Tucked into a corner, at the end of a business park, Angel's Cove Maternity Home in Mount Vernon, Illinois, quietly helps pregnant women transition into mothers.
The small maternity home could be any other business in the neighborhood, but for many young women it is the helping hand they need to make it through an unplanned pregnancy.
And, contrary to their wishes, they are one of the best kept secrets in Mount Vernon. "We keep hearing people say they didn't even know we were here," home director Regina Thompson said.
"We want people to know. We are here to help people, so we want to get the word out that we're here," she said.
The home is a mission of Baptist Children's Home and Family Services, a Southern Baptist organization that has grown out what used to be church-run orphanages. The primary objective is to fulfill the duties Jesus instructed His church to undertake, Thompson said.
"We want people to know who Jesus is and that He loves everybody," she said. That desire to reach out to the less fortunate led the Carmi-based Baptist's Children's Home and Family Services to begin the maternity home in Mount Vernon in 1993.
Angel's Cove serves two distinct functions, but Thompson said sometimes the two are confused and it may keep some people from seeking their help. The first mission is as a maternity home. The home can shelter up to 8 pregnant women, and later their newborns as well. The second is to assist people looking to adopt children.
"We are actually licensed for 13, but we try to keep it to no more than 8 women, so we have a place for them and the babies after the child is born," Thompson said.
The group's secondary function is to facilitate adoption. If a woman decides to give her child up for adoption, the agency has pre-approved adoptive parents that she may select from and will help the birth mother negotiate the difficulties of adoption, including the grieving process after she gives up her child. Or, if the mother has already chosen adoptive parents, the agency will help her negotiate the complexities of the adoption process.
"For a lot of women, the grieving is a lot like losing a child. We try to help them prepare both before the birth of the child and afterward for the emotions that they will be feeling," she said.
The problem with providing both services is that sometimes people are hesitant to call, believing that Angel's Cove will only help them if they are giving up their children. That, Thompson said, is simply not the case.
Most of the women who live at the maternity home are intending to parent their child, she said. Women who may be planning to give up their children often live at home and simply have weekly counseling visits with the Angel's Cove staff.
"We never place any pressure on the women either way," Thompson said. They help the mothers identify resources if they choose to parent and provide them with prenatal care during the pregnancy. After the child is born, mother and child can remain at the home for up to three months while permanent arrangements are made.
"If the mother is over 18, we can help them find independent housing and get them set up with the health departments and other resources they need in their home counties," Thompson said. The options are a little more limited if the mother is underage, because independent housing isn't available. "Those girls usually either go back to their parents' home or to another relative."
Thompson said usage of the home had been down in the past couple years, but seems to have spiked in 2019. "We've already served as many girls this year as we did all year last year," she said. If a potential client arrives as planned in mid-August, the home will be at full capacity.
To stay at the home, pregnant women can be of any age. "We do not discriminate at all. We ask parents' to help contribute to the cost if they can, but we have never turned someone away because they couldn't afford to share the expenses. Our clients qualify for medical assistance from the state and would generally qualify for food stamps as well, but while they are here, they don't need the food stamp assistance. We feed them," Thompson said.
All the women are required to be in some sort of an education program while at the home and are required to get prenatal care and abide by the home's guidelines. Otherwise, they are free to do as they wish, she said. "Some of our women even have part-time jobs so they can have some spending money," she said.
Only women with a history of violence against themselves or others are excluded from the program. "We have to protect the babies and the other mothers," Thompson said. Women are provided with food and shelter, access to prenatal care and counseling.
The home is not-for-profit organization and receives its funding completely from local donations and Southern Baptist churches. "We are not state-funded at all," she said.
Angel's Cove other mission is to promote adoption. The agency is licensed to do home screenings for potential adoptive parents and keeps a list of pre-approved couples waiting to adopt that women considering adoption can look through and try to find adoptive parents for her infant.
"We very much encourage openness in adoption. We cannot require, as their is no Illinois law enforcing open adoption, but we recommend that the adoptive parents send the birth mother pictures five times in the first year and twice a year after that," she said.
"Some families even allow the birth mother to see the child for the first two or three years. Usually, after that, the visits slack off or are curtailed until the children are 9 or 10 years old and able to decide for themselves if they are interested in seeing their birth mother."
The visits often end because young school age children do not understand the role their birth mother played in their lives, she said. "We encourage our adoptive parents to be open from day one with their children, letting them know from the beginning that they were adopted. We think it breeds more trust between the parents and the child. The child doesn't have to come back years later and wonder what else their parents haven't told them," Thompson explained.
Preventing adopted children from being traumatized or embarrassed is one way the group hopes to remove the stigma of adoption. Another way is by educating people about the strength and commitment it takes from a birth mother to give her child up for adoption.
"I am amazed by the strength and courage that it takes to place a child for adoption. These young women are choosing to put their child's needs above their own, making certain that their infant goes to a stable two-parent home with the financial stability that maybe they couldn't offer the child. Most of these young women would be excellent mothers, but decided to do something better for their child," she said.
That's where the openness encouraged in Angel Cove's adoptions helps as well. "All parents, but especially adoptive parents, love to brag about their children and who better to brag to than someone else who adores that child. It means these girls can look at the photos or messages from the adoptive parents and know that they may have made some mistakes, but they have also done something very right."
Adoption isn't right for everyone and the women who choose to keep their children should be commended as well, Thompson said. "These girls face enormous obstacles, but we help them out in any way we can, from providing counseling and counseling referrals to bringing them the baby items they need."