The Valley Pregnancy Center will transition to Next Step, a name that executive director Michelle Kelly believes accurately captures the services the agency provides to women.
Kelly, who has volunteered and worked at the center for 20 years, remarked that this is the second name change -- it was founded as the Valley Crisis Pregnancy Center. In 2004, after becoming a licensed medical provider by offering ultrasounds, "crisis" was dropped.
Dropping "pregnancy center" was the result of three years of research into why the number of women they were serving was dropping while unplanned pregnancies were increasing. Using both national and state numbers compiled by three different organizations, they came to the conclusion that the words "pregnancy center" carried significant negative baggage to some women.
Their focus on helping a woman decide what step to take next in considering her pregnancy led to the new name for the Pleasanton-based organization.
The mission remains: "to empower women to make confident and healthy life choices."
The center served about 250 women last year, about one-third of the number it did in its earlier days. It has a small paid staff and relies on trained volunteers to work individually and confidentially with the pregnant women.
Kelly said the clientele has shifted significantly over the last 30 years. In the 1980s and 1990s, they counseled many pregnant and scared teenage girls. She remarked that her first client, a 15-year-old girl, was typical of their clients in those years.
Since then, the women coming to the center have been much older -- in their late 20s or even early 30s -- many in relationships including some who are married. What they have in common is their pregnancy was not planned -- about 50% of all pregnancies fall into this category.
The other thing they have in common is they are afraid, Kelly said. The goal of the trained, volunteer counselors is to help women, one step at a time, replace their fear with hope so she can make a sound decision.
That next step could be a pregnancy test or it could be a conversation about her fears that gets it on the surface and acknowledged.
"She can be paralyzed in her fear, but take it one step at a time. Next step can be confirming the pregnancy is viable," Kelly said. "24% of pregnancies end in natural miscarriage. Modern medicine can determine pregnancy three days after conception. A woman may decide to have a procedure (abortion) instead of waiting to seven to nine weeks for ultra-sound to see if pregnancy is viable."
One major change in the culture over the last 30 years has been the attitude toward an unplanned pregnancy and abortion. Kelly said that women often "intertwine" them without thinking about the procedure and its potential impact on her.
"Our opportunity and finding the next step is allowing there to be space between finding out you're pregnant and having the time to fully process your decision outside of fear and judgment. Without that conversation and space, the message of the culture is 'I'll go and become unpregnant,'" Kelly said.
For women, the center offers pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, abortion information, information on fetal development and a pregnancy options decision kit. When a woman decides to carry her baby to term, she is supported with information about what to expect during her pregnancy, parenting preparation, a hormone workshop and preparation for childbirth.
After delivery, the center provides infant care, parenting support, the purposeful parenting program, a boundaries with kids program and a child discipline program.
For ongoing support, it offers the following free programs: co-parenting 101, conquering co-dependency, communication coaching for couples, relationship boundaries, miscarriage support, grief support and post-abortion recovery.
The ongoing services are available to the public -- participants are not required to have been a client to take advantage of them.
Next Step upgraded its website two years ago so the site is more interactive and fits how clients wanted to receive information. The user determines what information she wants and goes right to that page. It has a chat function that hasn't been heavily utilized, but online appointments have worked well for the clients.