Pregnancy help centers find various hands-on ways to help women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, whether through resources, options education, medical services, or all three. But before employing any of these foundational tools, a center must connect with the client and that typically involves human encounter and building trust. According to one pregnancy center staff member, some of the best ways to garner client trust and serve them effectively is to listen well and be curious.
“Listening is so important with our clients,” said Brooke Grmela, Care Manager for FirstLook Sexual Health & Pregnancy Center.
“We are a great team here at FirstLook,” she said. “It's really an open place to be heard.”
“A lot of them have had trauma,” Grmela said of the center’s clients. “When I think about people listening, you actually have to be so incredibly curious about that person you’re talking with.”
“Sometimes you get clients that don't want to talk or the reverse,” said Grmela. “Either way, it's kind of like drawing out that individual, and the only way you're going be able to do that is to really listen to what they're saying and what they're not saying, the non-verbal.”
Showing compassion through curiosity, listening, and body language
Grmela has witnessed several colleagues use curiosity and active listening, as well as positive body language, to help clients.
For example, FirstLook’s wellness coach uses these elements and develops a strong connection with clients.
“She is a natural – clients are very drawn to her because she's a listener,” Grmela said.
Another colleague, a former police officer, works with the boyfriends who come with the women. Grmela believes his previous training and experiences offer him the advantage of communicating with the men who come to First Look.
“This guy is incredible as far as breathing and body language,” she said. “He’s self-aware and aware of others around him. He’s quiet and chill.”
“There was a client who brought her guy who seemed very guarded,” Grmela recalled. “Our staff person found it necessary to kneel down by the desk so that he wasn't right in front of the guy. He knelt down and just began to talk to the guy from that position, and the guy emotionally responded immediately.”
Laying aside one’s own agenda is critical, Grmela added.
“So many people are so concerned about what they're thinking and what they want, what their agenda is,” she said, “and that just does not work.”
“Instead,” said Grmela, “go in with thoughts like, ‘I'm going to be very curious about this person; I'm not going to have an agenda. I'm going to be very curious what this person knows about abortion, adoption, and parenting and what they don't know.”
Staff and volunteers use Heartbeat International’s LOVE Approach in their training, in which listening and learning make up the first elements of pregnancy help. About 20 people serve as client coordinators, also called client advocates in many pregnancy centers, Grmela said.
FirstLook, located in Waxahachie, Texas, about 30 miles south of Dallas, began as a resource center several years ago. The center was located in a small house. Today, thanks to leadership and vision, the center is in a larger facility and serves as a medical clinic with not only pregnancy testing and ultrasound, but also std testing and treatment for women and men, and abortion pill reversal.
“Our leaders now are visionaries,” Grmela said, “and now we have a brand-new building, and it's beautiful.”
Listening to clients, no matter their pregnancy intention
Client coordinators present pregnancy options and help women understand their options, and then Grmela or another client care manager thoroughly review resources, such as Medicaid, with the women who choose to continue their pregnancies.
Tweet This: “We are a great team here at FirstLook Sexual Health & Pregnancy Center. It's really an open place to be heard.”
However, she also meets with women who are considering abortion, women like ‘Nikki’ (not her real name).
Already a mom to a small child, Nikki came to FirstLook with the intention to abort. She was separated from her husband and living with her parents, and her father wasn’t happy with the situation.
“He was disappointed with her,” Grmela said. “She had been a successful young woman, having her own business.”
However, about three years prior, Nikki was in a terrible car accident and a rod was placed in her leg.
“Her walking ability was affected,” Grmela said.
She also experienced other health issues. Therefore, Nikki believed she could not continue the pregnancy. However, her time at FirstLook helped her discover a new perspective.
“She had a good client coordinator and a good nurse who listened to her,” Grmela said. “They let her talk safely about her situation.”
“We do this with everyone,” said Grmela. “We slow them down and help them take each step one at a time.”
They talk about making sure the pregnancy is viable and the need for an ultrasound.
“With an ultrasound, they’re going to see what’s there,” Grmela said, “but it is their choice whether to have one and look at [the image] or not, so it’s not manipulative.”
Nikki had wanted a boy when she was married.
“She said, ‘So, what if this is a boy? What if this is the boy I’ve wanted?’” Grmela explained.
The “love, advice, and wisdom” given at FirstLook helped Nikki choose life, Grmela said. The young woman gave birth to a baby boy.
“She’s thankful she had him,” Grmela said. “She had support from her mother, and her father eventually came around. She still lives with her parents [and has health issues], but she has the goal of moving into her own place.”
“I didn’t have to fix her,” Grmela added, “I just needed to listen.”
Editor's note: Heartbeat International manages Pregnancy Help News.