Beckoned Back: Woman Returns to Ohio Pregnancy Center to Combat Infant Mortality

By Gayle Irwin

Little did Debra Martin know when she left Ohio’s Pregnancy Choices six years ago that she would return, this time to oversee the center’s four service campuses.

“Beyond a shadow of a doubt, God brought me back,” she said.

Before coming aboard as CEO on July 1, 2018, Martin worked with the center for more than a decade under a grant, visiting schools and teaching health and relationship skills.

But when the grant ended, so did her job.

For the next six years, Martin would continue serving in the nonprofit world, working for a fatherhood program for three of those years and a local Habitat for Humanity affiliate for another three.

Then, earlier this year, she began reading Draw the Circle: The 40-Day Prayer Challenge by Mark Batterson.

“I heard God say to me, ‘You’re not going to be there for long,’” Martin recalled. “I read Day 16 – ‘Lord, Surprise Me.’ I prayed it, I spoke it. It’s a dangerous prayer to pray.”

Not long thereafter, the surprise came: a phone call from a Pregnancy Choices board member.

“She said, ‘We have a job opening and you’ve been recommended to apply for it,’” Martin said. “I really didn’t think I wanted to, but I said, ‘I’ll pray about it.’ And, I did.”

The role was a big one: CEO.

Day 17 in the book is titled, “Do Not Delay.” Martin didn’t have long to wonder what that might mean for her after she learned her current job was to be eliminated.

“I heard God say, ‘Apply!’ so I did, and I got the job,” she said. “When I met with the Board of Directors, I learned they were going through the same book — someone read a devotion from it during the meeting. There was no doubt God orchestrated the whole thing.”

Responding to a Need

During the last fiscal year, July 2017 to June 2018, Pregnancy Choices recorded more than 2,800 client visits. The life-affirming organization offers medical services, including pregnancy testing, limited obstetrical ultrasounds, and testing for several sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) at four different locations: two in Canton, one in Akron, and the other in Massillon. Pregnancy Choices also provides a variety of helpful programs.

One of those is called VITAL, a two-year parenting program responding to Ohio’s infant mortality problem.

A report released last fall by the Ohio Department of Health showed that 1,024 infants died before their first birthday in 2016. According to the report, premature births are a leading cause of these deaths. The counties that Pregnancy Choices serves are among the highest for infant mortality rates in the state. Pregnancy Choices’ VITAL initiative works to combat those statistics.

The program is broken into two phases: pregnancy to birth and birth to baby’s first birthday. Women learn how to prepare for labor, what to expect during pregnancy, and how to care for their babies and themselves during that first year after birth. Classes meet twice a month and provide women with opportunities to get to know each other. Pregnancy Choices even hosts a first birthday party for the children.

The program is run by Pregnancy Choices staff, but representatives from other organizations are invited to come and share their expertise.

“We have speakers from outside agencies—it’s a community partnership,” Martin said. “For example, there are people outside our organization who know a lot about car seat safety, so we invite them to come and present.”

Learning and Engaging

Stepping into the role of a CEO who oversees four campuses, plus a separate office space and a staff of 27, Martin said she discovered an encouraging aspect of the job.

“Knowing there are so many people who support what we’re doing—that’s been wonderful!” she said. “This work is so much more than saving a baby: We care about the women we see; we’re in the schools, impacting teenagers regarding healthy relationships and STDs… When you think about it, it’s incredible how huge the impact is.”

As she enters her fifth full month as CEO and prepares for the final fundraising event of the year, the annual banquet, Martin said, “I’m still learning a lot, things I didn’t know—and I’m learning to listen to God even more. I’m really excited to see what God is going to do.”

Editor’s note. This appeared at Pregnancy Help News and is reposted with permission.