The young woman who entered the Birthright of Charleston building was visibly upset, but trying to maintain composure.
The office was not officially open and none of the volunteers who provide testing or counseling for a crisis pregnancy had arrived. Luckily, Carolyn Forman, the director, had come in early.
Forman, who envelops visitors in an aura of peace and serenity, spoke softly to the woman and assured her everyone at the center was there to help. Just by walking into Birthright, the young woman had opened the door to carrying her child to term.
“We’re here to support them through their pregnancy. They just feel so alone,” Forman said. “Once you can meet all these concerns they have, they feel very supported and able to move forward and have that child.”
In an effort to help more women, Birthright moved their offices to a more visible location about a block from Charleston Women’s Medical Clinic, an abortion facility.
“We do want young ladies to have the opportunity to have their baby and we can’t do that if they don’t know where we are,” Forman said. “Statistics show that there’s a tremendous need for Birthright in our community.”
After dropping in 2004, the number of abortions in the state climbed significantly in the next two years, with 11,919 abortions reported in 2005 and 13,114 in 2006, according to statistics from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Birthright of Columbia also moved recently in order to be handicapped accessible. Hank Chardos, co-director, said the new facility is more spacious, with a kitchen and clothes room.
“What we’re trying to do is let the girl know she’s not by herself and she can get some help,” Chardos said.
He emphasized that Birthright is not just about providing free pregnancy tests. It is about giving women an alternative and a message of hope.
Forman said women who come to Birthright with an unplanned pregnancy are full of fears: fears about how they can stay in school, pay bills, keep their houses or apartments, cover medical expenses, or buy the many items a baby needs.
Volunteers are trained to listen and then address each concern through the many contacts that Birthright has in the community.
“A woman should never make a decision out of fear,” Forman said.
In a year, the Charleston center will see over 800 clients ranging from teenagers to women in their 40s, she said. In Columbia, Birthright sees 400 to 500 clients, Chardos said.
One of the options they discuss is adoption. The birth mother can choose whether to have an open adoption so she can be involved with the child, or a closed one, Forman explained.
If a woman chooses to keep her baby, Birthright will help with every area that is a concern.
Chardos, who also is director of Home Works of America, said he is in a unique position to help clients with housing issues.
He recalls one client who discovered a hole in her roof just as she was about to have what she thought were twins. She ended up giving birth to five boys, and Home Works put a new roof on her house. Chardos said he also helps with smaller issues like plumbing and home repair.
A helping hand can also be found through counseling, which is a big part of the Birthright experience. Trained volunteers provide support and guidance to individuals, couples and families. Forman said they are nonjudgmental, but do ask clients to take a close look at their lives, how they ended up in a crisis situation, and what they want from their future.
“The life they deserve is to be loved and respected,” Forman said. “We talk to them about good moral principles so they can have what they dream of.”
Counselors also encourage families to step back from the panic they are feeling in the present, and think about what the future can bring. Maybe a teenage girl is not ready to be a mother, and maybe her parents don’t want the responsibility either, but by working together, they can make it through.
In just a few years, a teenager can mature into a young woman, a high school or college graduate with a good job who is ready for motherhood, Forman said.
“Families that pull together are going to have a much easier time of things,” she said. “Their tears turn into smiles. We see them come back in here with their children, and they’re so glad they had their baby.”
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