How do you counsel a woman in crisis pregnancy? The North York Crisis Pregnancy Centre (NYCPC), in Toronto, has had six years of experience.
“We are not here to save babies. We are here to glorify God and speak the truth about abortion. If babies are saved, we rejoice,” says Mary Turner, the current director of NYCPC. “We are here to help the women who come to us. They sense that we respect and genuinely care about them. We’re here to be a friend at a time when they are feeling very discouraged.”
“Most come because we offer a free pregnancy test and complete confidentiality. We have one hour with them at a very crucial moment in their lives.”
“In a crisis situation you form relationships very quickly. You have to be very open yourself.” Several counselors have themselves had unplanned pregnancies. ‘I know where you’re coming from. That’s where I’ve been,” one counselor tells her clients.
Out of control
If a client is pregnant her usual reaction is one of confusion. “My mind is going round in circles. I have no choice but to abort.” She feels out of control. It’s important to help her see that no matter how awful her circumstances, she does have choices.
“Give yourself time, at least a few days.” Most arrive in the very early stages of pregnancy, just after missing a period. For the teenage client this is the first major decision she has had to make in her life, even before deciding which university to attend.
World-renown gynecologist, Dr. Patrick Dunn of New Zealand, has done research that shows the tenth week of pregnancy is usually the worst for the mother. She is at her lowest psychological ebb (even in a desired pregnancy). If you can get her past that tenth week, she often starts to feel better. (In fact, she builds to an all-time high at the twentieth week).
“I’m not here to stop abortions,” says counselor Suzanne Ball. “I’m here to make sure women are really informed about their choices.”
“Most clients are not informed about abortion or adoption or what support services are available. If a woman decides to go to term she may wish to consider foster care or care with a relative while she finishes schooling. There are many possibilities. I am not responsible for the decision she makes. I’m here to counteract the myth that abortion is safe and the only answer. You have to let her walk out of the office even if she is abortion-minded.”
“Yet, you ever know. I’ve seen cases where everyone was convinced the client was going to abort. Then, nine months later, she comes back through our door to show us her new baby.”
Women need information on the physical and psychological risks of abortions so they can truly make informed decisions. Literature is available at the center and NYCPC has fifteen physicians available for consultation. Some of these doctors are available on a same-say basis and are only a ten minute bus ride away. Legal aid is also available, as well as a myriad of social services that the counselor can put the client in contact with.
When a despairing client learns she is pregnant, Mary Turner often asks, “Is there anything that makes you feel joyful in this pregnancy? I try to tap into the desire to nurture life. Sometimes there can be joy even in the ashes.”
“We encourage significant relations to be involved if the client would like that.” Many teenage girls come to the center with a close girlfriend or their boyfriend. They are counseled both privately and with their friend, if that is desired. When they come alone, we discuss the pressure they may be feeling from others.
Adoption an option
Too many clients see the options as abortion or parenting. If they carry to term, it is carry-to-keep. We do not have a preference but we want the client to see that adoption is a loving, caring option they should give some real thought to.
Pat Hingle said, “It is difficult to be sacrificial in our choices. First it is a sacrifice not to abort and to carry to term. It is a second sacrifice to place a child for adoption (see the story in this issue, “Giving up her child: the ultimate sacrifice). Most people are only interested in not being hurt. Adoption would be painful. We show them that abortion would be painful too, even though it is presented by others as an easy way out.”
Some parents encourage abortion. They see it as the least painful avenue for their child. Yet, she doesn’t forget that pregnancy. It is often in a second pregnancy that the anguish over the first comes to the surface.
For the older woman in a crisis pregnancy, there is usually more at stake. There is sometimes another child and a husband and possibly a lover. She feels she is up against a wall with no doors. Counselling helps her find those doors. She may well need help from family therapists or marriage consellors and this is encouraged.
Re-thinking the lifestyle
Half the clients who come to NYCPC learn that they are not pregnant. There is a tremendous sense of relief for the single women. This time is then sued to help her rethink her lifestyle. She is then more open to considering abstinence.
“How did you feel coming here thinking you were pregnant? Terrified!
“Do you want to experience that fear every month? Is it worth it?” Most teens said they liked the hugging and kissing. After that they felt uncomfortable.
“Were you pressured into sex? What do you want to be? The choice to be sexually active will affect all your choices in life.”
Having a clearer sense of long-term personal and career goals helps.
Clients are told, “This is an opportunity to begin over again. You are a new creation. You are not locked into your past. You can have a fresh, new beginning.”
“Few women love their abortionist. You hate everyone connected with it, including the nurse and your boyfriend or parents who pressured you into it,” said Joanne Dieleman, who also works at The Way Inn, a pro-life pregnancy counseling center located in downtown Toronto.
But the women who has had an abortion feels welcome to come back to NYCPC to talk. Post-abortion counseling and referrals are part of the centre’s ministry.
We always leave doors open. May we keep in contact with you? Is always asked of those who are pregnant. If the answer is ‘yes,’ there is a follow-up call within two weeks of the visit and again around the due date.
Often you are no longer part of their decision-making and you have to bow out. But sometimes there are wonderful surprises – abortion-minded women who give birth.
Pat Hingle finds crisis pregnancy counseling “totally challenging.” “It is wonderful motivating people who don’t have a lot of confidence in themselves and helping them find resources, empowering and inspiring them.”
Pat was Volunteer Coordinator at Queensway Hospital in Toronto so she is no stranger to volunteer work but “this is a front-line ministry.”
Counsellors have various backgrounds and personalities but “you don’t have wishy-washy people here.” Several have nursing experience, one is a VON (Victorian Order of Nurses), one a physiotherapist. Another has raised foster-care children. There are several young mums and two pastors’ wives. All agree that God seems to put the right counselor with the right client. “God seems to match us up.”
“What cold be a very draining ministry – often you are overwhelmed by the pain – is offset by the fact that your biggest supporters are other counselors. “We also have a tremendous board which is always encouraging and affirming us,” says Mary Turner. Several on the board have counseled at the center so they are sympathetic and knowledgeable.
“If I just looked at the statistics I would be very discouraged,” Mary Turner explains. “Statistically, we don’t have success. Nearly half the appointments booked are never kept. Of the half who test positive, probably 80 per cent abort and only 20 per cent carry to term. But God does not call us to success, He calls us to faithfulness. One life is precious to Him.” In the six years of operation the center knows of 140 births although the number may well be higher.
Mary leaves the statistics to board members and focuses on a bulletin board of smiling faces, both of babies and young women. There are even two wedding photos of former clients. There are many fresh beginnings.
Most clients find the North York Crisis Centre through the Yellow Pages or the daily ad in the Toronto Sun. Some are referred by doctors. Gradually, more women are coming on the recommendation of other clients. Says Mary Turner, “That’s when you know you’re doing a good job.”
A fresh beginning
“The people at the Centre are wonderful. They are caring individuals who turn a hopeless situation into a situation with choices. They do this with their caring and counseling. I don’t know what I would have done without them.
“The Centre is a turning point for many young pregnant women who find themselves in what they believe to be a hopeless dilemma. They don’t push you into anything, they just help you find yourself, and the right decision for you.
“I believe the Centre to be a very important place for young women. I would call it a sanctuary and I recommend it to anyone I know who is confused and looking for guidance. They are a wonderful group of people who have my deepest admiration and gratitude.
Linda Tyms, Mom.