by Gayle Irwin, Guest Writer
The Caribbean island of Saint Lucia welcomed its first pregnancy center a few months ago, and with help from Heartbeat International, staff members are fulfilling an unmet need for the nation’s pregnant women.
Helping Women and Families
“Women who have unplanned pregnancies in Saint Lucia live in extreme poverty,” said Cindi Boston, vice president of mission advancement for Heartbeat International. “There is a massive need. When you have a new start-up and have fewer resources, it takes time. But, they are doing very well.”
Boston took a team to the country a few years ago to work with the staff and supporters. Training included how to interact with clients, how to establish and manage a board of directors, and specific teaching to nurses and doctors on ultrasound techniques, which was taught by a Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS). Just a few months ago, the Family Centre officially opened as part of the Caribbean Centre for Family and Human Rights (CARIFAM).
Tammy Stearns, RDMS, Sarah and Heartbeat Vice President Cindi Boston
Nadine, a doctor in training, Tammy Stearns, Cindi Boston, Dr. Ginny, and Shawna Charles
This organization was started in 2012 by Sarah Flood-Beaubrun, a strong pro-life advocate who was a member of the nation’s Parliament. She saw the increasing pressure upon the country to embrace abortion and decided to create a pro-life, pro-family organization to help solve the country’s social and economic problems as well as in response to attacks on fundamental human rights and the family.
Located in the West Indies, Saint Lucia is part of the Lesser Antilles. With an international outreach, Heartbeat has conducted summits and other trainings in the Caribbean, said Ellen Foell, the international program specialist at Heartbeat.
“Trying to advance the pro-life movement on an island can be isolating,” she said. “Heartbeat recognizes this and seeks to come alongside these organizations and centers.”
Nearly all pregnancy centers in the Caribbean are less than five years old, she added.
The Family Centre is managed by a three-person volunteer team: Nadine Khodra-Jn Baptiste and her husband Mitchell Jn Baptiste and Shauna Charles.
“We share the responsibility for oversight and working within the centre on a weekly basis,” Nadine said. “The Family Centre has been operating virtually for over a year. We opened the physical doors in May 2019.”
The community has been supportive, and many attended a blessing ceremony, she added.
However, opposing groups didn’t take long to implement advertisements luring women toward abortion, Boston said.
“After the website went up, there was a quick response from the pro-choice side,” she said.
The Family Centre meets needs not addressed by abortion organizations, with services and programs to help women find courage and hope to continue their pregnancies. The center offers pregnancy testing, ultrasound, options counseling, educational classes, material needs such as supplies for the baby, and post-abortion counseling.
“In addition to lack of resources, family tensions run high when an unexpected pregnancy occurs,” Nadine said. “The mother-to-be becomes even more confused because of all the contributing factors. Hence the need! If we can support in a loving environment, provide guidance and clarity, make family interventions, et cetera. Essentially, we can greatly lessen the likelihood of an abortion.”
That took place for “Janine” in an extremely unique situation. She was referred to the Saint Lucia center from Germany, Nadine said.
“She was a St. Lucian who went to Germany to get married to a man with which she had had a long-distance relationship. The relationship became an abusive one very soon after she moved in with him,” Nadine said.
Within a few months, Janine decided she couldn’t stay in that relationship and sought to return to Saint Lucia. However, she also realized she was pregnant and reached out to an organization in Germany. That group contacted The Family Centre in Saint Lucia, seeking help for Janine.
“I met with her soon after she arrived and realized that there were other medical complications that would make it extremely difficult for her to carry the baby to term, despite the fact that she wanted to have her baby,” Nadine said. “In addition to counseling and emotional support, we were able to help her get funding to assist with her treatment and advanced monitoring of her pregnancy. Her healthy baby was born later that year.”
Looking Toward the Future
A situation such as Janine’s prompts The Family Centre staff to look toward the future. As they continue to meet the needs of the island’s pregnant women, they envision being of greater help.
“We’d like to expand our reach and range of services to a fully-fledged state-of-the-art pregnancy and birthing centre which specializes in at-risk pregnancies,” Nadine said.
Heartbeat will continue to be guiding force for St. Lucia and other pro-life pregnancy centers around the world.
“We invest a lot [into international training],” Boston said. “We raise a lot of funds so that our international friends can come over [to a conference] every year. In fact, each year we have 30 to 45 internationals coming.”
Nadine and the rest of The Family Centre staff recognize the vital assistance given to them and other centers across the world.
“We are especially thankful to Heartbeat International for the training and support that they have provided us with over the past few years. Their contribution is a key component to the success of our organization,” she said.