude she tries to display in her work. As a nurse, she has had a few moments where she's had to say no to a particular task for moral reasons. In those moments, she has had to learn to stand by her beliefs firmly, without being harsh.

"When you're on the (obstetrics) floor, you're a constant reminder that Catholics don't believe in contraception, especially when you work for a hospital and they want you to participate in giving (birth control) or sterilizations," Antunes said. "It's really important that you gently stand up for yourself without being strident. Say, 'I can't do that, it's against my religion,' and then volunteer to do some other chore nobody else wants to do. … You have to be ready because your Catholic faith comes popping up and into the question at the least opportune times."

That passion for life has carried over into Antunes' personal life as well. Currently, she is in training to operate an ultrasound machine in order to help her local pregnancy center offer free ultrasounds to women considering abortion.

"Hopefully that ultrasound - once they see it - will be a reason not to have an abortion," she said.

Though she understands she is in a unique position when it comes to promoting life, Antunes thinks it is important for everyone to build a culture of life, no matter their profession.

"Promoting the culture of life is a given and it isn't always verbal," she said. "It's the day in, day out, trying to bring Christ to everyone you meet and every individual because each of them is precious to God. … That's how anybody in any career can make a difference for the kingdom of God, if they can show that kind of love to each individual."

Antunes said she's very appreciative for the prayers and support of her husband and family, as well as all those who pray for and support local pregnancy centers.

"Only God changes hearts and only God accomplishes this," she said. "We can be as professional as we want, but He's the one that gives the grace, so there's room for everyone to pray.

"Every child is a blessing and the more we can promote that attitude and the more it catches on, the better off we'll all be."

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2013