Second-graders at St. Mary School in Bellevue watch a live ultrasound presentation showing the 21-week-old baby inside Kelly Miller. Administering the ultrasound and speaking to the children is registered sonographer Kathy Havranek. Miller and Havranek volunteered for the Feb. 28 pro-life presentation by Heart of a Child Ministries. SUSAN SZALEWSKI/STAFF

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Students witness miracle of life during classroom ultrasound

A little child – pictured on a classroom’s giant, pull-down screen – wiggled and squirmed and kicked and turned until his thumb found its way to his mouth and he seemed to settle down.

Kelly Miller, his mother, allowed a roomful of children at St. Mary School in Bellevue to watch what was happening inside her womb as a sonographer glided an ultrasound probe under a cover and over Miller’s belly.

Some of the fifth-graders raised their hands when asked if they had ever seen an ultrasound image before. But for others, seeing a live ultrasound of a baby in the womb was completely new.

All appeared fascinated as they watched the 21-week-old baby squirm, heard his heartbeat, saw his blood flow and were shown his brain, spine and other body parts. They were reminded of how God “knit” them in their mothers’ wombs, how he created them in his image, for a unique purpose, and how he deeply loves them.

The miracle of creation inside the womb, a miracle otherwise hidden from human eyes, was brought to the school by Heart of a Child Ministries, a pro-life organization that offers live ultrasound viewing as part of its educational efforts.

It’s a presentation that Nikki Schaefer and other presenters hope students won’t easily forget.

Caleb Braxton, one of the St. Mary fifth-graders at the Feb. 28 presentation, said he liked a still ultrasound image of another baby’s heart that showed the organ’s four chambers and what appears to be a cross.

Schaefer said she likes to point out that the cross is imprinted on the human heart at life’s earliest stages. She goes into more detail about that in Catholic settings, but even public school students can see that for themselves, she said. “So without saying it, you know, perhaps they’re pondering it.”

PRAYER PILLOW FUNDRAISER

Heart of a Child Ministries began in 2012 through the inspiration of Schaefer’s daughter, Grace, who was just 7 at the time, and involves her entire family.

Schaefer and her husband, Bernie, have six children, ages 5 to 20, and live on a farm west of Bennington. They are active in two parishes, St. Robert Bellarmine, near their former home in Omaha, and St. Francis Borgia in Blair.

Heart of a Child has raised more than $40,000 through the sale of pro-life prayer pillows, which has helped buy baby supplies for pregnant women in need, Schaefer said. The pillows are decorated with a religious image and have a pocket for a rosary or prayer card.

The apostolate continues to expand as it gives the ultrasound presentations about once a week for schools, parishes and organizations, including college and public school audiences. Teaching is tailored to the age and type of audience.

At St. Mary, the presentation varied with each grade. The youngest students, second-graders, learned that their hearts were beating when they were the size of a period at the end of a sentence, or the size of a poppy seed, which they were shown. Schaefer then showed them a kidney bean, the size they were when they had moving arms, legs, fingers and toes and a growing brain.

The second-graders each took home a model of a 10-week-old fetus, which could fit in their hands, wrapped in cloth with a Scripture verse attached. They were encouraged to name the babies.

They also received heart-shaped lollipops, “because the heart is a big part of our presentation … listening to the baby’s heart, putting their hand over their own heart, connecting,” Schaefer said.

ADOPTION DISCUSSED

The presentations are interactive and personal. Some St. Mary students shared how they were born prematurely, or adopted – or even one of three triplets.

The triplets’ mother, who was at a presentation with her three second-graders, shared how they danced in the womb to music and even seemed to have had a favorite song.

At another presentation, a fifth-grader said he was born two months early and needed a “spanking” to get him breathing and later a ventilator to help sustain those breaths.

Another fifth-grader asked if Miller’s baby has hair yet. Yes, but it’s not visible on the ultrasound yet, said Kathy Havranek, a registered sonographer for more than 30 years, who provided the live viewing for the students.

Presenter Julie Gallegos talked with the fifth-graders about the loving gift of adoption, and shared how her adopted son, James, became part of her family.

At least one student in the room at St. Mary also had been adopted.

Nikki Schaefer of Heart of a Child Ministries explains the wonders of early human development to second-graders at St. Mary School in Bellevue during a Feb. 28 presentation, including how they were “knitted” by God in their mothers’ wombs. SUSAN SZALEWSKI/STAFF

STEWARDING MESSAGE OF LIFE

Schaefer, in an interview, said the personal stories and connections are encouraged.

“I feel like part of what we do is stewarding this message of life. I think so many people have a (pro-life) story that maybe they haven’t shared or haven’t had a chance to share. … And, as you know, once you share one, then you’ll share again and again. It breaks open these stories.”

The presenters stay open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Schaefer said. “And when we do, that is when beautiful outpourings of grace happen.”

Pregnant mothers who volunteer for the ultrasounds are often recruited from the parishes or communities where the presentation will be held. Other times, such as at the St. Mary presentation, Schaefer finds pregnant women from a network of friends and acquaintances, where she also has found sonographers and other volunteers who witness at the presentations.

Schaefer said she has viewed hundreds of live ultrasounds, and each one is exciting. Sometimes parents have found out the sex of their child, and a roomful of people get to share in their joy.

Schaefer said she would like to offer the ultrasound presentation at even more schools, parishes and other venues. Informational meetings are being planned for September, where parents, teachers, administrators and others can learn more.

People can also visit heartofachildministries.org or contact Schaefer at nikki@heartofachildministries.org or 402-968-5308.