Things don’t always go as planned. An unexpected pregnancy may be counted in that category. But women who find themselves in that situation are not alone. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 49% of all pregnancies are unintended. Regardless of what led to this result, such as failed contraception, poor timing, a lapse in judgment, an assault, etc., every woman who gets this unanticipated news faces the same issue: What am I going to do? Getting information on the available options is the first step. But what are those options? While customers may have a choice of 31 different flavors (enough to indulge in a different flavor each day of a month) when selecting an ice cream flavor at Baskin Robbins, there are three—and only three—options to be considered for an unexpected pregnancy. There’s a Door A, a Door B, and a Door C. No door with any other letter exists for consideration.
The three options from which an expectant parent may choose can all be described with a word beginning with the letter “p.” The choices are Parenting, Placing for adoption, and Passing on the pregnancy. Which option is selected is up to the expectant mother. But to make an informed decision, knowing facts about the options is a necessary step. Let’s consider each of these three options and then compare and contrast them.
Option 1: Passing on a Pregnancy
Passing on a pregnancy, i.e., having an abortion, is an option for expectant mothers today; however, that option has not always been available. The United States Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in this country nationwide. In the aftermath of Roe, it is estimated that over 61 million abortions have occurred. So, many expectant mothers have selected this option over the other two options.
Although abortion is an option, a pregnant woman’s specific circumstances may make it unavailable to her. Access to abortion is governed by state law, so the expectant mother needs to determine what the parameters and restrictions are for obtaining an abortion in her state.
State laws may, for example, authorize such a procedure only for a designated time during the pregnancy. Late-term abortions performed after 24 weeks are usually illegal in most states except in limited circumstances. Those circumstances would include if the pregnancy is life-threatening to the expectant mother and if there are severe deformities and/or abnormalities in the fetus which are incompatible with the fetus surviving.
The financial requirements of obtaining an abortion, in addition to its legality, must be considered. According to spendonhealth.com, abortion costs on average from $350 to $2,000. The cost may depend on how far along the woman is in her pregnancy. Abortions performed during the second trimester are more expensive than those done in the first trimester.
Planned Parenthood clinics, if one is located near the pregnant woman, offer low-cost abortion procedures, but there is still a cost associated with having the procedure done. Private insurance does not always cover abortions, especially if the procedure is deemed elective (desired but not medically required) rather than medically necessary (health risk to the pregnant patient). According to the National Abortion Federation (NAF), almost two-thirds of insurance companies cover elective abortions at least to some degree. Coverage is typically provided when the pregnancy has resulted from rape or incest or if there is a grave threat to the life and health of the mother.
The type of procedure required for an abortion may also make a difference to the pregnant woman. Two types of abortions can be performed—medical and surgical. Medical abortions involve the use of pills and may only be done up to ten weeks of pregnancy. Nevertheless, with an unexpected pregnancy, the woman may not even discover she is pregnant until after this point has already passed.
While taking a pill seems routine, the ingestion of a pill is not all that happens in medical abortion. The expectant mother may experience physical discomfort in the form of heavy cramping and bleeding.
The second type of abortion is a surgical one. One of three types of procedures may be utilized in this form of terminating a pregnancy. With aspiration, a tube is inserted into the pregnant woman’s uterus which sucks the baby out of the womb. With induction, labor is induced and the fetus is delivered. With dilation and extraction, fetal tissue is scraped out of the uterus with a scooping instrument. How acceptable it is to the expectant woman to undergo the abortion procedure may impact whether she selects this or one of the other options.
While terminating a pregnancy provides immediate relief from the problem of unintended pregnancy, consequences may result from undergoing this procedure. Emotional reactions following abortion are more common than physical side effects. Just like how post-partum depression may follow childbirth, depression can also follow an abortion. And emotional reactions do not always occur right after an abortion. They may surface years later. In some cases, the emotional reaction may rise to the level of post-abortion syndrome (PAS), a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Option 2: Parenting
Raising the baby is always an option for an expectant mother. Being able to parent her child and see him or her grow is a wonderful experience. Nevertheless, it may not be a viable one. Due to the unplanned nature of her condition, the woman may not be in a position to parent due to her age, financial situation, or health issues caused by substance abuse, mental health conditions, et cetera.
