Written by Karen Mahoney, Special to your Catholic Herald
Thursday, 04 October 2012 07:15h
The black-and-white image on the ultrasound screen in the examination room pulsed rhythmically as expectant mother Jenica Joyce watched.
The diagnostic medical sonographer held the probe sending sound waves through Jenica’s body and explained the splotches of dark and light on the screen.
A steady, perfect heartbeat in the background was choreographed to the unmistakable image of tiny toes, then a perfect spine, then the baby’s profile, its arms moving as it flipped a summersault through the amniotic fluid.
The image changed again, but this time, it wasn’t just two-dimensional swaths of light and dark. Suddenly, Jenica could see her unborn baby’s face, no longer a shadowy profile, and she knew, without a doubt – she was going to have a baby.
This was an abrupt change for the 29-year-old single mother-to-be who, until having this ultrasound at the Women’s Care Center in Milwaukee, was planning to have an abortion.
“I just never saw myself being in a predicament where I was single and pregnant,” she said. “I am usually safe and careful in a relationship – but it happened, and I didn’t want to be with the father anymore. I am just in my second year of college and I don’t make much money. It was a very scary thought because it is so expensive to take care of myself, let alone a baby. I didn’t want to bring a child into a world where I couldn’t afford basic things. I was very torn, and really thought that the best thing to do was to not have the baby for its sake.”
No turning back after she saw her child
After learning she was pregnant in early August, Jenica asked a co-worker if she knew of a place she could get an abortion. The co-worker instead gave her the name and address of the Women’s Care Center and while Jenica walked into the center expecting to schedule an abortion, she soon realized the center is a pregnancy help center, not an abortion provider.
“They were so nice the minute I came in,” she said. “They were not judgmental and first did a pregnancy test to make sure I was pregnant and then suggested an ultrasound to see how far I was along and then said we could discuss my choices.”
Once Jenica saw the image of her unborn baby, there was no turning back.
“It made me cry,” she said. “I remember saying, ‘Oh my God, I can’t do this.’ When you see the little baby and hear the heartbeat, it is just so real.”
Because Jenica has polycystic ovarian syndrome, the chances of her becoming pregnant were slim. Since she was using birth control and still conceived, she realized God was giving her a precious gift.
“It was a miracle that I got pregnant at all,” she said. “I have this gift and never thought of it before. So, I got up the courage to talk to my mom, and she began to cry, too, and told me what a gift I had. She said, ‘Don’t turn your head when you are given a gift like this,’ so with her support and the support of everyone at the center, I know we will be OK. It won’t be easy, but we will be OK.”
A story like Jenica’s brings smiles to the faces of the thousands of members of the Knights of Columbus around the country. Because of their tireless help and fundraising efforts, ultrasound machines, like the ones at the Women’s Care Center, are encouraging pregnant women to choose life, one ultrasound at a time.
Knights provide funding for machines
The K of C Supreme Council, in cooperation with its state council affiliates in Wisconsin, has provided five crisis pregnancy centers complete funding for the acquisition of ultrasound machines that will help the centers better provide for the health of mother and child. Ultrasound exams use sound waves to scan a woman’s abdomen, creating a picture, or “sonogram” of the baby in her uterus.
Without K of C support, these centers would be unable to purchase the ultrasound devices, each costing approximately $30,000 to $40,000. According to past state deputy, Roland Ransom, the organization is raising funds for three to four additional machines to be placed at approved centers in the state within the next few months.
To be eligible for a K of C ultrasound-sponsored machine, the centers must share the respect life values of the organization. To date, Wisconsin K of C Councils have raised $116,654.26 for the five ultrasound machines and the machines they hope to place.
“We are one of the top states in the country for fundraising and getting these machines into pregnancy centers,” he said. “These machines make such a difference. Since we began this initiative in 2009, a high percentage of women keep their babies after seeing them on an ultrasound.”
After a council or district raises half the funds through golf outings, second collections at Mass, brat fries, pancake breakfasts, car washes and other events, the Supreme Council will match the amount raised.
Getting an ultrasound machine into a center is important and pregnancy centers are eager to receive the assistance from the K of C, said George Ploof, district deputy.
“The pregnancy centers have at their disposal a powerful diagnostic tool,” said Ploof. “When an ultrasound is used to confirm a pregnancy, that knowledge opens the doors to counsel, teach and encourage the mothers and fathers looking for help and guidance. The number of ‘saves’ is truly hard to quantify. I have heard that the percentage of women contemplating an abortion that receive free ultrasound and counseling at the Women’s Care Center on Farwell located directly across the street from Affiliated Medical Services Abortion Clinic in Milwaukee that over 90 percent choose life for their child.”
As director of the Women’s Care Center, Sharon Hudy estimates 97 percent of the women coming to the center have their babies following the ultrasound.
“We have had our machine since June 2010 and it has been a tremendous, an absolutely essential tool in helping young moms bond with their babies,” she said. “They can see the development, hear the heartbeat and we follow up with counseling, parenting classes and discuss their choices, such as adoption.”
19 locations across country
Established in 1984, the Woman’s Care Center is a Catholic pregnancy center founded by a theologian, Dr. Janet E. Smith. With 19 locations around the country, including the new center on Mitchell Street in Milwaukee and another in Madison, the center is now the nation’s largest pregnancy center.
