Already pregnant and living in a maternity home, Leilani walked through the doors of Ventura County (Calif.) Pregnancy Center for a parenting class. She had lived a rough life, including drugs, homelessness and jail time, and while she didn’t want to keep living like she was, she also didn’t have a passion to change either.
Add to that, she wasn’t going to the parenting class because she wanted to, but because it was a condition of her living arrangement. Suffice it to say, Leilani wasn’t on the fast track to becoming a model pregnancy center client.
“I was rude, I didn’t want to listen in class, but the ladies tried so hard to help me,” Leilani said in a video produced by Mercy Tree Media. “I remember thinking, ‘This is what I want to do the rest of my life, is stick a needle in my arm.’ I can’t believe that I was ever in that position.”
Leilani, whose previous efforts to leave her past behind her had faltered, began to soften over time, however. Surrounded by unconditional love at both her maternity home and through the pregnancy center’s parenting classes, she was a changed person by the time her son arrived.
“Being a mother has completely changed my world,” Leilani said. “My son has brought so much joy to my life. I want to be better for him, I want to be better for myself, and that’s something that I never ever in my past would think I’d want.”
Serving the community since 1987, Venuta County Pregnancy Center caught the attention of Mercy Tree Media’s Tracy Martin in 2013. Stories like Leilani’s spoke volumes to Martin when she started getting familiar with the center’s mission through her mother-in-law, who serves on staff.
She was so impressed by the center that she put her passion for film creation to work for the organization. Since then, Martin has created about a dozen videos for the center, including the center’s recent 30-year fundraising banquet video.
“I didn’t know about pregnancy centers,” Martin said. “At that point I had been a church-goer for six years, but if you were to ask me to name a ‘pregnancy center,’ I would only be able to name Planned Parenthood. I’ve always had a heart for filmmaking—telling stories is my calling. I want to show people the truth, and I’m very inspired by the passion of the VCPC staff and how practical the center is.”
Serving as many as 1,800 clients in a year, Ventura County Pregnancy Center offers free pregnancy testing, pregnancy options education and material aid through the incentive program that helped Leilani prepare for parenthood.
In 2010, the center added ultrasound services up to 14 weeks—which is also the cutoff for a Planned Parenthood located just a mile and a half across the Ventura Freeway.
“The machine has paid for itself in changing women’s minds,” Maryann Ambroselli, the center’s director, said.
That’s exactly what happened with a woman named Ally, who scheduled an abortion even after she met her child on the center’s ultrasound screen in 2014. At Planned Parenthood on the other side of the freeway, with an IV in her arm, the ultrasound image of her child kept replaying in Ally’s mind.
It wasn’t just the image of her child that ran through her mind. It was also the conversation she had with the pregnancy center staff members who gave her the information on all her options and assured her that, no matter what she chose, they would be there for her.
“I could not stop crying,” Ally, whose mother was pressuring her to abort, said in another video produced by Martin and Mercy Tree Media. “I knew God was telling me not to go through with this. I yelled at the doctors and nurses to stop, and I got off the table and left.”
Like Leilani, Ally took advantage of the center’s parenting curriculum and material aid, and is now the proud mother of the daughter she almost lost through abortion.
“Having Violet in my life has changed me for the better,” Ally said. “The pregnancy center has played a big part in my life. I don’t know where my life would be without [the center].”
Telling stories like Leilani’s and Ally’s at the local level has helped awaken Martin’s desire to help Christians stand for life in everyday situations.
Martin’s new project, The Matter of Life, will combine interviews with Christian apologist Greg Koukl and former abortionists, along with stories from pregnancy center clients and profiles of national and international life-affirming groups.
“This film will offer the audience practical ideas to help women in unplanned pregnancies and ways to take part in making abortion unthinkable,” Martin said. “The audience will also learn about the ingrained motives and system of Planned Parenthood and how they have influenced culture. What started as a film about pregnancy centers became a film about abortion.”
A fundraising endeavor in early May helped launch the project, and fundraising continues this summer with hopes of bringing in another $30,000. Martin hopes to release the film in late 2018.