Chelsea Hinkle gently slid her phone across the table to show off the ultrasound image of her babies.
As she rubbed the sides of her protruding abdomen, Hinkle held a smile as she described the feeling of excitement waiting for the arrival of her twins in July.
At work, she carries a set of keys that jingle against her side as she walks. "They just love it," she said. "They go right to sleep."
The 29-year-old first-time mother shares her parents' car to get to her part-time job as a janitor at Immaculate Conception Parish in Dardenne Prairie. She needs a vehicle of her own, and Birthright of Wentzville is spreading the word to find a donor. It's one of several ways the pregnancy resource center is helping her as she prepares for motherhood.
For decades, pregnancy resource centers, maternity homes and other alternatives-to-abortion agencies have accompanied pregnant and parenting women in helping them make life-affirming decisions, not only for their babies, but themselves as well. The one-on-one approach is meant to provide a support network and help them overcome some of the challenges that they face in their lives.
"Our purpose is for women to never have to make the choice between baby and the circumstances in their lives," said Maureen Zink, executive director of Birthright St. Louis, which has four locations in the St. Louis area. "No woman ever sets out to get pregnant so she can have an abortion. But sometimes, some of the pressures are so overwhelming."
Hinkle's mother, Dottye, visited a Birthright 36 years ago for assistance when she had her son at 16 years old. Now, the family is turning to the organization as her daughter has her first babies.
Chelsea Hinkle came to Birthright of Wentzville in January for a free pregnancy test. Without the support of the babies' father, Hinkle looks to her parents as a support network as well as Birthright. She comes in every two weeks to check in with director Diane Graslie and visit the donations room for clothes or other baby items. She's excited to come back to her next appointment, because by then, she should know the babies' genders.
Graslie has served as director of Birthright of Wentzville for the past nine years. The organization was founded in Canada in 1968 as a support to women facing unplanned pregnancies. Besides basic needs such as free pregnancy tests and items for the mother and baby, some Birthright locations (including St. Louis) provide professional counselors for individual and group counseling, and programs for parenting skills and other topics.
Above all, Birthright, which marked its 45th anniversary in Missouri last year, provides women one-on-one accompaniment, oftentimes filling a gap when the woman doesn't have a strong support network at home. The organization also works closely with other social service organizations and alternatives-to-abortion agencies to meet the mothers' needs. Birthright does not receive government funding and relies on the help of the community, said Graslie.
In 2016, Birthright of Wentzville saw 116 positive pregnancy tests and helped 967 mothers in six counties. "Each (woman) is individual in how much help they need," she said. "We follow the moms up to two years after the baby is born, but often will follow them well after those two years."
The pressures a woman faces that often lead to abortion include abusive relationships, poverty, substance abuse and mental health issues. "They're also dealing with pressure from the community to abort," said Birthright St. Louis executive director Maureen Zink. "That's why we have those programs in place to help, so she doesn't have to make that choice."
Birthright St. Louis saw more than 1,800 women at its four locations in 2016, and 721 babies were born. Besides ongoing individual and group counseling, there are classes available on parenting skills and forming healthy relationships, as well as financial assistance with rent, utilities, transportation, food and medicine. A scholarship program provides assistance to mothers in school. Counseling also is available for post-partum depression and for women who have had an abortion.
Our Lady's Inn
Thirty-five years ago, a group of pro-life women and men saw a need to provide a safe place for women who were being pressured into abortion. As a result, Our Lady's Inn was formed in 1982 to provide support and the resources to move toward self-sufficiency.
As a shelter for pregnant women and their children, Our Lady's Inn has walked one-on-one with women to help them live productive lives, reach educational goals, find work and stable housing, improve parenting skills and seek help for substance abuse and mental health issues. The organization has two locations, in south St. Louis and St. Charles County.
"We tailor the program to meet the individual needs of the women," said executive director Peggy Forrest. Roughly 60 percent of clients are dealing with a substance abuse and/or mental health issue. Each client is paired with a caseworker, called a family specialist, to determine what the mother's needs are; and if she already has children, what their needs are. "We look at whatever the mom is suffering from, because then the child also suffers," Forrest said.
What does the mom want to achieve during her time at the residence? Maybe its to have a baby born healthy and drug-free. Or perhaps finding a way of keeping the family together or helping her achieve her educational or career goals. Oftentimes discovering they're pregnant — even if it was unplanned — helps them re-evaluate their self-worth, Forrest said. "Sometimes having a child will make them not want to live a life of drug use anymore," she said. "Children enrich families, and once they're born, we often see a reunification of those families."
