Trials are a way for God’s name to be glorified. It’s called purpose! My name is Yoi Reyes and my husband Pete and I are the founders of Mary’s Pregnancy Resource Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It is my prayer that as you read my story and what the Lord has done, you will be encouraged. The reason why I was called to serve this specific population of women experiencing unplanned pregnancies is because I, like these women, had to face many of the hardships that they are presently facing.
I was born in Havana, Cuba. My father was a Captain for the Navy and my mother was an English teacher for the Naval Academy. However, when I was only 3 years old, my parents divorced. That was the first wound of many. My father was my hero and I remember sitting at the front door of my house and crying as I waited for him to come home from work, and when he did, I would cry for him to take his shirt off as a sign that he was going to stay. He did every time, but then the nightmare would start all over again whenever I woke up, and he wasn’t there.
My mother couldn’t deal with the divorce and ended up at a military psychiatric center where she met my step-father who was a Captain for the western district of the Police Force in Havana. He had also been admitted to this psychiatric center because he was dealing with chronic depression as a result of his own divorce. Not long after they were both discharged, they married and he moved in with us. I was about 4 years old.
Soon after, my step-father began to sexually molest me. At such a young age, I could not understand what was happening. I was too young to make much of it and he was smart enough to know how to confuse me, by making me think that he loved me as my father. He was a father in every other area, so in my mind that was the way it was, although I felt uncomfortable and fearful. As if that was not enough, around the same time a neighbor and close friend of the family also sexually molested me.
Years passed by and the abuse continued, so I escaped into a world I created where books were the only thing that mattered. I would read all kinds of books and study as much as I could. Year after year, I would receive the highest report card score of my grade, so everyone assumed that I was “fine.” I did not show much interest in playing with other kids, but everyone also assumed that I was sociable because I enjoyed talking and spending time with the adults.
At 9 years old, as my stepfather was abusing me, I got upset and told him that I was going to tell my dad about it and that I didn’t like what he was doing to me. In response, he put his gun to my head and told me that if I ever told anyone, he would kill my family and then kill himself. From that moment on, I felt responsible for the well-being of my family which placed an impossible burden to carry at my young age.
My mother, on the other hand, asked me not to testify or rather to lie and tell the judge I didn’t remember the abuse that I had received from my neighbor. She thought it was better to “forgive.” Of course, what message did I get from that? So I thought, “Why bother telling anyone what my step-father was doing to me? No one cares.” After all, my own mother had just coerced me to forgive the same offense by lying to the judge.
My teen years arrived and with it, you can guess: lots of rebelliousness. I was angry, disrespectful and began to smoke cigarettes. By then, I fully understood what was being done to me and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I was now 13 years old and so, my step-father decided to take it to the next level. The abuse went from molestation to rape involving intercourse. As that continued, I eventually got pregnant. I had a boyfriend with whom I was having sexual relations as well. My step-father was not sure who the father of the baby was, and did not want to risk being caught. So he convinced my mother, and they took me to a clinic to have an abortion. It worked – no one knew how he’d been raping me. The abortion protected him, and the rape continued.
I was very confused when they took me for the abortion. The only thing I remember is a deep anxiety and desire to know whether it was a boy or a girl, and that desire actually never went away. I was put under anesthesia, but I remember being depressed afterwards and having horrible nightmares — always the same ones where I would fall into a deep dark hole at a very fast speed.
By the time that I was 15 years old, I got pregnant again. This time, the doctors didn’t want to perform another abortion because I was too young and underweight. When my son was growing inside of me, I was happy and couldn’t wait to meet him. I did have a fear that he would look like my stepfather, but when he was born on November 21, 1990, that all went away, and I was madly in love with him.
Years passed by and I always wondered who the real father was, always fearful that it could be my step-father. To this day, I haven’t had a DNA paternity test, although many genetic similarities lead me to believe he is biologically my step-father’s. But it doesn’t matter — I know who his mother is and I love my son with all of my heart!
The next years were hard; I was practically out of control, spending very little time in my house, partying, drinking, and everything else that comes with it. It was at the age of 18 when I got involved with a man that was 15 years older than me and at 19, I left the country in a raft with him. Out of desperation, I left behind everything, including my 4 year old son. This was just the beginning of another journey full of pain and abuse. The man was a drug dealer and I was smoking lots of marijuana, but through it all, I always managed to work and help my family in Cuba.
This 7 year abusive relationship left many physical, emotional and psychological scars. I didn’t have anyone in this country and was more fearful of the outside world than of the abuse I was facing. After all, as far back as I could remember, abuse had always been a part of my life. I couldn’t resist anymore and suicidal thoughts were visiting me very often, so I decided I was going to leave this guy, but I was afraid because he was very dangerous and aggressive. However, I did find help to leave, and met my husband Pete during that process.
