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From sorrow to joy: Loss of children leads Birthright director to help mothers in need

“It’s not a good time.”

Kathy Madsen hears those five words often in her line of work as director of Birthright of Manassas. Their source women who find themselves pregnant and are considering abortion.

As part of her daily role, Madsen, the director of the local branch of the international pregnancy support program offers pregnant women confidential help, counseling, prenatal information, adoption information and an all-around person to lean on.

Sometimes her words prompt the mothers to choose life, sometimes they don’t; but Madsen, a parishioner of Sacred Heart in Manassas, feels that she has been 100 percent successful in enhancing a welcoming, non-judgmental program, to which she is proud to have dedicated the last 25 years of her life.

Worn down

When Madsen and her husband, Peter, arrived in the Arlington Diocese in the late 1970s, Madsen quickly noticed information on Birthright in the bulletin at All Saints Parish in Manassas, where they attended. Madsen’s history with pregnancy had been heartbreaking — she suffered two miscarriages and the loss of a daughter only 12 hours old — so the idea of helping women who could get pregnant appealed to her.

Though she’d been raised Catholic, Madsen said her difficulties having children placed her on the cusp of letting her Faith fall by the wayside.

“I didn’t know if it was something I had done wrong,” she said. “I could have gone either way at that point. I turned to God.”

The power of faith manifested itself when Madsen’s oldest child, Michelle, was born after yet another difficult pregnancy.

Madsen credits the life of her now 33-year-old to the many prayers offered for both mother and daughter.

Feeling a tug from God to help other mothers, Madsen responded to the bulletin ad and made the call to Birthright that — along with the birth of two more healthy children — changed the rest of her life.

“It was one of those kinds of things that wore on me,” she said. “You can tell when a person has a call to do something. I think that would be me.”

A pro-life attitude

Born Nov. 6, 1951, in Dover, N.H., the second oldest of nine, Madsen’s familial role centered on caring for he younger siblings. Her mother’s pro-life attitude, especially when she, at times, faced scorn for having so many children, affected Madsen at a young age.

“My mother always said, ‘Which one of you would I not have?’” Madsen said. “‘Nine is nine and each one is different.’”

Being part of a family of 11 has resulted in a large, close family, with Christmas gatherings 50 relatives strong.

“Family’s a big thing,” she said.

Family’s also a big thing at Birthright, where Madsen experiences a home of a different kind. The program’s 15 volunteer create a comfortable atmosphere; the upholstered chairs and carpet make the Birthright office off Sudley Road feel like a safe haven.

“We socialize, we have that camaraderie,” she said. “It’s like another family.”

‘It’s never dull’

Madsen’s first day on the volunteer job was “eye-opening,” she said. “I’d led a sheltered life and I didn’t realize the troubles and problems that people had.”

For the next quarter-century, the volunteer encountered single women who said they didn’t want to be pregnant and married women who said they couldn’t be. She’s counseled over the phone and face-to-face. She’s collected baby items and she’s made friends.

“You see all kinds of things,” Madsen said. “It’s never dull.”

Though she prays for the women she meets, Madsen is careful never to force God on them for fear that they will “walk right back out the door.

“We don’t preach to people, but we do try, by example, to lead people to faith,” she said.

Those who opt to have an abortion receive extra special (and confidential) prayers — from the Poor Clare Sisters in Alexandria.

“We have found at times that that’s the only thing that has made the difference,” Madsen said.

Madsen officially assumed the role of director of Birthright of Manassas in 2003, following in the footsteps of mentor Fee Heishman. Over the years, the once-shy Madsenhas become capable of doing things she never knew she could. And she’s found grounding in her Catholic Faith.

“Before I started here, I was Catholic, and I knew I was Catholic, but in a way it didn’t seem real,” she said.

Now that she’s had years of experience saving lives, “it’ the best feeling in the world,” she said. “You do get a lot of personal satisfaction knowing that you are pro-life and doing your best.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2009