Victoria Lee, who has been a family specialist for almost a decade, said that oftentimes clients are initially fearful when they move in. It takes time to build a relationship with them, and to let them know that "we're here for you. This is not some place that's going to rush you in and out of the door," Lee said.
In 2016, Our Lady's Inn served 149 women and 170 children at its two locations, and an additional 525 women and children through the after care program. Women and their children may stay at the shelter up to a year; the average length of stay is around 75 days. Up to two years of after care also is provided.
Forrest and Lee said there are many cases in which the mothers will come back long after they've moved out, to let the staff know how they're doing. Forrest shared the story of a former client who visited a decade later after living at the home. She pulled up in a police car filled with diapers to give to the home. The woman had gone on to become a police officer. "She decided it was time to give back," Forrest recalled.
It's those stories that keep the staff going. "We have a new client coming in today who has a laundry list of struggles and little hope," Forrest said. "They don't see how they're going to make it happen, but after a few weeks, you start to see a glimmer of hope. It gives them the strength they didn't know they had."
>> Legislation related to alternatives-to-abortion agencies
Budget committees of the Missouri Senate and House are developing funding proposals for the fiscal year 2018 state budget. The process formally begins in the House where the budget bills are filed by the House Budget Chair, Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob). The Missouri Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state's bishops, is interested in funding levels for the state's Alternatives to Abortion (ATA) program and Show-Me Healthy Babies.
HB11 proposes $6.46 million for alternatives to abortion, which allows pregnancy resource centers to offer ultrasounds, referrals for prenatal care, newborn and infant care, and job training and placement. More than $25 million is recommended for Show-Me Healthy Babies, which provides additional funding for prenatal care and related services. ATA funding is found in Section 11.120 of Missouri law; Show-Me Healthy Babies is found in Section 11.560.
The Missouri House recently passed HB655, which allows pregnancy resources centers and maternity homes to continue receiving tax credits for their donations. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Engler (R-Farmington), will extend the tax credit to for an additional six years after this year. Currently, the expiration for pregnancy resource centers is 2019, and the maternity home tax credits expiration is 2020. Donors who give a minimum of $100 to pregnancy resource centers or maternity homes are eligible to claim a 50 percent tax credit for their contributions. The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.
A House committee also has voted in favor of HB174, which would acknowledge the rights of alternatives-to-abortion agencies, such as pregnancy resource centers and maternity homes, to freely assemble and engage in religious practices or speech without government interference. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Tila Hubrecht (R-Dexter). The bill awaits hearing by the full House.
In Missouri, there are 69 pregnancy resource centers and 17 maternity homes.
Some information was provided by the Missouri Catholic Conference.
Missouri Right to Life is sponsoring a "Show Me Life" Pro-Life Action Day on Tuesday, March 14, at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City.
Registration begins at 10 a.m. in the first-floor rotunda. Participants will visit with legislators and encourage them to support pro-life legislation. A rally will be held at noon, with featured speaker Melissa Ohden, who sruvived a failed saline infusion abortion in 1977. Participants are asked to wear red. Transportation will be available from several areas in Missouri.
For more information, call (573) 635-5110 or visit www.missourilife.org.
>> Our Lady's Inn Maternity Home
South City (314) 351-4590
St. Charles (636) 398-5375
>> Respect Life Apostolate
The archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate publishes an options brochure with information on other resources related to pregnancy and family planning. To obtain a copy, call (314) 792-7555 or visit stlrespectlife.org.
>> Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Fund
Established by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson in 2009, the fund offers a financial bridge to those who have limited financial resources while awaiting the birth of a child or the initial period following birth. For more information, call the Respect Life Apostolate at (314) 792-7555.
>> Diaper drive
The permanent deacons of the Archdiocese of St. Louis are organizing an archdiocesan-wide drive to collect baby diapers for those in need. Diapers are being collected at weekend Masses in parishes from Saturday, April 1, through Sunday, April 16. Diapers will be distributed through St. Vincent de Paul Society conferences or food pantries, at a nearby parish if a parish doesn't have either, or at crisis pregnancy center or similar charitable resource for those in need.
>> Birthright St. Louis (birthrightstl.org)
> Brentwood (314) 962-5300
> Central West End (314) 361-0124
> Bridgeton (314) 298-0945
> South County (314) 962-3653
>> Other Birthright locations (birthright.org)
> Eureka (636) 938-4221
> Hillsboro (636) 789-3518
> Wentzville (birthrightofwentzville.com) (636) 327-8170
> St. Charles (birthrightstcharles.org) (636) 724-1200