When young women walk into the small downtown Danville office of the Pregnancy Resource Center, wondering whether they might be pregnant or struggling with what to do about it, Vicki Mayotte knows what it’s like to be in their shoes.
Now in the middle of her life with two kids of her own, Mayotte went through two pregnancies and abortions early in her life, at ages 16 and 23.
“I regret it,” she says now of her abortions. “At 16, I had no business being a mother, and had somebody really sat down and discussed adoption with me, that’s the choice I would have made. ... At 23, I would have kept that baby. I wanted that baby really bad, so I have a lot of regret.”
Mayotte has served as the director for the Pregnancy Resource Center, currently at 475 W. Main St., for 10 years now and estimates the center helps more than 700 families deal with unplanned pregnancies during the course of a year.
Most of the women who come to the center are 22 years old or younger, and often the father is not in the picture, Mayotte said, though there are exceptions.
“The majority of (fathers) are not involved, so we make a big fuss over the ones that are involved,” she said.
Rather than trying to push young women one way or another on what they should do about their pregnancies, Mayotte said her goal is to educate, support and love the women who come to her so they can make the right decision themselves.
“We are a pro-life organization — we’re a ministry — but I’m not that woman; I can’t make that decision for her,” she said. “Every person has to make life choices for themselves. I am here to educate them and to let them know that there are consquences to whatever choice they choose. And so it’s not my place to tell anyone what to do.”
Mayotte and her center support women in all stages of pregnancy and child-rearing. For women wondering if they’re pregnant, the center offers discrete pregnancy tests so women don’t have to be seen in public buying a test.
“Our communities are very small, and I always run into somebody when I’m at the store,” she said. “You don’t want to be 16 and reaching for a pregnancy test and have somebody come up and it’s your best friend’s parents or something like that.”
For women who know they are pregnant, Mayotte offers information about becoming a parent, putting a child up for adoption or having an abortion. While most choose to keep their children, two have opted to put their babies up for adoption.
When a woman is considering abortion, Mayotte says she always tries to ask them what their feelings about abortion were before they got pregnant.
“I’m always amazed at how many of them were against abortion until they had an unplanned pregnancy,” she said. “So then I get them to think about why they were against it and (if they’re) still against it but just scared. I just try to get them to think. Because ultimately, whatever decision they make, whether it’s parenting, adoption or abortion, it’s for the rest of your life.”
For those who do opt for abortions, the center doesn’t eschew them.
“Every woman leaves here knowing that if she has an abortion, she’s welcome to come back here if she’s struggling afterwards. We don’t judge,” she said.
The center offers a post-abortion Bible study for women dealing with having had an abortion. But not all women who leave saying they’re going to have an abortion wind up going through with it.
“We’ve had women who left saying, ‘I’m having an abortion,’ and then come back later with a child because they went home and thought about it,” Mayotte said. “That’s always just an amazing feeling.”
Mayotte said in her own experience with unwanted pregnancies, she’s learned that while the mother has to make the decision about her child, she isn’t the only one impacted by that decision, which is something she shares with her clients. Even though her parents believed it was in her best interest to have an abortion at 16, Mayotte said now they feel regret about the decision just as she does.
“It didn’t affect just me; it affected my entire family,” she said. “The thing about abortion is we think it’s just a woman’s choice, but it affects everybody around you. So it didn’t just hurt me, it hurt my family as well, and that I regret a lot because I love my mom and dad.”
For women who have had their babies and are taking care of them, the center has it’s own “Baby Boutique” filled with donated clothes, food, diapers and toys.
“If it is a decision, ‘oh, I have to have an abortion because I don’t have the means to take care of my child,’ well, we can help you with that,” Mayotte said.
But Mayotte doesn’t just give away everything in the Baby Boutique. Mothers earn “baby bucks” by making and keeping appointments at the center, volunteering and doing all the right things for the health of their babies. Baby bucks can then be spent in the boutique for things they need for their kids.
“They (mothers) take responsibility instead of just taking stuff,” she said.
Mayotte said she makes earning the baby bucks “very easy.” For mothers who are working or in school, Mayotte said they can pretty much visit the boutique whenever they need to, because she knows they’re very busy.
Mayotte said another unique aspect of her center is that it’s “women-focused” instead of “baby-focused.”
“Certain pregnancy centers have a ‘we need to save babies’ mentality and so they’re not focused as much on the emotional state of that woman,” she said. “I think we need to think about the woman first. She’s scared; she’s feeling alone. We need to focus on her. And then hopefully, by focusing on her and loving her where she’s at, then she’ll choose life for the baby.”