Center offers hand to pregnant women in need

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff

There are thousands of unwanted pregnancies in the United States each year. Today, our society offers options to women that were not available just a few generations ago. Young expectant mothers can be overwhelmed by the potentially life-altering decisions they face.
   One local organization is working to help women through the decision making process. The Abortion Alternatives and Women's Center, 816 West G Street, has been trying to help women in the community for over two years. Leanne Manning volunteers at the center, where she works with women and couples seeking help and counsel.
   "Our main service is to give urine pregnancy tests to women, because we are not a medical clinic. We let them know if they are positive or negative, but then we refer them to the doctor," Manning said.
   The center operates on donations from local churches and organizations. All of the workers volunteer their time, and rely on the donations to equip new mothers with needs associated with pregnancy and motherhood.
   "We help the girls through their pregnancies with maternity clothes, and if they need housing, we help them to find housing. We offer diapers, baby clothes, formula and cribs," Manning said.
   Women and their families are able to take advantage of CPR, breastfeeding, and motherhood classes at the center. The classes help to provide women of all ages, who are typically in crisis situations, with knowledge and support vital to parenting. Mothers are taught crafts to do with their toddlers, and educated on how to manage finances by developing budgets.
   Although the center tries to discourage women from choosing abortion, they offer support to those who have decided to terminate their pregnancies. Two women who have had abortions in the past lead a support group that is designed to help those currently dealing with the issue.
   Manning believes the support of the others is necessary for women who harbor guilt after having abortions. She said from her interaction with girls who have actually gone through with abortions, she has seen how the experience can be difficult to deal with.
   Manning sees women from all walks of life at the center, but notices a commonality in all of their situations. "There is a typical hardship. They are looking for guidance," Manning said. "The girls can't afford to make it on their own, or maybe they are still at home and know their parents are not going to accept this too well, and they will be out on their own soon."
   Some of the success of the programs comes from the interaction between the mothers themselves. Lifelong friendships have developed between the mothers who share common plights. "Some of the girls that have had their babies a year ago still come back for moral support," Manning said. "We have a lot of single moms and they need other women who are going through the same thing, because they are just really out there on their own."
   Most unwanted pregnancies occur among teenagers. There are approximately 35,000 teenage pregnancies in the state of Tennessee each year.
   One local teen offers insight into the issues that face thousands of girls when they discover they are pregnant. According to the 17-year-old, she went to the Abortion Alternatives & Women's Center because she did not know where else to go after reading her positive pregnancy test.
   "I went there to get help when I was 16 and they gave me clothes. They gave me support, and cared a lot for me," the youth said. "They taught me the basic things, like how to check your baby's temperature, and how to change diapers. They taught me what I needed to prepare me for what was coming."
   The teen said she has made lasting friendships with the staff members that helped her throughout her pregnancy. She stated it was easier to talk to the workers than it was to talk to her parents about her pregnancy.
   The youth is now the mother of a two-month-old baby girl, and will be graduating from high school in May. She extends encouragement to others facing difficult situations with unwanted pregnancies.
   "You can do it if you try. If you have support you can do it, and they give you support," she said. "It takes a lot to go through what we went through. It takes a lot of courage, and a lot of strength, but it is definitely worth it. It really is."