OCEAN CITY – The Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center is officially a pregnancy medical center now offering ultrasounds along with many other free services to keep women informed and healthy before, during and beyond pregnancy.
The Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center is a non-profit organization that provides free and confidential services, such as pregnancy tests, education on fetal development, abortion and adoption, options counseling, poor prenatal diagnosis support, material assistance, pregnancy and parenting education and support, and now ultrasounds for pregnancy viability.
“We offer services to all different women, of all different economic statuses and different needs,” founder and Executive Director Mariratina Quillen said.
Upon entering the Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center, clients are welcomed into an elegant, yet comfortable, waiting area that also serves as a community room where staff, volunteers and clients congregate.
Quillen urges anyone who would like to visit to come in and take a tour of the center located across from Atlantic General Hospital on Old Ocean City Blvd. in Berlin.
The second floor of the center provides rooms for counseling, education and even shopping but Quillen was most proud to reveal the room with a new ultrasound machine.
“We just converted into a medical pregnancy center, which we now offer free ultrasounds to women for their pregnancy and introduce mom to baby,” Quillen said.
As far as shopping goes, Quillen explained the center’s Earn While You Learn Parenting Program, which is an opportunity to earn credits during parenting classes and counseling that can be used to purchase materials like maternity and baby clothes, blankets, diapers, formula and other much needed supplies in the Shirley Grace Baby Boutique.
When the Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center opened in September of 2010, the intention all along was to become a medical pregnancy center on top of its counseling and education services but it was just a matter of having medical staff come on board and gaining funding for the equipment.
From the time the Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center opened, it became even more apparent that there is a large need for a medical pregnancy center in the immediate area. The closest center is in Salisbury and is difficult for women from this area to get on the waiting list for prenatal care.
The center ended up receiving a grant from the Knights of Columbus as well as a large donation from a church in Florida and private donations to purchase the ultrasound machine.
The Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center began providing ultrasounds as of Sept. 15 and has completed about 10 so far. Once the ultrasound machine arrived, staff and volunteers completed training.
Quillen said Medical Director Paula Rose, who is a volunteer, as well as a handful of volunteers who perform the ultrasound scans, have been a major blessing to the center.
When expecting mothers come in, the center can provide an ultrasound to verify a viable pregnancy and provide them with all the information necessary on making an informed decision on how to move forward.
If a woman decides to carry her baby, the center provides prenatal vitamins, parenting education and helps with health management. The center does not refer or provide abortions.
Quillen finds most of the center’s work goes into counseling women on their options once they confirm they are pregnant.
“We have a lot of women come to us with an unplanned pregnancy and they want to know what they should do when they are confused and scared, and we are just here to support them in whatever decision they make,” she said. It is really about educating the women and keeping them informed on every option and what goes into every option because there is a lot of biased information out there.”
Quillen thanked the community for its overwhelming support.
“There have been a lot of local businesses, churches, and individuals who have poured into this center to make it what it is, with a lot of volunteers,” she said. “We have had a lot of support and I just want to thank everybody for that. We invite everyone to come in for a tour.”
Quillen’s vision for the future is to create maternity housing.
“We do have some clients that are homeless and pregnant and are basing their decisions on their circumstance, which can change at any time,” she said. “I would love to see housing for these women.”
Quillen decided to dedicate herself to helping women in their pregnancies years ago following an unplanned pregnancy of her own while in high school. She had an abortion that had a horrible physical and emotional impact.
“I went on to get post-abortion healing and when I did that I knew I wanted to be involved in working with women and their choices that they would need healing from,” she said. “My biggest thing was I wish I would have been told about the procedure and about the aftermath … if I had all that information and made a decision, at least I would have made a decision knowing everything.”
Quillen went on to work in post-abortion healing in several different locations from Washington D.C to California and got married and had a son. After the birth of her son, she found out she was pregnant again with a girl.
At her five-month ultrasound, Quillen learned her daughter’s brain had only formed up to 10 percent and was diagnosed with a rare malformation and she was faced with a decision to terminate her child.
“So there I was again but this time married and having to make a choice … for me to be at this crossroad again was very difficult,” she said.
Quillen went with her belief that “if it has a pulse it has purpose” and decided to continue to carry her baby who was born alive but died at three weeks old.
She named her daughter Shirley Grace. The name Shirley was after her own mother, who died when Quillen was two years old, and Grace because after her abortion she had decided that if she had a girl in the future that was what she would name her.
Quillen’s daughter died in February of 2010, and six months later the Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center opened its doors.
“When I was pregnant with Gracie, I prayed for a miracle that God would just heal her, and I really believed that she would and he could but when she died and I opened the center, I realized the form of miracles just come different sometimes,” she said.
After Shirley Grace’s death, Quillen experienced a miscarriage but then gave birth to her second son, who is now nine months old. During her last pregnancy, Quillen went through a divorce and is now a single mom.
“I stand now as a director who is not saying to these women that ‘you need to do this, this, and this’ but as a person saying I support you because I have been there,” she said. “You don’t choose to be put in these circumstances. I had all my plans … but when life comes at you, you end up in a new situation.”