Women who face an unplanned pregnancy are often scared, confused and anxious. Those challenges have mounted under the pandemic.
Birthright of St. Charles is among the numerous pregnancy resource centers in the greater St. Louis area that continue to serve pregnant and parenting moms during the coronavirus outbreak. The nonprofit agency provides professional counseling, pregnancy testing and support services. In an effort to take precautions for staff and volunteers and the women they work with, in-person office hours have shifted to four days a week, said executive director Sheri Petruso. Calls and texts continue to be monitored Monday through Friday.
“For the majority of moms, (the virus) has added to their overall sense of crisis and anxiety,” Petruso said. “Some of them feel they are running in place because they don’t know where to go or what to do.”
More than 50 clients are seen on average per month, with anywhere from 65-70 in-person visits per month. In March, when office hours were reduced to three days a week, the organization still saw 51 clients. “We have days where we are fitting in people where we can,” Petruso said. “The amount of time that we do monthly in just direct counseling for mental health support has also increased. It just alludes to the crisis that women are feeling and the need for support.”
Counseling sessions with licensed professional counselors are now being offered on the phone for clients who don’t feel comfortable leaving their homes due to the pandemic. Volunteers also continue to answer phone calls and texts, setting up appointments or following up with already established clients to continue to offer support.
Petruso said that because of the changes overall in how pregnancy resource centers in the area have been challenged or temporarily hindered in their ability to offer in-person services during the coronavirus outbreak, Birthright of St. Charles has seen an increase in calls from women who live outside of its service area, including referrals from Birthright’s national help line.
“There’s a crisis of needing to know if I’m pregnant … or they’re situations like, ‘I am already pregnant and lost my job and won’t know how to pay the bills,’” Petruso said. “There are moms who can’t find diapers and wipes. We coordinate with a lot of community resources and not all of them are available as they normally would be right now. When the basic needs of life become hard to find, women and families struggle if now is the time to be pregnant and carry.”
Birthright of St. Charles was named as one of 10 partner agencies that received a grant from the archdiocesan LifeLine Coalition. The late Archbishop John L. May started the program in 1986 to empower mothers and families facing unplanned pregnancies to choose life.
The grant has helped support clients’ needs, Petruso said, such as items for baby care packages, assistance with utilities, rent and materials for a recently formed pregnancy support group.
Cynthia Haehnel, director of the archdiocesan Office of Respect Life, Family and Social Responsibility, said the funding helps these organizations over and above the agencies’ own fundraising efforts. These partners in ministry, she said, provide tangible help with things such as diapers, wipes and help with utilities, as well as ongoing emotional support through counseling and courses designed to address long-term issues, such as parenting skills and job readiness.
“Women are choosing abortions even in light of COVID-19, because of financial problems and lack of resources in their lives,” Haehnel said. “They feel they can’t take care of or support a baby. If we partner with these agencies, we can work together to help women with resources and counseling services, and help get them over that hurdle and the reasons why they choose abortion.”
The pandemic reinforces the essential need for alternatives to help women choose life for their babies, Petruso said. “That crisis and difficult situation doesn’t go on quarantine,” she said. “We wanted to be a positive option to that crisis. Whenever I start to second-guess myself about staying open, we have someone walk in who is conflicted about their pregnancy and the real possibility of considering abortion — and I say, ‘Yeah, we have to be there.”
LifeLine Coalition grants
The archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate awarded $66,000 grants to date this year via the LifeLine Coalition to 10 partner agencies that provide direct assistance to pregnant and parenting mothers and their families. LifeLine funds are collected at the annual Roe v. Wade Memorial Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis in January and through individual parish and school donation drives. This year’s recipients are:
- Archdiocesan Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Fund
- Birthright of Hillsboro
- Birthright of St. Charles
- Birthright of St. Louis
- Birthright of Wentzville
- Haven of Grace
- Good Shepherd Children & Family Services
- Mary Queen of Angels
- Our Lady’s Inn
- Tri-County Birthright
The LifeLine Coalition was formed in 1986 by Archbishop John May to empower mothers and families facing unplanned pregnancies to choose life. To learn more about the program, see bit.ly/3chG45N.