Written by: Rachel Cunio, WCO Forest Park Manager
Before I worked at the Women’s Center, I thought that pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) were magical places in which women planning to have abortions walked in daily, seeking truth, finding love, changing their minds, and choosing life. After over three years with Women’s Centers of Ohio, both as a volunteer consultant and a center manager, my view of PRCs has changed. Having heard hundreds of client stories, now I understand that women who come in the doors of PRCs like the Women’s Centers experience complicated journeys of challenges and joys, but most of all, grace. Every day in the Women’s Center is different and unpredictable, so I picked a random day to share the experience of what it’s like to be at the Women’s Center.
9:00 am – I arrive at the Women’s Center one hour before opening time, as most center managers do. To prepare for the day, I confirm all center supplies are stocked, boot-up all technology, answer emails, send follow-up texts to a few clients, and ensure all client charts from the previous day are complete and accurate, reflecting the day’s work.
9:45 am – Once all staff and volunteers have arrived at the center, we begin by writing down individual prayer intentions, completing a daily devotional, and praying as a group.
10:00am – Opening time! With two clients waiting outside our door, each with a support person in tow, the waiting room goes from empty to full quite suddenly. Both of our 10am pregnancy tests (PTs for short) are marked as “ABM”, meaning “abortion-minded” in their appointment notes. Normally we prioritize ABM and UND (“undecided”) clients, but when we have two at-risk clients at once, we rely on the Lord to help us navigate making sure we serve both (or all) clients as they deserve – with unconditional love and care! One of the clients has a support person with her that only speaks Spanish, so our consultant Lauren, who speaks Spanish, takes her for the client’s pregnancy test and consultation. I take the other client. Once in the consultation room with the client, I learn that she has only known the father of the baby (FOB) for 6 months. The client shares with me that she had a surgical abortion six years ago and that the experience was traumatic enough that she will only consider a medical abortion this time. I encourage that when she is ready to seek healing from her past abortion, the Women’s Center will be here for her. A single tear falls down the client’s cheek into her mask as she says “wow, I didn’t know [healing] was an option – it’s so cool that you guys offer that.” However, the more urgent situation is the current pregnancy decision, so the rest of the consultation focuses on her concerns about pregnancy options. The client shares that she feels lonely parenting her 5-year-old as a single-mom and laments that she desires a “family unit” for the child she is currently carrying. The client receives an ultrasound and is scheduled for a follow-up since she is too early in pregnancy to determine viability.
11am – Time for another consultation! This time, my client is unsure if she is pregnant but is a young newlywed who is a recent immigrant from the Middle East. Her English is good but she has no insurance or doctor. When I share the news of the positive PT result, the client squeals in glee and does a little dance of happiness. We discuss community resources to help her find prenatal care and offer her an ultrasound, which she accepts with great gratitude. I am grateful to share in the gift of this client’s joy, when so many of our clients experience anxiety and anguish when receiving a positive PT result. The client wants to bring her husband with her for their first ultrasound, so we schedule the client’s ultrasound appointment for the following week.
12pm – A Spanish-speaking woman walks in asking for an ultrasound. Lauren’s language expertise comes in handy again and she takes the client. The client is planning to carry her pregnancy to term. However, when she receives her ultrasound, her baby has no heartbeat. The client, Lauren, Rachel S. (our sonographer), and I are all devastated for the client and her baby. We each say a little prayer for mom & baby, but there is not much time to mourn.
12:30pm – I get a call from a donor (yay!!) asking if it is a good time to drop off a donation. I welcome them to the center five minutes later and find that they are bringing several baby wipes packages, a popular boutique item of which we are nearly sold out. Somehow, even when we don’t specifically ask for items, the Lord provides what we need!
1pm- A client who has been here five times before comes in for another PT She has been negative each time, and each time we have discussed sexual integrity and the client has made a verbal commitment to live a chaste life (she tells us about a new relationship at each visit). Each time she returns, begging for answers as to why she is not having a period, and lamenting that she is getting older and thinks she must not be able to have children. Since we are familiar with each other, I consult with the client this time. The client’s PT result is negative again, so I know this is an opportunity to build a relationship with the client further. During this consultation, she tells me she is still with the boyfriend she had the last time she visited us. The client shares that she knows she wants a family but is concerned about her physical ability to get pregnant. I ask the client to share more about her dream of a family and how she envisions herself getting there. She shares with me that she wants to be married. We discuss how a healthy dating relationship can lead to healthy marriage and I reiterate the importance of sexual integrity and abstinence until marriage. The client agrees and asks more about why she is not having a period. I introduce fertility awareness based charting of cycles, also known as “Natural Family Planning”. In this case, I give the client a brief introduction as to how fertility awareness charting might help her find answers about her fertility. I refer her to a Natural Family Planning instructor and we joke that we won’t see each other again until after she is married.