Between the two Milwaukee area centers, the Women’s Care Center sees an average of 24 clients per day in each location.
“We are well above the national standard in women choosing life, so we know that the ultrasounds are a huge help in that area,” said Hudy. “They are so lifesaving. We give these women hope and they know that having their baby is possible. We have had women say to us, ‘You know, we knew we could do it because you have been there to help us.’ This is very powerful because most women are afraid to reach out to parents or friends and they can have our support in a few moments, days or weeks. We meet them right where they are at and talk through what their fears may be.”
No handouts, only a hand up
For women who don’t feel that they can raise a baby, Hudy said they discuss adoption planning. No woman is presented with the ultrasound photo and simply sent on her way; the care extends from pregnancy up to five years.
“We don’t give them handouts, we give them a hand up,” said Hudy, who went on to explain that when Jenica came to the center, a counselor explained to her the options and benefits of making an adoption plan or parenting the child herself.
“If she chose to parent her child, Jenica could work within our Crib Club incentive program to earn new items for her baby including a car seat, stroller, crib, clothing (up to 5T), diapers and other baby necessities,” said Hudy. “All Jenica would need to do is take part in our parenting classes, work on goal setting with a WCC counselor, maintain a healthy pregnancy by keeping her pre-natal and ultrasound appointments, etc. The counselor also explained fetal development to Jenica and offered her the ultrasound.”
Hartford area to offer ultrasounds soon
The incentive is similar in most pregnancy help centers, such as the Hartford Pregnancy Help Center that will start offering ultrasound services in April, explained director Laura Denk. The center serves about 75 women per month, and does an average of 12-15 pregnancy tests.
“We have all of the funding for a machine and everything is in place to order it, but we first need to receive training and once we are fully trained will purchase the machine for use on site,” she said. “We are very excited because there is no place in Washington County that offers free ultrasounds.”
Presently, in order to procure an ultrasound for an expectant mother, Denk or one of the counselors has to drive the woman to the Farwell location, and when dealing with a critical time frame, coupled with the emotions of a pregnant woman, the planning can be difficult.
“We don’t get very many women willing to drive in a car for 50 minutes for an ultrasound appointment, so it is very important that we have a machine here to use,” said Denk. “I had a young lady here that was just not going to have her baby no matter what. I did take her for an initial ultrasound and talked her into going back for a second one. She saw that the baby was a boy and saw him flipping and kicking and doing things. “Suddenly, she sat up and looked at me and said, ‘I am going to change my mind and will keep this baby.’ She is due in two months and I know that it is because of the ultrasounds that the baby is still there.”
With two locations, the Care Center of Racine and Kenosha are looking forward to receiving two ultrasound machines in the next few months. As with the Hartford Center, the staff at the Care Center needs to pay for training before they purchase their machines. In both locations, the need for free ultrasounds is critical to saving babies and offering life affirming options, said Judy Van Swoll, executive director.
“All we can do now is offer pregnancy tests, counseling, refer them to Milwaukee for an ultrasound, and present them the truth about abortion, which is basically presenting medical facts as well as the emotional and spiritual repercussions of having an abortion,” she said. “If you have a gall bladder surgery, you want to be informed, so we want to make sure these women are informed about everything before they decide to go through with an abortion.”
With Planned Parenthood just down the road, Van Swoll admitted many women walk in thinking that they are going in for an abortion. After explaining that Care Center is a life-affirming organization, many of the women are conflicted, panicked and paralyzed by fear and admit they feel pressured to have an abortion.
“They just can’t see how they can provide for a child because many might not have a job or a home, and then the economy is so bad,” she explained. “Many are conflicted, but we love them, talk to them, and build a relationship with them and a good amount of them do choose life.”
Racine, Kenosha continue to fundraise
For six months, seven Knights of Columbus councils worked to raise funds to provide the two ultrasound machines for Racine and Kenosha by selling Lifesavers, hosting pancake breakfasts and other efforts.
“We have over 100 women come through our doors each month in Kenosha, not as many in Racine because that center is newer, but we are so excited to be getting these ultrasound machines,” Van Swoll said. “It will make such a difference and we can be with them from the beginning, and help to take the economic worries from them and be there for the whole journey. The ultrasound will be a remarkable bonding and first connection to the unborn child and help the mother to know that they are carrying a viable human being.”
For Jenica, whose baby is due March 13, 2013, the ultrasound changed her life.
“I wasn’t the worst child in the world, but I have had my share of struggles,” she admitted. “I felt like I was never successful and finally, just went back to school a year ago. It took me a while to get things together. But now that I am pregnant, wow! I stopped all negative behavior and feel so much more grown up and mature, like I am doing something really amazing. It is a really cool feeling. I never thought I would be in this exact position, but more than anything, I want to be a good person and be a good mother for my child.”
For Ploof, a member of the Council of St. Joseph, 13733 in Sheboygan, Jenica’s decision helps him realize their efforts make a difference.
“It just gives me chills and goose bumps when I am able to help and know that we are saving lives,” he said. “It gives me a thrill that all of these 59 councils in Wisconsin are working hard to put as many of these units in place to save as many babies we can to give the dignity back to mother and child.”