By: Marilyn Heigl
1st Choice Women’s Health Center
“I think I’m pregnant and I haven’t told my parents or my boyfriend yet. I’m scared. Can you help me?” These words and similar sentiments are what the 1st Choice Women’s Health Center’s helpliners hear every day. This pregnancy resource center, conveniently located near INOVA Loudoun Hospital in Lansdowne, VA, exists to provide information, alleviate fears and offer a safe environment for women faced with unplanned pregnancies. The women who come to the center receive free services to help them navigate this difficult road.
In the last three years alone, over 800 women have passed through the doors at 1st Choice Women’s Health Center (1st Choice WHC) and received the caring and compassionate help that they were seeking. The staff and volunteers maintain an open, friendly and professional atmosphere and are told time and again by the women (and men) who come to the center that it is a warm and welcoming place. That is and always has been one of the goals of the board, staff and volunteers who manage and operate the only medical, non-profit, pregnancy resource center in Loudoun County.
1st Choice WHC is celebrating its 18th year helping women and their families. Its beginnings were much less grand. In 1992, a group of ten people began meeting and praying about the need for a pregnancy resource center in Loudoun County. After two years and much prayer, that small group of local citizens opened the center’s doors in an upstairs office in Leesburg under the name of Life Line, Inc. It was a small, cozy office and they were able to offer free pregnancy tests, peer counseling and material needs to women in challenging situations. The mission was then as it is now: to empower women and men to make informed choices about the sanctity of human life, faith in Jesus Christ and sexual integrity and health.
A few years later, the group saw a move to a larger office space across the street. This location was also less than ideal, but regardless of the environment, women’s hearts were being changed and their babies were given a chance at life.
Once pregnancy tests could be purchased in drug stores, it became apparent that the center’s services needed to expand. They dared to dream big and asked God for the much needed ultrasound. Initially, this seemed like an impossible hurdle, but in 2005 by God’s grace and the help from some local benefactors, the ultrasound machine was purchased and two sonography-trained nurses were added to the staff. The center was able to offer a whole new way of meeting the needs of women and their families, and the name changed to 1st Choice WHC. This addition turned out to be an amazing, life saving change. Once a mother could actually see the life within her, the number of women who chose to carry their babies rose dramatically.
Today, things have changed a lot from those early days of the center’s humble beginnings, but the integrity of the mission is the same. All of the services offered are free of charge, including the limited obstetrical ultrasound exams. Limited STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) testing has been added and currently is being reviewed for possible expansion to include testing for even more sexually transmitted diseases/infections.
1st Choice WHC still offers pregnancy tests, peer options counseling and Earn While You Learn training programs, including the popular “Mommy Store” for material needs of the women who participate in the program. Additionally, they offer a Sexual Integrity Education program for the community youth and young adults and an After-Abortion Recovery and Care program for women who have had an abortion and are struggling with that decision. As always, confidentiality in all areas of the center is paramount.
Women’s hearts and lives are being changed on a daily basis through the work at 1st Choice Women’s Health Center and women often return to tell their stories of how their lives were positively impacted. The following is Katherine’s story about her daughter Kelly, which is shared with her permission.
“Last October, after a positive pregnancy test, our daughter, Kelly, ended up at 1st Choice. As the months went by, she would speak of the women at 1st Choice and the great mentoring she received. We could see her relief and excitement as her fears of the many obstacles facing her were alleviated.
On May 20, our grandson was born and Kelly moved home with us for a year. I never thought our college-educated daughter would ever be going down this path. As an unwed mother, there are still so many things to work out with her job and how the baby’s father will fit into all of this, but we are so grateful for how things are turning out.
Please accept our deepest gratitude for being there for Kelly during her pregnancy. You gave her courage to continue through the more difficult weeks. I hope you will continue to encourage young women to choose life when faced with the same situation that our Kelly faced.”
Angie’s story is yet another testimony of the life-affirming work being done through 1st Choice WHC.
“I am a single mom, currently going through a rough time. When I came to 1st Choice, I was very nervous and unsure of what I was going to do.
The sonogram was amazing! It was my first look at my son and was so meaningful to me.
My advocate was so helpful and kept checking on me throughout my pregnancy. That meant a lot, and I knew I wasn’t alone.
1st Choice provides a great service to women. They affirmed my decision to have my son, which I might not have been able to do without them.”
Many of the women who come to the center have been referred by county agencies and with the verification of pregnancy from 1st Choice WHC, they can obtain ongoing medical assistance that they otherwise may not have been qualified to receive. As it reaches its 18th year, 1st Choice WHC steadfastly continues to reach out and help women and their families in Loudoun County and the communities beyond.
1st Choice WHC stays very busy and can use more volunteers who are like-minded and desire to make a difference in women’s lives. They have many and varied volunteer opportunities, and they love to welcome new folks to their team. They are open three days a week: Monday, 11:00 am – 7:00 pm; Tuesday, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm; and Thursday, 1:00 – 7:00 pm. For the patient helpline call 703-729-1123 (answered 24/7); if interested in volunteering or for all other purposes call 703-729-1124.
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