Sarah seemed to have it all together. She came from a close-knit family with a strong work ethic. She put in the time and effort to become a straight-A student and star soccer player in high school. And her hard work paid off when she earned a full scholarship to play soccer in college. The future seemed bright and Sarah felt like she had endless possibilities ahead of her.
But then Sarah found out she was pregnant. Her world seemed to be falling apart. How could she finish college? How could she get through finals if she had morning sickness? How could she continue to play soccer? Most importantly, would she lose her scholarship? It felt as if she was drowning in the chaos of all the impossibilities that swirled around her. Sarah didn’t know where to turn and felt her only option was to terminate her pregnancy. Then, a friend told her about the Women’s Care Center near the campus and directed her to their website. Anxious and not knowing what to expect, Sarah made an appointment to go in for a free pregnancy test. The result of that visit would turn her life around.
Building Caring Relationships. The first Women’s Care Center (WCC) opened its doors in 1984. Notre Dame professor Dr. Janet Smith purchased a house in South Bend, Indiana—next to the local abortion clinic—because she felt called to reach out to women in crisis pregnancies. When a phone-a-thon raised $30,000 for the project, Dr. Smith decided to use the money not for supplies or equipment, but to hire a trained counselor to work with the women who came to the center. She knew that establishing a personal connection would be essential in caring for the women who sought their help.
That first year, 300 women came to the little blue house in South Bend for support. In 2019, 35 years later, more than 30,000 women were served by the 32 Women’s Care Centers nationwide.
Two of those clients were Joe and Kathy. Newly married, they were both in the military and preparing to be deployed to Japan in a few days. When a home pregnancy test showed a positive result, they didn’t know what to do. Joe looked online for help and came across WCC. They made an appointment, and both came in to discuss “the big A,” as they called it. They had a chance to talk through their fears with a counselor and received a free ultrasound. Even though their baby was tiny, they were amazed by what they saw on the screen and knew right away they wanted to keep their baby. Two days later, they were deployed as planned. Months later, WCC received a note of thanks, with a photo of the new family, complete with their little baby!
WCC was there when Joe and Kathy needed them. That’s because WCC is a ministry that is run like a business. Clinics are open a minimum of 40 hours per week to be available when women need them. Counselors are professionals with over 160 hours of training. All staff is paid. They provide free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, and most important, one-on-one counseling and support through pregnancy and beyond. They do not attempt to be a medical center. As they like to say, they won’t “out-medical” abortion clinics, but they will “out-love” them.
Helping Women Rise Above Obstacles. That’s what happened to Julie. A full-time librarian, she was a single mom with four young children at home. She loved her job and she loved her kids. But when she discovered that she was pregnant again, she felt overwhelmed. Julie tried calling the local abortion clinic, but they couldn’t see her for several days. WCC was available the same day. When she came in to WCC to confirm her pregnancy, the counselor listened to her fears and challenges. She helped Julie recognize the hurdles she had already overcome and what a good mom she already was to her children. Having the chance to share her story, to be heard and understood, made a huge difference for Julie.
By the time she had the ultrasound, Julie knew she wanted this child. Abortion was no longer an option. So, she returned to WCC over and over for continued support during her pregnancy, and afterward for parenting classes and for help in caring for her newest child as well as her other children. WCC not only helped Julie to choose life, they walked with her every step of the way in the years that followed.
That’s one of WCC’s greatest strengths: practical support. The vast majority of their clients face profoundly difficult situations. The reality of pregnancy may be devastating. But building a relationship with a counselor helps the mother recognize her dignity and value, remember her own goodness and the strength that got her through other hard times. Suddenly she starts to have hope and begins to believe that maybe she is stronger than she thought. In that environment of hope and possibility, she can see her baby on an ultrasound, hear the heartbeat, and find herself free to love her baby.
Of course, the obstacles don’t magically go away. The expectant mother will be returning to the same environment that made her feel it was impossible to carry her child. That’s why WCC promises to support each client, from the pregnancy test until she sends her son or daughter off to kindergarten. WCC offers goals sessions to help attack the issues each woman is facing, group parenting classes on positive discipline and raising kids with character, and many other practical forms of assistance.
Communities of Caring. Well over 9 in 10 of the women receiving services at WCC choose not to abort their baby. What’s more, on average, these women will return 5 times during that first year for services and support from their counselor and the staff at WCC.
Each of the WCC locations across the country arose from communities looking for a way to answer a need to care for women in crisis pregnancies. The women who walk through their doors receive support from the counselor and staff, but they also receive support from the entire community. It’s that model of service which convinces each woman that she is worth it. Her baby is worth it. That’s what makes all the difference.
The center in Baltimore is one of WCC’s newest. It opened in 2016, and last year they served more than 1,000 women. This year, 404 babies will be born to women being served by the Baltimore center. In 5 years, those babies will fill 20 kindergarten classrooms!
Love in Action. WCC is founded on principles of Catholic social teaching and rooted in the idea of radical hospitality. That means they welcome each woman who comes to them and accept where that woman is in her walk with God. They do not pray with their clients and do not proselytize. They provide a safe haven of unconditional love which enables their clients to deal openly with their problems and obstacles, to bear and raise their child.
It’s not surprising that some of the women helped by WCC want to return the favor. One young woman became a nurse and came back to work for WCC. Another told her counselor she planned to go to college and study hard so she could be a counselor, too. These women went from feeling crushed by their circumstances to having confidence in their own strengths and the support of their community. They not only became mothers; they developed the self-reliance to meet their goals.
Success Stories. Whatever happened to Sarah, the student-athlete? Her counselor helped her deal with her fears and the immense pressure she felt to succeed. She helped Sarah break down all those “impossibilities” into small, manageable tasks. One week, she talked to her academic advisor about rearranging her class schedule. Another week, she explored her options for continuing soccer after her baby’s birth and found that she would not lose her scholarship!
After her first visit to WCC, Sarah knew she didn’t really want an abortion. She thought she had no other option, but she started to see that was not true. Slowly she and her counselor worked through every obstacle. Seven months later, Sarah gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. She and her boyfriend are now married. With a smile, she says that her life did not fall apart when she had her baby; in fact, she achieved more than she hoped because she had someone depending on her, someone to fight for. Sarah finished college and was captain of her soccer team. Now she coaches her own son in—what else?—soccer.
A longtime counselor says that working with women in crisis pregnancy really is all about joy. Yes, they confront heartbreaking struggles a lot of the time. But she sees women facing these profoundly difficult situations courageously and she watches with gratitude as they become self-reliant and embrace their unique gifts. In the end, it’s about life. It’s about the joy and hope of seeing a young woman becoming a mother. That’s why WCC does what it does.
The names in this article have been changed to protect the identities of the individuals involved.
Hallie Riedel is an editor for The Word Among Us. For more information about seeking help from the Women’s Care Center, visit www.womenscarecenter.org. To make a donation, see www.supportwomenscarecenter.org.