Because of our histories, my husband and I decided that we needed help and we pursued counseling. Two years of counseling and 60 weeks of Life Skills Classes gave us healing and an understanding that things did not have to stay the way they were, and that we can use our tests and turn them into testimonies — allowing those experiences to be used for God’s glory to help others understand that with help, they too can overcome their painful histories. It is just a matter of being humble and recognizing that we need help.
While receiving counseling, I was working as a Case Manager for a shelter and they acquired a grant to help women experiencing unplanned pregnancies. They assigned me to that program and I found myself right at home. However, the more I did, the more I wanted to do for these clients, but could not spread my wings. It was through a time of prayer when I felt this urge. I couldn’t change my past, but I could become in the future something that I longed for many times — someone who cared. I made up my mind that I was going to be that someone.
I spoke to my husband and pastor regarding opening a Crisis Pregnancy Center at our church and they supported me. My husband worked long hours in a room of our church transforming it into a beautiful center and we began helping the women of our community, but the financial situation was tight. We were financing the ministry primarily out of our personal savings account. Several months later, we applied and received a grant from the Florida Pregnancy Support Services Program. I can share with you testimony after testimony of lives that have been saved and healing that have taken place.
We now rent a 3/4 acre facility where we counsel and case manage the clients, educate, refer and provide many resources. We have celebrated weddings, baby showers, childbirth and even serve stillborn services. I can understand the pain of these women. I can see that there is more than a rebellious young lady, or a lazy woman, or a promiscuous one. I share with them the trials, but also the victory.
My husband and I have been married for 14 years now. I hadn’t seen my son for a long 12 years, but then with my husband’s help, I was able to bring my son to the United States since I became an American Citizen. We were able to buy our own house several years ago and have work for God and ministry for the last 10 years. I overcame, and have seen that by sharing my story with our clients, it gives them hope and encourages them to keep fighting and to turn their lives into something beautiful. I also like to share my story because many people are quick to judge another person’s life without knowing the root of the problem or the wounds that the person has suffered. In fact, many times these problems are rooted in their childhood and are responsible for their unhealthy lifestyles.
I am a Christian and will never be ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it was Jesus who brought light into my world of darkness and all glory goes to Him for every accomplishment. Every hurting soul who is experiencing an unplanned pregnancy is our responsibility. Every baby deserves to live and we seek to testify about Jesus through our unconditional services to their mothers. Because I know the mothers’ pain, I can share the good news of the hope that is in Christ. Through my life, they can see that no matter what we have gone through in life, we are able to conquer and become something new and beautiful.
I have been able to mourn the loss of the child that was aborted when I was young and I don’t walk in guilt and shame anymore. Instead, I speak boldly and openly about my life – yes, with pain, but also with the hope that others will see how it is not impossible to get out of the pit in which they find themselves at the present time.
Unfortunately, I was never able to conceive again; my son is my only living child and without him, I would not have had the opportunity to know what being a mother feels like. I can’t imagine my life without him from the time he was born to now at 25 years old. I can’t imagine my life without the nights in the hospital with his asthma attacks, or his hernia surgery or all of the other things we experience as mothers. No one can imagine the pain when I had to leave him behind not to risk his life in the ocean while coming to the U.S.. I got to experience the joy of picking him up in the airport when brought him here, seeing him give himself to Christ and getting baptized by my husband, taking him to soccer games and youth activities, and helping him get his first job and apartment.
Life is not easy and it has not been easy for him either. He has many things to deal with, as society pushes shame upon children conceived in rape, and he is not the exception. But nothing will keep his father (my husband) and I from continuing to pray and support him as he travels the painful, but worthy, journey of healing. My son is not perfect, but he is a hard working young man who was definitely fearfully and wonderfully made by our Lord and Savior.
I had never heard about abortion bans “except in cases of rape” back in Cuba, but as soon as I heard about it here in the U.S., I was angry that someone could think it was best for my son not to be alive because of no fault of his own. There should be no exceptions because my son is all I would want in a child; no exceptions because he is not the son of a stigma, but the son of a mother who would do anything in this world for him and of an adoptive father who loves him as his own; no exceptions because he is not a piece of garbage, but my most precious treasure; no exceptions because his life matters!
LifeNews Note: Yohanka Reyes is a pro-life blogger for Save The 1. Bilingual, she’s also a blogger for Salvar El 1. She serves as the Executive Director of Mary’s Pregnancy Resource Center, is a wife, and mother. She’ll be in Washington, D.C. at the March For Life 2016. Please come by the Save The 1 booth at the Expo, or say hello when you see her with her pink sign — MOTHER FROM RAPE I LOVE MY CHILD!