Cherie Clements recalls standing on the sidewalk outside Affiliated Medical Services in Milwaukee escorting women seeking abortions inside the clinic. Cherie was in her late teens and early 20s and thought she was advancing women’s rights by helping the pregnant women pass the gauntlet of pro-life supporters so they could obtain an abortion.
Last week, some 15 years later, Cherie stood on the same sidewalk in front of the same clinic, this time accompanied by her 10-year-old son, Lorenzo, dressed as a “gift from God” with a sign on his back that read, ‘Smile, your mom chose life.” They were part of the 40 Days For Life vigil praying for an end to abortion. Mother and son will continue to be there weekly through the vigil’s end, Nov. 1.
Bubbly and energetic, Cherie looks upon her about-face on abortion as “a weird twist of fate,” but one brought about by her own leap of faith.
Cherie was raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools all the way through high school. She began at Holy Family School, Cudahy, transferring to St. Veronica School, Milwaukee in seventh grade. She was a member of the 1993 graduating class at St. Thomas More High School, Milwaukee.
Catholicism was a core component of her family’s life, but in high school, she said she was also attracted to the idea of women’s rights.
“I think a lot of people in high school are interested in faith, but some become lukewarm in their faith. I was one of those people who loved to read, loved poetry and to explore ideas. I went the opposite direction (of faith) and had a cynicalattitude (toward faith),” she said, explaining how she was drawn to the National Organization for Women after hearing a speaker promote women in the workplace.
“Pretty soon I started getting involved in all kinds of things, reproductive rights, the education of young girls. That became my cause and when I was 16, I began helping women at the abortion clinics,” she said.
Cherie estimated that she served as an escort at the clinic a dozen times, all the while, believing she was providing a valuable service to people in need.
Her viewpoint began changing when Cherie first saw her son on an ultrasound photo. She had married at age 21, while still a college student, and was surprised to see that her unborn son was more than the blob of cells that she had believed the unborn to be.
“It was the first time I had seen an ultrasound, and I was like ‘Wow, look at this, the heart, his eyes.’ I understood the reality of what I was going through and it became very real,” she said.
Ironically, when she was five months pregnant, doctors believed her son had a serious kidney problem “and the doctor told me, if I had been earlier in my pregnancy, he would have suggested I not have this child.”
Cherie remembers spending the remaining months of her pregnancy fearing her child would face a life of kidney dialysis and other health problems. Yet, Lorenzo was born completely healthy with two functioning kidneys.
“(His kidneys) were just slow in developing, but now he’s a normal, healthy kid running around and all my fears were for nothing,” she said.
Cherie had fallen away from the Catholic Church in her late teens, but became more interested, at the encouragement of her husband, when she became pregnant. Yet, their marriage ended when Lorenzo was an infant and about the time Cherie was looking for a day care for him, a friend invited her to a Lutheran Bible study.
The church, which hosted the Bible study, also had a day care and Cherie felt she had found a spiritual home as well as a school for Lorenzo.
Cherie was an active member of the Lutheran church for several years and Lorenzo attended school there. As a Lutheran, she said she became invigorated by faith and looked for ways to put her faith into action.
When she returned to the Catholic Church about two years ago, she brought with her that desire for outreach.
Again, it was a man who led Cherie back to the Catholic Church, this time her husband of nearly two years, Ryan Clements. A native of Mauston in the La Crosse Diocese, Ryan was in Milwaukee attending a dance at the Clarion Hotel when he met Cherie. One of eight children in a Catholic family, Ryan wasn’t interested in accompanying Cherie to the Lutheran services, she explained, “and pretty soon, we were back at my dad’s parish, St. Martin of Tours.”
The couple was married at St. Patrick Parish, Mauston, and honeymooned in India, in part to be close to the roots of one of their spiritual role models, Mother Teresa.
At St. Martin, where Lorenzo now attends school, the family is involved with the pro-life ministry.
“We decided to reach out to the community and get the parish engaged,” said Cherie of their efforts to get people involved in pro-life issues. They coordinated Project Heartbeat where parishioners adopted a small, rubber fetal model, took it home and kept a journal of their experiences with the model. Ryan and Cherie also put together a “Project Heartbeat Cook Book,” with healthy vegetable dishes and stories celebrating life that are “good for the heart.”
The book’s introduction described it as “a project to awaken the hearts of our parish to the smallest members of our family, the unborn.”
Ironically, this pro-life couple has encountered fertility problems as they seek to expand their family.
“We had it in our minds to make our marriage a testament of our faith and we hoped for a big family,” she said, describing the fertility issue as a “cross to carry.” She acknowledged that fertility clinics are tempting, “but we made a decision not to even be tempted by them. There are not good moral implications and there are risks.” She noted that if they don’t have a biological child, she is open to adoption.
Even though the struggle with infertility has been stressful, Cherie said she feels she leads a blessed life and hopes she can be an example to others.
“Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and assume that God will work out the rest. To switch careers, to have a son, to get married – those were all leaps of faith. I feel very blessed to have a good life. I consider myself blessed every day, even though we are going through some struggles.”