Meanwhile, Lauren has taken another abortion-minded client. Lauren’s client is in her young 20’s and does not feel “emotionally ready” to have a child. She is worried about being tied to the man who fathered the child for the rest of her life. As a student, the client also has financial concerns. Lauren introduces the Women of Strength Scholarship, which interests the client, but is not enough to make her feel ready to make a decision for life. After declining an ultrasound because the client has to be somewhere, she leaves the center with a plan to return a few days later for an ultrasound. Before leaving, the client asks if she can take one of the little Bible’s we have in discreet places in the consultation rooms. We are subtly happy to tell her she can take more than one if she likes.
1:30pm- I consult with a walk-in client who is undecided in her pregnancy decision (parenting or abortion). Her boyfriend joins the consultation part way through, but he is slouched so far over during our conversation that I am unsure if he is asleep or not. The client was laid off at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and recently got a new job. She shares with me that she feels like she has just gotten on her feet. She and her boyfriend are living in his mother’s basement with several of his siblings and the client feels like this would not be a good environment for a newborn baby. We discuss the client’s options further, including housing resources, financial assistance, and adoption. However, the client feels she needs to be able to guarantee a high quality of life for her child, something she is not confident she can provide at this point. We discuss abortion procedures and the client assures me she would never have a surgical abortion. During the ultrasound, the client learns she is nearly 10 weeks along, which disqualifies her for a medical abortion (FDA approved for up to 10weeks from the last menstrual period). The client leaves our center upset but grateful for our services. We will follow up with her in a few days to offer another ultrasound to help with her decision-making process.
2pm- After a busy and emotionally exhausting morning, while Rachel S. performs an ultrasound, Lauren and I re-read the morning devotional from Matthew 11:28:
Come to Me, all you who are weary and overburdened, and I will give you rest.
We are reminded that the Lord is our protector and takes ownership of the burden we feel when we see our clients hurting and their children taking the brunt of their pain.
2:15pm – A client who has been taking online classes with us walks in asking to shop for baby wipes in the boutique. This is the Lord’s little reminder that He has a plan, since a donor brought that very item into our boutique in the morning.
3pm- One of the clients I saw last week who was planning to have an abortion comes in for her follow-up ultrasound and we sit down after she has heard her baby’s heartbeat. The client comes from an African Muslim family with strong cultural roots. Her father is a prominent leader in their faith community and the client fears she will lose her family and be kicked out of the house if they find out she is pregnant. When asked what her faith says about abortion, the client responds that they “never talk about it because we’re not supposed to be having sex”. For this client, the shame of pre-marital sex outweighs the pain of abortion. After hearing the heartbeat of her baby, the client breaks down in tears for the first time since I’ve met her. We talk for a long time about how she can make her situation work with carrying the pregnancy to term, since she does not truly desire to have an abortion, but feels pressured by what she feels is the inevitable reaction of her family. In the end, she decides to wait a little while longer to make her decision and we schedule her to return in one week for another ultrasound. Since the client is so concerned that her family might learn of the pregnancy, the client is particularly grateful to have been able to share her story with us at the Women’s Center. She called us her “only confidants” before leaving the center.
4:00pm- After an emotional day of serving clients, I check our texting app one last time to see if any of the follow-up texts I sent earlier have been answered. To my great surprise, I find that a client who was undecided several months ago has delivered her baby and sent us a picture. The baby has the chubbiest cheeks I’ve ever seen and I am overcome with joy that the Lord allowed the Women’s Center to be part of this mother’s story so that this little baby could be given a chance at life. Even though the client left our center still considering abortion, we planted a little seed of the Lord’s grace that grew within the client and resulted in a decision for life!
Maybe pregnancy resource centers are magical places afterall, it’s just that the “magic” is the Lord’s grace and it comes in small bits. While we don’t always see the fruits of our labor immediately, we see our fellow Women’s Center staff members, volunteers, and donors pouring out love for clients, this ministry, and for each other. We see clients learning to love their partners, themselves, and their babies. Most of all, we see the Lord planting seeds of grace in everyone touched by the ministry of the Women’s Centers as we learn to love more like Him on this mission for LIFE!