In 1978 Katie went away to college. During her freshman year she fell in love and made plans to marry. For the first time in her life, Katie made love.
For months later, when Katie (not her real name) came home for summer vacation, she began to doubt whether her fiance was the right man for her. A few weeks later she found out she was pregnant.
"It seemed like the worst thing that could happen," said Katie, now 21. "Your body is going through all these changes and you can't think straight."
"I wasn't ready to get married," she added. An abortion was out of the question because "I couldn't live with myself."
Her fiance begged her to marry him. Her father urged her to have an abortion. Her mother pressed her to keep the baby.
Katie, Prince George's County resident, was troubled and she knew she needed help.
She found it at the Pregnancy Aid Center (PAC) in College Park, on the second floor of a renovated house at 4809 Greenbelt Rd. Outside stands a big white sign with the name and phone number: 441-9150.
A nonprofit organization supported chiefly by community and church groups and private donations, the center offers crisis-counseling and practical support for pregnant women who want to keep their babies or give them up for adoption.
The center does have information on abortion but it is either technical or negative.
Kay Sidor, who trains prospective counselors, said, "One thing we are united on is that we do not believe in abortion. The policy is pro-life, as opposed to ending a life."
Counselors talk with clients - most are young and single - about their fears and concerns about pregnancy, and encourage them to examine the underlying reasons that they are sexually active.
"Sometimes (the young women) have to deal with more than just the fact that they are pregnant," says Barbara O'Malley, president of the center and mother of two. "There may be a question of low self-esteem, of feeling unloved or unwanted or of being frightened about the future." These feelings often will affect a client's decision so counselors try to help her deal with them, says O'Malley.
For practical support the counselors, all trained volunteers, help clients find low cost medical care and housing. The center also provides maternity and baby clothes and baby furniture.
Counselors dealt with 1,400 calls and visits last year.
"Panic is a good way of describing what is usually going on in a caller's mind," says O'Malley, 31, "If not tears, most have incredible fear."
Fifty percent of the pregnancy tests -- they cost $2 and results are known in five minutes -- are negative. And those with a positive pregnancy test are sometimes shocked.
"We don't want them to make a decision out of panic," O'Malley says. "The center is a place to stop and think -- to decide what to do with your life from this point forward. It's an accepting place."
The pregnant client has three options: keeping the baby, giving up the baby for adoption, or having an abortion.
Counselors tell clients that first two alternatives "are positive solutions and (help a woman) grow as a person."
Women who ask about abortion are given pamphlets such as "Abortion: I Regret My Decision." Another describes seven ill-fated abortions.
O'Malley says the literature is not selected for its anti-abortion bias.But when asked why she does not have a pamphlet about a woman who thought abortion was the right decision, O'Malley says that she has never seen one. In any event, she says, the center has decided not to reorder pamphlets relating personal experiences with abortion.
When a woman decides she wants an abortion, counselors feel frustrated, they say.
"I wonder," says Sidor, 34, who was a counselor for 3 1/2 years and has a teenaged daughter. "Was there something I left out? Was there something I failed to say that could have helped her?"
But Sidor adds that women who opt for an abortion are not critized. "We may not agree with the decision but we support the client," she said.
If a woman chooses to keep her baby, counselors will even go with her to break the news to her family, boyfriend or husband.
When a woman decides to give up her child, counselors will help her contact an adoption agency and other helpful social services.
When Katie came to the center, a counselor told her about the Home of His Creation, a Catholic institution in Pennsylvania for unwed mothers. When Katie's angry father gave her two days to get out of the house she called the home, where she spent the next five months.
"It was probably the best therapy for me. You're with a bunch of other people in the same situation, out in the country, kind of isolated, working together on the farm," she said.
But not all the center's clients are pregnant women. If a pregnancy test is negative, the counselors discuss with the woman how she might avoid a scare in the future and talk about her own sexuality and concept of love. The counselors "try to get the client to look inward," Sidor says.
"Sex is like designer jeans. Everybody wants them. Sex is one of those 'everybody' things. They (the teen-aged girls) don't want to be different."
In training new counselors, Sidor encourages them to help clients think beyond this everybody's-doing-it attitude and examine their feelings about sex and love.
All counseling is free. The center has an annual budget of $8,500, all of it from donations. In the past the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men's organization and the single largest contributor, has donated about $1,000 a year.
Katie now says she recommends the center to others, and has completed training to become a counselor there.
About giving up her 9-pound boy for adoption Katie says, "I always feel bad and I always will. But I made the right decision. He is in a stable home."
She stays in touch with the adoption agency. "The lady in charge at the agency told me he had a cold a little while ago but he's okay now. I will always wonder if he is okay."