Alonna Mertz holds her twin daughters Eve, left, and Lilly, who will turn 2 Feb. 2. Mertz became pregnant unexpectedly in 2017 and was considering abortion. She went as far as going to an abortion clinic, but what she describes as a “miracle” took place the day she went. She changed her mind and instead went for help to a pro-life center in Woodbury where she had once volunteered. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

Alonna Mertz prayed in front of abortion clinics as a teenager in Michigan, driven by her well-formed, pro-life conviction.

Then, in 2017 as a young adult, she went to such a clinic in Minneapolis for a different and unexpected reason:

She was pregnant.

Dating a man whose values didn’t align with hers, she found herself alone and feeling scared about the new life inside her body.

“At that point, there was enough distance between me and God that I wasn’t listening to the Holy Spirit,” said Mertz, 27. “I was terrified, and I made an appointment for an abortion.”

Like so many other women who discover unplanned pregnancies, Mertz struggled with a torrent of tortured emotions when a home pregnancy test confirmed what she had sensed was true.

“I wept,” she said of seeing the positive result. “I felt so sorry for my baby. It (her life) wasn’t a white picket fence. It wasn’t a mother and father who loved each other. It was broken and it was hard. And, this is what my child was going to meet. And, I just couldn’t bear that reality.”

She was well aware of the “big disconnect” between what she had grown up believing and what she now wanted to do. A Catholic, she had served for a year and a half with NET Ministries in West St. Paul, and even had volunteered with a pro-life pregnancy resource center in the Twin Cities after moving to Minnesota from Michigan in 2015. Still, she pressed on and went
to the abortion clinic.

Finding the atmosphere there “sterile and cold,” she got as far as the ultrasound room, where she would find out how far along she was in her pregnancy.

Though she knew abortion was wrong, she was consumed by one thought concerning the alternative of carrying her baby to term: “I can’t do this.”

Only a technical glitch that she cannot explain and a baby’s cry at that clinic kept her from getting an abortion. She left the clinic that day without carrying through with her plan, and instead gave birth to fraternal twin girls, Eve and Lilly, Feb. 2, 2018, by cesarean section.

Mertz plays with her daughters Lilly, left, and Eve at the home of Joan and Robley Evans in Mendota Heights. A year ago, the family took in Mertz and the twins, who will turn 2 Feb. 2. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

Today, she can’t imagine life without them. It is a struggle, she admits, but there is joy every day, plus help from what she calls a “village” of friends and
family members. They include a Catholic family in Mendota Heights with whom she now lives.

Mertz, who belongs to St. Bernard in St. Paul, recently recalled her journey from being abortion minded to being child focused.

‘This is a baby’

When Mertz found out she was pregnant in June 2017, she told no one at first, not even her boyfriend. She went to the clinic alone for the procedure.
While sitting in the waiting room, she heard a baby’s cry — a noise that changed everything.

“It was just a split second, but it was such a distinct cry, from the back (of the clinic),” she said. “I looked and I could see other women had heard it, too, because everyone else looked to the back room.”
The infant’s wail triggered a thought in her mind: “This is a baby, Alonna,” she said. “You know this is a baby.”

Eventually, she was called in for an ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy and determine how far along she was. But, the technician could find nothing — no image, no heartbeat. Mertz was instructed to schedule an appointment to try the test again.

No way, Mertz decided. After a reaction of “just relief,” she went to the parking lot, cried for 20 minutes and looked up a pro-life center where she had volunteered — Woodbury Options for Women Pregnancy Resource Center.

She went there a week later and got an ultrasound during the first visit. This time, there was “an immediate heartbeat, just so loud,” Mertz said. Believing there was “no biological reason” for this heartbeat to be absent from the ultrasound at the abortion clinic just one week earlier, she sensed divine intervention.

“It was a miracle,” she said. “These little girls were wanted and willed and protected, even from me. So, I knew this was special.”

She was yet to learn how special this pregnancy was. At that first appointment in Woodbury, she thought she was having just one baby. But, she was sent to another clinic for a follow-up exam because of abdominal pain.

“During that ultrasound, the tech said, ‘Well, everything looks normal, and you already know you’re having twins, right?’” Mertz said. “I laughed because
I thought she was joking — and then she didn’t laugh.”

