Options has been in the neighborhood for a while, almost 40 years! There’s no neon sign on Route 70 in Cherry Hill  advertising our location, nor do we have a million dollar ad campaign broadcasting our services on TV or across social media. Geographically, we’re tucked between the Ellisburg Shopping Center and the Cherry Hill Women’s Center on Kings Highway, which are more widely known entities, but somehow, women still find their way to our door.

Why?  Even when our website plainly states that we don’t perform abortions, why do women with unplanned pregnancies still come to Options? Either you want one or you don’t, right?

As a staff member at Options, I’ve written about this question before, and I have my own take on why women still choose Options as a safety zone where they can mull over their pregnancy decisions. But this blog isn’t about my take.

It’s about one client’s perspective.

Linda came to Options, very early in her pregnancy. Never really wanting to be pregnant, she was unsure of her own feelings and her next steps. It wasn’t her first pregnancy. As a mother with older children, she had a deeper understanding of the demands and complexities of parenting. Did she really want to go down that road again? Could she even talk about her doubts without feeling like a terrible person or worse, a rotten mother?

After two visits in early pregnancy, one for pregnancy verification and the other for ultrasound, I never saw Linda again for the duration of her pregnancy. She and her family caught Covid, and aside from that, I had no knowledge of Linda’s decision. I still called her and texted her regularly and she’d reply only that she was “okay.”

As her presumed due date neared, I called her and was surprised to learn that Linda delivered a healthy baby boy. She was warm and friendly over the phone which sort of shocked me. In truth, I felt that we might have let her down because our contact had been so brief, so seemingly unremarkable during those early visits and a few follow-up texts.

When Linda came to pick up her layette gift basket during her postpartum visit, I felt I had to ask her, what was the most important thing she received from Options. What brought her back after all this time after months of no contact?

Linda remembered how troubled she was about her pregnancy in those early weeks and how she didn’t know what to expect when she came to her first appointment. She worried about how she might be treated when discussing abortion as one of her options but she needed to talk to someone.

“From the moment I walked in, I felt so comfortable here,” she shared. “But the most important thing was that you understood that I needed to review my options and you let me talk about them, all of them. I felt accepted and heard. I was able to be honest about how I felt and it was such a relief to let things out.”

So, that’s it: feeling comfortable, accepted and heard?

Not the free ultrasound, the free early medical services, maternity clothes, (you can read about our list of services on our website)? Just feeling accepted, comfortable and heard?

“Yep,” she answered. “That’s all I really needed, especially in the beginning.  I am so grateful that I found you.”

Even though there were no dramatic “ah-ha” moments during our shared time at Options that I could remember, there was something about Linda’s experience that helped her to find her inner strength. Here, I thought we had missed the mark because Linda didn’t seem receptive to any of our extended services or later conversations. I’d underestimated the most important thing we offer women with unplanned pregnancies, our willingness to listen.

I was reminded of just how important listening is to feeling valued, when someone very close to me who has serious health issues shared a recent experience. My friend spends a lot of time in hospitals and outpatient facilities. Lately, she’s been frustrated with how her medical procedures are impacting her life leaving her with many unanswered questions and unexpressed emotions that go unaddressed. “Why don’t you just tell them how you feel?” I asked her.

“Forget it,” she replied. “They don’t care. There are always newer and more important patients to deal with. They don’t want to take the time to answer my questions. It’s all about tests and procedures. I am really insignificant.”

How awful! To feel that you are only valued within the context of your next procedure, nothing before or after; as if you only exist as patient to scan or symptom to treat. My friend’s words really hit home, forcing  me to realize how hurtful it is when there’s a disconnect between our physical conditions and our feelings about them. One strongly affects the other and to ignore either is to devalue the whole person. Now I understood why Linda felt that being heard was the most important thing we did for her at Options.

At Options, we don’t claim to have all the answers but we will sit with a woman and hear her out when an unexpected pregnancy rocks her world. While there are many avenues of help available if she should need it, she’s the one in the driver’s seat. We never want any woman who seeks our services to feel that she is insignificant or that she is only valued for her pregnancy outcome!

Getting back to Linda, her early pregnancy was a chaotic time. We’re thankful that she came to Options and that just by our willingness to listen, she was able to peacefully reflect on what her pregnancy meant to her. She felt cared for and respected. Rather than reacting out of fear and personal chaos, Linda made the choice to make an informed choice, by coming to Options first!

Who knew listening was such a remarkable thing? We are committed to doing more of it and doing it better!

“The art of listening is not to hear what someone says but to hear how they feel.” Bob Chapman

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