No one can doubt a mother has a great love for her child. However, neither she nor her child can survive solely on love. Parenting is an expensive proposition. The United States Department of Agriculture has been tracking the cost of raising a child since 1960. According to the information posted on its blog in February 2020, the current cost for raising a child to the age of 18 was $230,610 for food, shelter, and necessities. The cost of providing a college education was not included in that figure.
For an expectant mother who is struggling financially herself, this financial obligation may be insurmountable. Government and/or family assistance might be available to some extent, but that help may simply allow her to get by.
To provide for the child she elects to parent, a mother may have to postpone her life plans. Furthering her education often must be put on hold so that she can work to provide for the child.
The expectant father is also a factor in any decision to parent. Will he be involved with the child? Will he contribute financially? Will he be a good influence on his child? While the expectant mother does not have to continue to be in a relationship where one existed, she will always be tied to this man because of their shared biological child. If he chooses to be involved with the child, he will exert some influence on the child; that influence may be for good or for bad.
When unplanned pregnancies occur for women suffering from substance abuse or mental health issues, the expectant mother may be having difficulty taking care of herself and would struggle to take care of a helpless baby. Taking on a parenting commitment under these circumstances could place the mother at risk of having her child removed from her by the state if those problems interfere with her abilities to properly parent.
Option 3: Placing a Child for Adoption
Door C for an expectant mother experiencing an unintended pregnancy is the option of placing her child for adoption. This option is often dismissed out of a lack of knowledge about it or due to common misconceptions about the process.
Being able to afford an adoption is not a concern. When an expectant mother works with an adoption resource to make an adoption plan, there is no cost to her. While she may not be able to afford to raise a child, no expectant mother is unable to afford an adoption because she does not pay for an adoption.
Even if the adoption itself costs an expectant mother nothing, she may incur legitimate expenses related to the adoption which she cannot cover. Financial aid to assist her with such living expenses during the pregnancy may be available if legally authorized by the applicable state law where there is a demonstrated and legitimate need.
Some expectant mothers may already be feeling some guilt about finding themselves dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. Thus, they avoid doing anything else that may cause them to feel guilty. Often expectant mothers will feel that they are failing in their duty as mothers by placing their baby. This perception is mistaken. An expectant mother is acting exactly as an expectant mother should when she makes an adoption plan; she is taking affirmative steps to ensure her child has a stable and loving home that provides for his or her needs if she cannot do so.
But facing separation from her baby through placement may be emotionally difficult for a pregnant woman. Grieving the loss of being able to parent her child is a process she will have to undergo. However, she does not have to undertake this process by herself. Adoption resources are equipped to provide expectant mothers with counseling to assist them in working through their emotions.
The separation between mother and child may not be a permanent one in all adoptions. With the growing use of open adoptions where direct contact occurs between the adoptive parents and the birth parents, a birth parent may be able to receive pictures and updates and have some type of contact with the adoptee as the child grows up. Even if the desired adoption plan does not include this contact, once the child is an adult direct contact between the adoptee and the birth parent is possible. For example, the state of Florida maintains an adoption reunion registry that facilitates bringing an adoptee and a birth parent together once the adoptee is over 18 and the parties mutually desire such contact.
An adoption also allows an expectant mother to control the type of home in which her child is placed. She may set requirements about the prospective adoptive parents. Does she want adoptive parents with the same religious affiliation she has? Does she want the adoptive mother to be a stay-at-home mom? Does she prefer for the adoptive parents to be non-smokers? While the expectant mother may feel that her life is out of control facing this unanticipated pregnancy, she can exert a great deal of control in crafting the best home possible in which her child will be raised.
Comparing and Contrasting the Options
For expectant parents trying to choose one of the three available options, reviewing the pros and cons of each may help them to settle upon the best choice. Here is a chart which lists some, but certainly not all, of the pros and cons for each possibility:
Every expectant mother is a unique individual, and her circumstances will be unique to her. Only she can determine which option is best when faced with an unplanned pregnancy. She has three, and only three, options from which to choose. Making an informed choice among these options requires obtaining information about them. Reviewing the pros and cons of each option may also help her determine which option works best for her. Whether she chooses Door A, Door B, or Door C, she will be opening the door to the future for both her and her child.