When faced with an unplanned pregnancy, your life can quickly spin out of control. You are overwhelmed, stressed by the need to decide on what to do, and you have numerous other things to balance outside of your two pink lines. Babies are a big deal and what you choose to do next is, too. Unplanned pregnancy counseling according to Heather, a former adoption agency options counselor, is “to help someone work through their options and provide support during a stressful time.” While it is readily available in pregnancy centers, adoption agencies, abortion clinics, and OB-GYN offices, it’s important to know what information is truly benefitting you rather than confusing you even further. It’s also important to know the differences between coercion and support, resources and unethical gimmicks, and education and one-sided elevator speeches.
First things first, if you just found out that you are pregnant, my biggest piece of advice is to take a deep breath and give yourself some grace and love. You may be feeling like the world just came to a screeching halt, or maybe you feel excited about the news. Either way or even in between, you need to take a moment to check in with your emotions and sit in them for a while. Don’t make impulsive decisions or actions, just take a pause and collect yourself before making the next move. Unplanned pregnancy counseling can be found in so many places, so you can take your time and explore them all as well as your options.
You have options, and nothing has to be decided right now. You have nine months to form a plan of action, so remember that you don’t have to rush yourself if you aren’t ready yet. You may know this already, but you have three options: parenting, adoption, and abortion. All are valid choices, so it’s okay to start there. Many people grow up around strong opinions on all three of these options, so my next piece of advice here is to block it all out. Society and our environment can condition us to have preconceived notions about subjects, but when it comes to your body, your baby, and the future, your choice needs to be something you confidently choose for yourself. There will always be people who want to give you their opinions about what you should do, and if you want to listen to what they have to say you can, but after being in two unplanned pregnancies, I believe it’s best to take the incoming feedback of friends and family with a grain of salt. At the end of the day, I think you know what feedback you truly want to put thought into if any at all. For me, I knew what I believed for myself, and I stuck to it. It was nice when those close to me rallied to my support, but I knew I needed to decide what was best for me and my baby because I had to live with that choice for the rest of my life; my peanut gallery didn’t have to walk in my shoes.
I think that it is important to share that parenting is always an option even if you are considering adoption. When I was making an adoption plan for my daughter while I lived in a dorm for expectant mothers at the agency I was placing through, I was surprised at how many women changed their minds even in the small population of the dorm. I remember the first time that it happened I was very taken aback because at some point I guess I just thought, “This is what I am doing.” I’ll stop here and add that the agency I worked with never made me feel pressured to make the decision I ultimately made to go through with adoption; I genuinely felt in control of my story. I think much of the reason why I was so shocked at women choosing to parent instead was just that I was worried about there being some kind of backlash. I remember thinking, “They can do that? Just change their minds and leave?” Yes, they really can do that and have the power to discontinue working with an agency at any time. You have a choice to parent every single moment until you sign relinquishment papers after your baby is born.
This leads me to my next thought about unplanned pregnancy counseling: coercion. I was discussing this topic with some of my birth mom friends the other day. A birth mom is a woman who has placed a child or children for adoption. I told one of my friends, Nikki, that I was writing an article on unplanned pregnancy counseling and I wanted to see others’ perspectives because my only hesitancy on whether it is needed or not is due to coercion. She came back with this response: “Personally I feel coercion comes when people are not presented with all options, such as when those in the power role present what they think is needed and not everything available. So when a woman finds herself pregnant and needing support, (it’s best) if that person takes out their personal views and says, ‘Here are your options. If you want to parent, here are resources so you can be the best parent to your child. If parenting is not what you want, you have these options, but here are the resources for you so that you can stay healthy before and after your decision is made.’” I like that she points out the view that coercion is when people are not presented with all of their options. Coercion is always tied to an agenda, so be mindful when getting unplanned pregnancy counseling from someone and see if they are your advocate or their agenda’s advocate. I mentioned Heather earlier, who works for an adoption agency. I have known Heather for over a decade and I trust that I can have hard conversations with her about things that people can see differently. I asked Heather, “How do you think coercion can be removed from unplanned pregnancy counseling?” She responded with a few thoughts:
- “Integrity and ethics come into play here. So is the person or group that I am getting this counseling from acting with integrity and in an ethical manner? Do they have my best interest in mind or are they acting upon an interest of their own?”
