Sharon Ruston is the East Rand’s Mother Teresa for pregnant teenagers and their babies.
She has a passion for babies and the miracle of life. The idea to help women with unplanned pregnancies and their babies stems from her schooldays when pictures of aborted babies were shown in the hope that it would prevent unwanted pregnancies among the girls at school.
Sharon (51) has been living in Boksburg for most of her life. She has been married to John for 32 years and the couple has three adult sons, one whom is a special-needs child. Her idea to help pregnant teenagers only came to fruition many years later after she had raised her children.
In the mid-’90s she decided to volunteer for a pregnancy crisis centre in Pretoria by collecting donations on the East Rand and taking them to the centre on a bimonthly basis.
In 2001 a church supported Sharon’s dream and assisted her in renting a house in Kempton Park. She opened the Life Link Pregnancy Crisis Centre, from where she could run counselling offices and where women who were releasing their babies for adoption would stay until the adoption had been finalised.
“Not everyone has a happy story to tell when it comes to being pregnant or how they got pregnant and many women do not have the support they need when they are pregnant. Facing an unwanted, unplanned pregnancy can be very daunting, and often life-changing decisions are made without the necessary support,” she says.
Sharon’s initiative receives no government support. Funds are generated through fund-raising activities and the generosity of donors and supporters. She was ecstatic when donors offered to help with the purchase of a house in Kempton Park.
The home at 10 Du Plessis Street, Extension Two, has been renovated and named Jeremiah’s Hope. Jeremiah’s Hope houses the counselling offices. As soon as funds become available, a ‘hole-in-the-wall’ baby safe will be installed where women can safely leave their unwanted babies instead of dumping them on the streets, in rubbish bins or in the veld, where they are left to die.
Everyone involved at the crisis centre is a volunteer. Readers who are interested can become voluntary counsellors or can organise stork parties to support Life Link Single Mom Support Group and Jeremiah’s Hope.
What is the saddest part of working with these young teenage moms?
For me the saddest thing is the lack of support from the fathers. Many deny paternity or abandon their pregnant partner when she tells them about the baby. Many men do not want the responsibility of a child and leave the women to fend for themselves. I feel that if the women had support from their partners, they would not consider abortion or abandonment. It is sad that a woman is put in the position where she even has to consider abandonment for whatever reason. I also find it sad that teenagers do not have open relationships with their parents and cannot discuss issues such as sex, sexuality, pregnancy and relationships. To date, our youngest client is only 12 years of age.
And the happiest part?
Seeing the joy on the face of the mother when she brings her baby to show us and when she thanks us for providing her with information, education and support that helped her to make an informed choice about her life and that of her unborn baby. An informed choice is a responsible choice. In the next three months, four of our “babies” will turn 18. Two finished matric last year and two will finish this year.
Are there any interesting cases that you can tell us about?
There are so many … but one that clearly sticks in my mind is that of a 15-year-old who was raped at knife-point after school on her way home. She did not want to abort the baby but also did not want to keep it, as she felt that it would be a constant reminder of what had happened to her. She was afraid that the baby would look like the ‘monster’ who raped her. She decided to release the baby for adoption. She gave birth to a beautiful baby girl who looked exactly like her. She was thankful that she could give a family a little girl despite the circumstances under which she was conceived and was glad that she did not abort as seeing the baby was a healing experience for her … the baby was not a monster but a beautiful, vulnerable baby girl.
What is the first thing that happens when a pregnant teenager asks for help?
When a client comes into the centre, our aim is to treat them with dignity and confidentiality and try to provide them with a safe space where they can explore their feelings about the situation they find themselves in. We offer free pregnancy tests to establish if in fact they are pregnant and meet them at the point of their need with regard to relevant and specific counselling.
Readers who would like to support the centre can contact Sharon on 083 562 6106.
Photo: Natasha Venter