Pregnancy can be a time of celebration for many, but for others this often joyous occasion can leave one feeling frightened and alone. Women, and often teenagers, are left wondering not only what the next nine months will bring, but how will the rest of their life change no matter what option they choose – parenting, adoption or abortion. For those in North Idaho facing such a crisis, they are blessed to have Life Choices Pregnancy Center. An affiliate of the national organization, Care Net, Life Choices Pregnancy Center offers resources and evidence-based education to empower women when making choices that will change their lives forever.
With a team of volunteers and limited staff, they are a Christian-based organization that will walk alongside women in need of help and guidance.
Christine Denova is the executive director of Life Choices. Supporting her are part-time employees who include a client services director, an education coordinator, a bookkeeper and two Registered Nurses. There are also a number of volunteers who go through extensive training, including one to two months of shadowing current employees and volunteers.
Much of what takes place at Life Choices involves making sure the clients have all the material they need to make an informed choice when facing an unplanned pregnancy. Part of this education involves watching documentaries on a variety of topics including managing money, searching for a job and looking for an apartment.
“We equip them for parenting and for life. It’s not a handout but a hand-up,” said Denova.
By watching the videos and taking classes, clients can earn points to shop in the baby boutique that is located at the Center. Some of the wonderful items from which to choose include diapers, wipes and gently used clothing. “We also have layettes which include everything the mother needs to take the baby home from the hospital, including small handmade quilts and a beginners’ Bible,” said Denova.
In addition to earning points through the “earn while you learn program,” clients can also earn points by attending church or AA meetings if addiction is an issue.
The mission of Life Choices Pregnancy Center is not to convince a woman who is faced with an unplanned pregnancy what she should or should not do, but rather to provide them with the truth and all the facts so that they can make their own well-informed decision. “We share the evidence-based material that comes with each decision,” said Denova.
Part of that information is given through free ultrasounds that are not only performed at the Center, but also in the community at places such as Clark Fork and Priest River. The traveling ultrasound will soon begin to visit Bonners Ferry to further Life Choices Pregnancy Center’s outreach. Allowing a mother and father visual information on how their baby is developing can have a significant impact on their decision.
“Statistics show that when a woman who is pregnant can see her baby, with arms, legs, eyes, nose ears, etc. they actually are less likely to have an abortion,” said Denova.
At Life Choices, the staff and volunteers also provide clients with replicas of babies at various stages of development, and they are true to the actual weight as well. “We show them as early as seven weeks,” saidDenova who goes on to say that at that young stage, the baby already has a mouth and tongue, the muscle system is forming and there are 100,000 new brain cells forming every minute.
Life Choices Pregnancy Center not only provides support for unplanned pregnancies, it also provides support for women who have suffered a miscarriage or who have chosen the path of abortion; spiritual healing is just one of many of the services they offer.
For a woman who has chosen an abortion, the decision can have lifelong effects.
“Initially, a lot of women feel relief (after an abortion), but many later on will experience emotional stress. Some have suicidal thoughts, others become depressed or turn to a life of addiction,” said Denova. “We love our clients and walk beside them all along the way no matter what path they choose. We do not judge anyone.”
Part of the support they provide is post-abortion healing through a program they call Mourning Hope, an eight-week Bible study that walks the women through a process of forgiveness.
“For women who go through the program, the transformation is miraculous,” shared Denova with tears filling her eyes. “They become more and more like a blossoming flower.”
In addition to all the services and support provided at Life Choices Pregnancy Center, they are also a place to learn about other resources in the community for people in crisis. Whether it is the Department of Health and Welfare, a local church, Panhandle Health, Love, Inc., Head Start or one of the Mother of Preschoolers groups, there are countless groups and agencies that work closely with Life Choices Pregnancy Center to provide the support families need.
One may be surprised to know that Life Choices Pregnancy Center has been in Sandpoint since the 1980s when it began in the lobby of a church with a phone hotline. As the need for its services has grown, so has the support. Life Choices received its nonprofit status in 2002 and operates strictly on private donations from churches,businesses and individuals. “This community is so generous,” said Denova gratefully.
Part of the focus at Life Choices Pregnancy Center is pregnancy prevention. In addition to providing education to both adult men and women, they also visit Sandpoint High School health classes and want to eventually also visit Sandpoint Middle School as well as Hope and Clark Fork. “We discuss healthy boundaries, healthy relationshipsand healthy choices,” said Denova of the information provided to the students.
The Center sees an average of 36 clients each month, but the numbers can be as great as 45. “And those numbers include the baby. We always include the baby,” said Denova. Recognizing that these decisions include more than just a mother, Life Choices Pregnancy Center has a group of male volunteers who are launching a male mentoring program.
The Center is open Mondays through Thursdays from noon to 4pm, and while they allow for walk-ins, they prefer people to make appointments.
If there is one thing that Denova wants people to know is that people from all walks of life go through their doors – teenagers to people in their 40s; some have addiction issues, some don’t; some are Christians, some are not; and some have chosen to have sex while others became pregnant through sexual assault.
There are miracles happening all the time right here in Sandpoint at Life Choices Pregnancy Center. Just this year they have had two women who chose life for their child through adoption, two others who have come to know Jesus and two others who have recommitted their lives to Jesus. “And we have had several women change their original plan of abortion to parenting,” said Denova. In addition, seven women have gone through the Mourning Hope program finding forgiveness and hope and setting some of them free from not just shame and guilt but from things such as addiction.
Recognizing the difficulty the holidays can bring for their clients, Life Choices Pregnancy Center hosts the Tree of Blessing each December, an opportunity to provide their clients with gifts to help ease the financial strain of the holidays and to celebrate the presence of Jesus in their lives. “We ask the clients for a list of their needs, including things like clothing, boots, and coats,” shared Denova who adds that they feed them, encourage them, love them and pray with them during this special gathering.
Denova said all of this could not be accomplished without the work of many people.
“The volunteers here are the heroes of this ministry,” said Denova. “The community of churches and individuals who support us are the ones who make this possible. Without them we would not exist.”
Those at Life Choices are grateful for the opportunity to offer their clients the love of Jesus.
“We know the best thing we can offer our clients is Jesus. We pray for them and share the good news of Jesus. He paid the price for our wrong-doing just because he loves us, not because he owes us,” said Denova. “I’m honored to be here. We see the hard stuff, but we also see God’s miracles on a daily basis.”
For information on Life Choices Pregnancy Center, visit their website at lifechoicespc.org or call them at 208.263.7621. All donations are tax deductible.