For some women, the words “congratulations, you’re going to have a baby” can be confusing and a little scary. Perhaps the woman is single and her partner doesn’t want a child. Maybe she’s married and already has several children. Or she could be a young teen, worried about parental and peer support.
When a woman becomes pregnant, she has three choices. She can carry the child to term and keep it, place the baby with an adoptive family, or terminate the pregnancy. Each choice carries its own emotional and physical risks. And the journey to one of life’s most personal decisions is often made more difficult by the politics of pro-life and pro-choice, community expectations, and economic insecurity.
“Some women feel like having a child is impossible,” says Jan Gessele, director of the Pregnancy Resource Centers in Glenwood Springs and Rifle. “They get the news and they panic.” But, she added, “What if those women could walk into a place that could help them? A place where someone said, ‘What do you need to help you today and tomorrow and the next day?’”
That’s just what Gessele was thinking when she started volunteering at Aspen’s Pregnancy Resource Center in 1985. She explained that in the early 1980s, for every child born in Aspen, two pregnancies were terminated. Dr. Michael Berkeley, a local orthopedic surgeon, wanted to know why.
“We learned that people felt like they had no options,” Gessele recalled.
Berkeley found out about the Pregnancy Resource Center movement, which had offices throughout the country. With support from the Grand Junction and Chicago centers, Berkeley and others set up the first nonprofit PRC in the Roaring Fork Valley in a small office on West Main. Gessele has been in an administrative role since 1987.
The Aspen office closed in 1996. But, after several incarnations in Glenwood Springs and Edwards, PRC has found permanent homes in a cozy Victorian at 1311 Grand Ave. in Glenwood Springs and at 736 White River Ave. in Rifle.
PRC owns both buildings. “After six moves,” said Gessele with a chuckle, “I threatened to resign if we had to move once more.”
PRC offers pregnancy testing, limited diagnostic ultrasounds, prenatal care, counseling and referrals as well as baby clothes up to size 2, bassinettes, car seats and other kids stuff. And, said Gessele, “It’s all free.” Yep, that’s right. All of the services provided by PRC are free.
There are 3,000 pregnancy centers across the country, explained Gessele. Her offices are affiliated with Care Net, a national network of pregnancy centers, but are not a part of a franchise. “We are an individual 501 (c)(3),” she said. “We’re funded by individuals, grants and churches.”
PRC is faith-based, she said, but does not have a political agenda nor does it claim to be a “pro-life” organization. “We’re not about changing the law; we’re about changing hearts,” she explained. “And the best way to change hearts is to empower a woman to be able to choose life.”
The center works mainly — but not exclusively — with unplanned pregnancies. The average age of clients is between 15 and 26. That’s why counseling is so important. It’s not heavy-duty psychological counseling; for that the clients are referred to licensed professionals. “It’s peer counseling,” said Gessele. And it comes from volunteers who might be moms, LPCs, RNs or women who just want to help.
So, say a woman comes to the center, tests positive for pregnancy, and has no clue what to do. “I would tell her about all the options, what they entail, and all the risks,” said Gessele. She added that most people dealing with an unplanned pregnancy don’t realize that they have time. “They’re pregnant, they’re scared, and they want it over today.”
But PRC has all kinds of connections, including local doctors, Catholic Charities, Yampah High School’s Teen Mother Program, and YouthZone for parenting classes, which Gessele said are essential.
“In my generation, most moms didn’t work,” she explained. “We were taught [home economics] in high school, and there were aunts, uncles and grandparents around.” Today, things are different, she added. Immigrants might be far away from extended family. Very few mothers are free to stay home and raise the kids. “And there is a higher rate of single parents these days,” she added. “Women have to raise the money and raise the kids.”
Learning how to parent and learning that options exist boosts confidence. And, according to Gessele, giving a woman time to think about her situation and a place to talk things out is what helps her choose what’s best for her and her child. “The woman matters. You matter. The decision is yours,” she said.
For more information, contact the Pregnancy Resource Center in Glenwood Springs at 945-5562 or in Rifle at 625-4181.