BERLIN – Mari Quillen has passion and faith and she’s blending both of these elements together to make a dream a reality.
Quillen is the founder and executive director of the Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center, located at 10226 Old Ocean City Blvd in Berlin. Quillen and her five-member Board of Directors welcome the community to explore the new non-profit organization on Saturday, Sept. 18 from 2-4 p.m. during an open house and ribbon cutting ceremony.
Quillen believes her calling is to help women and men deal with crisis pregnancies. She has worked in pregnancy centers for a number of years, but a recent tragedy in her life served as a confirmation helping others with spiritual guidance and fact-based education is what she needs to do with her life.
Last October, Quillen learned she herself was having a crisis pregnancy.
“My husband and I were in the process of trying to start a pregnancy center when I became pregnant with my second child,” Quillen said. “When I went in for a routine ultrasound, it was discovered my daughter had a brain malformation. She had a severe and rare condition that resulted in none of the fluid from the brain being able to drain as it normally does. That caused her brain to not grow so the prognosis was she would either pass away in utero or if she made it passed getting her umbilical chord cut, because I was probably the one giving her life, that she would pass away right away after that.” According to Quillen, her daughter, named Shirley Grace, had a 3 percent chance of making it to the point when the umbilical chord is cut. Doctors told Quillen if her daughter did make it to that point that Shirley Grace would more than likely “be a vegetable.”
“The doctors recommended we terminate the pregnancy, but my husband and I are faith based and it was a hard decision and we struggled with it because here we were in the pregnancy center ministry – this is what we do – and then to be faced with a crisis pregnancy yourself and this horrible situation – but we talked it over and we felt God gave her life and it’s up to him when he takes her,” Quillen said. “We prayed for a miracle.”
Shirley Grace immediately amazed her doctors and was able to breathe on her own after being born. Renown pediatric neurologist Ben Carson performed brain surgery, and he was astounded at what the baby could endure.
Quillen recalls Carson telling her, “This little girl has pulled through far beyond anything she should have, she can do anything.”
“All the doctors and medical professionals were amazed. They were crying and saying they had never seen anything like this before. Everyone was crying because she was fighting so hard. She wouldn’t go, she just wouldn’t go. She was a fighter,” Quillen said. “She was doing things she shouldn’t do, moving her hands and feet around, crying, responding when we tickled her feet. It was unbelievable.”
Shirley Grace was able to come home to the shore and meet her older brother, now 20 months. She lived for three weeks and inspired her parents and all who followed her story through a blog Quillen created.
“It was a devastating experience, our world was rocked, but we were able to find peace in that moment of having our child come home and meet her brother. That’s what I really wanted. Everything that happened in her life was just a miracle,” Quillen said. “After she passed away, within a couple months, we came upon this place for our pregnancy center. People were coming out of nowhere to provide donations and support to get it up and running.”
Quillen said the tragic experience served as a confirmation that working with men and women who seek assistance with pregnancies was her calling in life.
“It was like God said ‘this is it, Mari, this is what you are to do,’” she said. “It’s my calling. It’s my responsibility to let other women know there is hope for them. Shirley Grace changed my world. In the medical world, they were saying abort, abort. If I had done that, I would never had all these memories, pictures, experiences to relay to people. She has taught me more than anything has ever taught me in my life. She has touched so many lives and continues to touch so many more. Women need to know there’s support for them.”
The pregnancy center will provide free, confidential services, centered on providing support and detailing options to women and men in crisis pregnancies or simply pregnancies that involve questions and counseling. Quillen said pregnancy tests will be available at the center, an ultrasound machine will be onsite and counseling services offered.
“I’m just very passionate that women need to be informed and made aware of all their options. That’s really what the pregnancy center is about,” Quillen said. “People need somewhere they can get the spiritual, emotional support they need. The doctors can only offer so much. We are there throughout the whole pregnancy. We offer counseling all along the way.”
Quillen said the center also plans to start a unique program that gives parents some help with material supplies if they stick with the counseling.
“If the mother takes classes and counseling with us, she can earn fake mommy money where she can get items from our baby boutique that we have – diapers, clothes, wipes, anything you really need,” she said. “We are not handing out free things, but we are giving them a chance to improve themselves and become more educated, and they get items in return.”
Quillen said the center would also provide information about adoption for parents who may wish to pursue that route.
“Our center is a little different. We are very strong about adoption as an excellent option for some people. We want to change the culture in our community about what adoption is. How great of an option it truly is,” Quillen said. “If a client said I want to think about adoption, what we would do is refer them to an attorney to advise them on the legal end and then he would educate them on that before they go to an agency.”
Another service offered at the center will center on child loss counseling for clients who choose abortion as the best course of action for them or have a miscarriage. Quillen said support groups would be forming to assist in the grieving process.
“One in three women have had an abortion and they need help dealing with their emotional healing and sense of loss,” she said. “They need to talk to people and grieve. That’s huge for us.”
Quillen believes her pregnancy center will fill a void in the local community, as the closest pregnancy centers are in Salisbury and Georgetown.
“There’s nothing here for the women and men who need help, and we look forward to working in this community” she said.
At the grand opening, tours will be provided of the center and Quillen will detail the services that will be provided at the center, which will maintain normal hours. For more information on the center, call Quillen at 443-513-4124 or emai HYPERLINK "mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" email@example.com.