Learning when Not to Stay Mum: Female Empowerment at the Pregnancy Centre

Last year, I began volunteering with the Pregnancy Centre (the PC), a not-for-profit organization based in Kitchener since 1986. It acts as a resource in the community for women experiencing unexpected pregnancy.

Neither a medical clinic, nor an adoption agency, the PC is a network of caring staff that provide support, respect and a safe space for women facing an unplanned pregnancy. Their diverse array of programming focuses majorly on education and support. It is a safe space where Moms receive support, respect and a reminder that there is hope. 

For this article, I had to speak in-depth with the PC’s Client Services Director, Jenn Holbrook, about the PC’s services and programs, her role and her definition of female empowerment.

The PC’s services can be categorized into four areas:

1. Free and Confidential Pregnancy Tests

These are provided at the Centre.

2. Options Counselling

The PC provides women with information regarding adoption, abortion and parenting. To Holbrook, “the goal and focus is informed decision making — not the specific decision.  Empowerment is key in options counselling.  As women are supported through their decision making, they are empowered to make a decision that best aligns with their circumstances, values and beliefs. We have a variety of tools that support women in processing their decision.”  

3. Support Services

This aligns with the Options Counselling. Upon request, the PC also provides women with maternity clothing, prenatal vitamins, baby clothing, diapers and wipes, formula and counselling. The goal of these services is to provide options and support in a safe space.

4. Community Education

The PC has a Community Education Director working in both the Public and Catholic school boards teaching students from grades 7 to 12 about sexual health. Topics include sexual decision making, consent and social media. There is also a parenting group for parents of teens.

I volunteer as a Childcare Volunteer for the “Mom to Mom” program. This weekly program is a support group for mothers who are paired up with a trained Mentor Mom. For Holbrook, “Mom to Mom empowers women by giving them a place of belonging, by giving them skills and by giving them support. When the moms know they aren’t alone and that others are on the journey of life and parenting alongside them — they are filled with hope, encouragement and begin to believe in themselves.”

When I asked Holbrook what she defined as “female empowerment” and what “empowerment” meant to her, she stated the following: “To me, empowerment means affirming in every women that she is the expert in her life. The circumstances of our lives are rarely predictable and linear, but she gets to choose what to do with them. Many women feel powerless in unexpected pregnancy, but affirming and believing in her ability to get back up and find a way forward helps them to see themselves as self-determining individuals — and never without hope. They learn responsibility and belief that they can make changes in their own lives and to better the lives of the children.”

This holiday season, the PC is asking for donations to support their clientele. This year’s Mom-to-Mom Adopt-a-Family program is themed “Oh Cozy Night.” The PC is accepting purchased gifts on the list (pyjamas, socks, travel mug, Tim Horton’s gift card, grocery store gift card) OR the donation of a denomination of individual choice to the Centre to go towards a family. If you are interested in taking part, all unwrapped gifts/donations are due to the PC no later than Dec. 5. 

Image provided courtesy of the PC’s Communications Director, Amy Wilson.

I cannot fully put into words what it means to me to have met and worked with some of our clients. They share courage and bravery. All are bright and intelligent. They are beautiful, strong women who are facing the challenge of raising a child with grace and poise. 

As for us volunteers, some of us are students, others are mothers, aunts or grandmothers. What we all have in common is making connections with individuals and loving on little ones for a couple hours a week. This weekly ritual has become a significant part of my life. I look forward to it. I love working with the children and their mothers. The women I work with have become a greater part of my social circle. We are a diverse network of lived experiences, various stages of life, but with the same common mission of helping others. This is something we need, now more than ever.

The babies themselves have become a huge part of my life as well. I love playing with them and learning their unique personalities. I am also grateful to watch them grow up. Numerous babies have cycled in and out as newborns, month-olds, to toddlers off to daycare. They never fail to make me re-evaluate life. They have taught me not to take life too seriously: be silly, laugh, love others and share. Our Moms have taught me that there is no shame in asking for help, life-long learning is an immense privilege and that working and supporting others leads to great results.

There is also no greater feeling in the world then when a tiny human (I am going to channel my inner Arizona Robbins here) decides to be your friend and literally latches onto you. I’m talkin’ the sweetest little bear hug you will ever get in your life.

And that’s basically why I do what I do.

I volunteer with this program because I believe in their mission and vision. I support female empowerment and supporting each other through difficult decisions and life’s challenges.

Places like the PC are proof that female empowerment still exists.

I’ll never forget one of the fellow volunteers asking me, “Do you have kids yourself? You’re so good with them!” I laughed at the time. My experience with little ones consisted of growing up with siblings, babysitting and working as a Camp Counsellor. Based on my experiences volunteering with the PC has shown me that I, and others, will have choices and resources available if and when the time comes. 

Are you or someone you know facing an unexpected pregnancy? There is hope, support and options available. The PC is here to help.