by Jessica Rinaudo
The pro-life vs. pro-choice debate is a polarizing one, with people passionately defending both sides, but caught in the middle of this debate are often young, scared women who are facing unplanned pregnancies without any support. They are in a terrifying, lonely position and often uneducated about both their options and their pregnancy.
Enter Mary’s House, the newest endeavor championed by L’Anne Sciba on behalf of the Diocese of Shreveport to help these girls make informed decisions about their future and the future of their unborn children.
The idea for this pregnancy care center blossomed in 2013, and over the course of the last three years, it has quickly grown through donations and volunteers, to its official opening on November 20, 2015. Open Friday and Saturday mornings, Mary’s House provides free pregnancy tests, free ultrasounds, free peer counseling and a wealth of resources to help women with unplanned pregnancies make informed decisions and get the help they need.
When women make an appointment at Mary’s House, they are primarily seeking a pregnancy test and ultrasound to find out how far along they are.
“Our goal is to give them information. You can parent, you can place for adoption or you can have an abortion. If you’re pregnant, those are your options,” said L’Anne. “We try to first gauge, we ask them – there’s a little graph – where on this do you think you are? Are you undecided or are you going to carry? Depending on where they say they are, we talk to them about that.”
Mary’s House asks women to watch short, fact-based videos on their options and try to find out what kind of parenting support they have.
If they are really leaning towards an abortion, then counselors gently tell them about that procedure. “Because girls think, ‘I’m only going to take a pill and it’s gone,’ but they don’t have any idea,” said Sciba. “And the counselor has already gauged how far along they are, and so the counselor can say, ‘At this stage, they will be doing a surgery… This is what the procedure is going to be, it’s not going to be just a pill.”
Counselors encourage these women to consider other options. They show them a short video that talks about adoption, but most of the girls shy away from even considering it.
“There’s a huge stigma on women who feel considering adoption is a selfish choice because they believe that someone would speak poorly of them because they ‘gave their baby up.’ They would rather not have the baby than have to answer to someone about that choice,” said volunteer sonographer Cassidy Rainwater. “I think we just need to help girls know they are giving the biggest gift to somebody else who can’t have a baby, or whatever their circumstance is. There are people who want these babies so badly that it’s a really selfless act.”
“A girl who chooses adoption is so brave – sacrificing her body for nine months so another family can make a home for her baby,” added L’Anne. “Sadly, the understanding is so negative about adoption still and we are hoping that will change.”
And for girls who choose to carry their pregnancies, Mary’s House is their link for further assistance. Volunteers help women sign up for Medicaid, direct them to doctors who will help them during their pregnancy, as well as partner them with a home health nurse program called Nurse-Family Partnership.
“You enroll [in the program] before the baby is 28 weeks and a nurse comes in every week and helps you learn how to parent, and checks to make sure you’re ok and see where the baby’s going to be and teaches you how to care for them,” said L’Anne.
One of the most beautiful missions of Mary’s House is to help women see their own value.
“When you take care of the mom, then the baby is going to prosper and be healthy, because the mom goes, ‘I have this gift, I am worthwhile,’” said L’Anne.
“You’re so young. You have your whole life ahead of you. You’re going to get through this. There are plenty of young mothers. You’re not alone. There’s help out there, there’s advice out there. We’re here for you,” Cassidy told one girl, “because being alone and being scared are a major part in making the decision about their pregnancy.”
Cassidy has personally witnessed miracles during her short time volunteering as a sonographer. With tears in her eyes, she relayed the story of a young pregnant mother who was leaning towards terminating her pregnancy. The young woman walked into the ultrasound to find out how far along she was. What she saw there changed her perspective and her life.
“I was able to show her life in her tummy on the screen. And she saw that heartbeat, heard that heartbeat and saw movement and tears just started flowing down her eyes,” said Cassidy. “She said, ‘I can’t do this.’ I told her, ‘You have options. You have time. You’re not alone. Just give yourself time to digest this and understand and educate yourself before you do anything.’ And she had made her mind up within that 30-second time frame and her life was different from there on. And I thought, ‘Thank you God.’”
There are currently about 20 volunteer peer counselors, 17 nurses and four sonographers at Mary’s House. Everyone who assists there does so purely on a volunteer basis.
“The volunteers who are here now, it really takes courage,” said L’Anne. “They’ve never counseled before. They are mostly just moms, older women who have families. And they just come in and say, ‘I would want to help somebody,’ or ‘I have been in this position,’ or ‘I have had hardship in my life,’ ‘I love young women.”
There are many ways to support the pro-life efforts at Mary’s House, and one of the biggest ways is to attend Bishop Duca’s Annual Pro-Life Banquet on March 16. This event, now in its sixth year, continues to grow and garner support from the community. This year, ALL of the proceeds from the event benefit Mary’s House.
Camille Pauley, co-founder of Healing the Culture, is the keynote speaker for the event. “I know many of you find it hard to find the words to witness your Catholic belief of the tragedy of abortion,” said Bishop Michael Duca. “I personally chose Camille as our presenter because her message will give you the words to give a convincing witness to others and also deepen your personal faith in pro-life issues.”
You can register for this event by completing the registration card here, or by calling 318-868-4441.
And while Mary’s House is currently only open two days a week, with the help of proceeds from the pro-life banquet, they very much want to grow by expanding the number of days they are open and by training nurses in the basics to become sonographers – both of which require financial support. L’Anne also hopes to one day be able to hire people who can commit more time to Mary’s House.
“Mary’s House is about loving young women. The Church and God want them to have a full life, and the world isn’t telling them that, the world is stealing that. We can help girls know of their worth and that God has a plan for them and we can help them on to the next step. They can have fruitful and happy and full lives,” said L’Anne.
Mary’s House is seeking volunteers for many areas – receptionists, working in the yard, cleaning, office work using Excel and Word, as well as nurses, sonographers, and those interested in training to be peer counselors. If you are interested in being part of this great and growing ministry, or donating to their ministry, please contact L’Anne Sciba at firstname.lastname@example.org.