- “If the unplanned pregnancy counseling is coming from an adoption agency, I would always be looking at how they act or react when an expectant parent considers parenting, talks about what it would look like to parent, and/or how someone is treated if they do change their mind.”
- “In my opinion, parenting should always be explored, talked about, and thought through. If an agency is pushing someone away from having those conversations, that’s a red flag to me.”
I believe that coercion can be found when getting unplanned pregnancy counseling, so it’s important to be aware of the possibility as you talk things out with different groups or people.
I mentioned earlier that there is a huge difference between resources and unethical gimmicks. Part of unplanned counseling done well is to point you to resources on all of your options so that you can look through everything as much as you need to get a firm deciding factor on what path you wish to take. Unfortunately, some people and groups could tell you, “If you choose to place your child for adoption with us, we will give you XYZ” or “You do not have much of a choice, so you should go with XYZ.” These are examples of coercion, but also extremely unethical practices. Under no circumstances, regardless of what any messaging or verbal statements say, you have the power to choose whatever you want to for your future. If someone is trying to back you into a corner or use shiny benefits to sign you on with them, run fast in the other direction. An ethical group would thoroughly talk through all three of your options, listen to what you are feeling or questions that you may have, and not pressure you into choosing in any time frame. Another red flag that I have noticed is adoption agencies calling women birth mothers instead of expectant mothers when they are considering adoption for their baby. The reason this is a red flag is even the simple terms or titles we use have power and influence. A woman is not a birth mother until she has signed legal relinquishment papers and made an intentional decision to place her child for adoption. Until you do that, you are an expectant mother. You are your baby’s mother. Using the correct title empowers your freedom of choice and I think anyone who is looking to be a stellar advocate for you will honor your choice and support you no matter what that choice looks like.
Lastly, I believe that education is important, not only on the three options that you have but also go to several abortion clinics, adoption agencies, doctors’ offices, or pregnancy centers. Each place will likely have its way of counseling you through this moment in your life and they will also have different resources and advice to give. Even when you have decided which path you are likely going to go on, don’t stop being thorough. If you are deciding to continue considering adoption, for example, look through all of the different agencies that are around you, find out what the adoption process looks like in your state, check out reviews, interview the options counselors at a few of them to get a good feel for the agency, and see what they offer in comparison with others. If you are considering parenting, make sure that you look into ways to set yourself up for success and see where you can get help with childcare, food stamps, WIC, or donated clothes. If you are considering moving forward with an abortion, check the reviews, make sure that they are following the proper health standards and procedures, get all of the information you need before booking an appointment, and do your due diligence before getting a medical procedure done by someone. Just because someone says they are qualified doesn’t mean they are so, with all organizations and such, research for your safety and wellbeing. Also, no matter which you are considering, listen to stories or read testimonies of birth mothers, mothers who have a similar background as your situation, women who have had an abortion, or better yet, if you know someone you can talk things through with them if you can trust them to not pressure you into picking a certain thing. Life experience is some of the best knowledge out there, so utilize it and educate yourself on the possibilities as well as the realities of the decision.
In closing, do you really need unplanned pregnancy counseling? Yes, I believe it is important. This is such a pivotal moment in life for you and that’s heavy. I believe that not only should you be weighing your options thoroughly, but that these kinds of moments deserve support. We are not meant to struggle alone; we need community and care. While there are many things that you have to pay attention to when getting unplanned pregnancy counseling, there are many more benefits that outweigh the challenge. After all, the entire journey is challenging, but I believe that if you are educated, supported, and free to take the time to think out your next steps, it will be rewarding that you made the decision yourself. Regardless of what things look like for you ahead, I want you to know that I believe in you. I know that things might look scary or overwhelming right now, but in my experience, you never know what you are truly capable of until you push through it. You’ve got this.