Spreading the news

It was time to start telling people and seeking help. She turned to a friend she had met a few years earlier, Theresa Evans. The two young women had served at NET Ministries, though not at the same time, and formed a deep bond after being introduced by a mutual friend in 2016. Evans remembers Mertz telling her the news while on a walk together.

“I was one of the first people she told,” said Evans, 32. “I struggle with (mental health issues), and I was very open with her about that. And so, I think my vulnerability in sharing with her allowed her to be vulnerable in sharing her news with me.”

Mertz was “very scared” Evans recalled, but she also appeared to be reassured by Evans’ reaction. Evans paused as the words soaked in, then got excited.
“I was jumping up and down in the street, actually,” Evans said. “I was like, ‘Yes, this is hard, and it’s gonna be beautiful.’ And, I think both have ringed true.”

Eventually, Mertz did tell her boyfriend, and they came back together for a year after the girls were born. But, it didn’t work out, and she turned to Evans and her family for help. Theresa’s parents, Robley and Joan Evans of St. Joseph in West St. Paul, quickly and eagerly offered to let her stay in their Mendota Heights home. She has her own apartment in the basement, and an informal lease agreement that is up for renewal every six months. So far, the arrangement has worked well for both sides, partly due to the pro-life convictions of the Evans family.

“We have a sign in our yard that says, ‘Choose life,’” said Joan, 60. “You can consider yourself pro-life, but when something like this happens, it challenges you.”

With all of their six children grown and most of them out of the house, Joan and Robley had room for a tenant. Theresa also lives there, and she likes being close to Mertz and her daughters.

“Eve is actually my goddaughter,” Theresa said. “What a special time of life to be able to live with my goddaughter, and to pray with her and to go to Mass with her sometimes. It’s such a gift.”

Mertz isn’t sure how long the living arrangement at the Evans home will last. She just started the second semester of a one-year program to become an MRI technician. She will finish in the summer and look for a job in her field.

Why did it happen?

Mertz talks about her experience of turning from abortion to giving birth to her twins at the archdiocesan Champions for Life awards luncheon Oct. 31 at St. Peter in Mendota. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

Meanwhile, she is sharing her story publicly. She was the featured speaker at the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ St. John Paul II Champions for Life Awards Luncheon at St. Peter in Mendota Oct. 31. Two years as a mother and time to reflect have helped her ponder why she strayed from her faith and became pregnant and abortion minded.

She traces it back to when she was 1 and her parents divorced. Her father did not have much contact with her after that, and he died when she was 8.
Although she “was born and raised Catholic with a strong faith, a strong relationship with the Lord,” she also had a “weakness of not having a father, not having that male role model.”

That made her vulnerable, she said, to dating a man “who I never in a million years would have said yes to.” She met him in 2016, the year after moving to the Twin Cities. Back home, she had the support of her Catholic mother and grandparents, who lived across the street. In her new location, she was trying to find her way without any family nearby.

She calls what happened in the dating relationship “a slow slide” that led to her having premarital sex and getting pregnant six months after meeting her then-boyfriend. He has not been involved in the girls’ lives since they broke up, Mertz said.

Now that she has found stability and support, she is ready and excited to keep talking about her conversion. A big part is the many people who have reached out in love and provided practical assistance. One of them is the pastor of her parish, Father Ivan Sant, who visited her at the hospital several times after her delivery, which was almost two months premature.

The girls weighed less than 5 pounds each, and were in the neonatal intensive care unit for 25 days. She was an employee of the parish at the time, and she continued in her job as religious education director until the girls were 6 months old.

“I’m so grateful to share this (story), to have healed and gone through what I’ve gone through with the girls,” she said. “I fell, but the Lord brought something good from it. And, it wouldn’t have been so miraculous had I not actually fallen.”

She said she has learned “mercy and humility” through this experience, and she is motivated to pay it forward to others who go through similar struggles.

“It makes me want to dive in more,” she said. “I heard this quote: ‘Your ministry is what your misery was.’ It was miserable on myself, and I want to help other mothers, other fathers, other children.”

Those who interact with her will see a radiant smile, one that went dormant for a while but now flashes frequently.

“I’ve always been joyful — always, always, always,” she said. “And, I just smile because I know the Lord is good. I know it both in head and heart, and I’m excited to share this. This is what I want to do.”

She hopes she will have the chance to encounter a woman in an unplanned pregnancy. She wants to say to her what she now knows after bringing twin girls into the world and raising them over the last two years:

“You are not alone, and you can do this.”