Adoption is a sensitive subject and emotional experience. Certainly, the same can be said about unplanned pregnancy. When a woman first discovers she is pregnant, she experiences a rush of different, often competing, emotions – shock or disbelief, excitement or joy, disappointment or fear. Especially when a pregnancy is unplanned, these feelings can vary and be unpredictable.
As a clinical professional, you have likely helped patients through an unintended pregnancy before. If you have not encountered this situation, you should expect to down the road in your career. Today, nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned. Among single women in their 20s, about 70 percent of pregnancies are unintended.
The common crisis of an unintended pregnancy can stir an array of challenging emotions for young women. Most often, the first reaction to surface is denial. If you have a patient facing an unplanned pregnancy now, you may have noticed that she is trying to avoid the situation. She may not want to talk about the news or know how to process it at the time. Denial is completely normal, and often occurs in patients who are not yet ready to face their situation or the emotions that it will bring.
As a clinician, you know firsthand that denial in patients can be particularly challenging. You want your patient to open up, to talk about her thoughts, and to make a sound decision regarding her pregnancy. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help her get through this stage. As a first step, set up a safe, supportive, and private environment for your patient. Remind her that your conversation is completely confidential. Give her space to reflect on her feelings and welcome her to work through them with you. By doing so, she can start to move past any hesitations and begin exploring her options.
A woman must feel safe and supported in order to let herself open up – not only to you, but also to herself. Opening up will allow her to feel any conflicting tensions, stresses, or other ambivalent feelings regarding her pregnancy. Ambivalence, experts say, is the key to making major life decisions.
Ambivalence means having mixed or contradictory feelings about something. For example, your patient may feel ambivalent because she wants to parent her child, but is not financially stable or ready to at this time. On the other hand, she may believe that terminating the pregnancy is the best option, but abortion has long-been against her beliefs or values. Your patient may also be considering adoption, but dreads the thought of never seeing her child again. These ambivalent feelings are a normal stage of the decision-making process, and are very important to work through together with your patient. As a clinician, it is your responsibility to ensure that your patients are educated and have time to think about their options reasonably.
Other ambivalent feelings your patient may experience when facing an unplanned pregnancy:
- Panic or anxiety
- Anger or resentment
- Sadness or grief
It is okay for your patient to feel all of these unplanned pregnancy emotions, as she may be grieving a baby she is not yet ready to have or mourning a life she is letting go of for parenthood. Give her time to feel those emotions fully. Only then will she calm down and begin to think about her options. If she says she is ready to make a decision, be sure to ask her about the reasons behind her choice. Her decision should be informed, not made with anger or fear.
To better help you help your patients through this emotional journey, Adoptions With Love has compiled some additional tips for clinicians below.
- Use active listening
When facing an unplanned pregnancy, most women will desire a compassionate and listening ear as they work through their many feelings. This sort of active listening will help ease any difficult emotions your patient may be feeling. It will also make your patient feel that she is being heard, no matter her age or background. Your patient will want to discuss life factors that may be influencing her decision. She may want to talk about the reality of her situation, her concerns or worries, and the potential outcomes of her options. Your patient is responsible for her own self-exploration. It is your responsibility to listen actively as your patient explores and assesses her options and to provide information and support where it is needed. This will empower your patient to make the right decision.
- Remain positive
At this time, you may be your patient’s greatest support. Just as you are listening to her, she will be listening to you. She may be taking everything you say and do to heart. With that in mind, it is important that you maintain a positive tone and attitude as you help her through this emotional time. Use positive language as you talk about her options. For example, you may say “make an adoption plan” instead of “put up for adoption.”
- If your patient chooses adoption, refer her to someone who will provide ongoing counseling and support
Like unplanned pregnancy, adoption is an emotional journey that often brings feelings of grief and loss. If your patient chooses adoption, these feelings may not end upon the placement of her child. As a clinician, you should refer her to someone who will provide ongoing counseling and post-adoption support – an agency that will be there during her pregnancy and long after the adoption takes place.
Adoption will affect your patient’s life in many ways, but it is possible for her to prepare for these changes and emotions before they occur. It is possible for your patient to have a positive adoption experience. The first step will be for her to accept and understand that these feelings are normal. Only then can she begin the healing process.
Adoption may be a difficult choice, but it is also one filled with love and hope. By choosing adoption, your patient will have the comfort of knowing she was in control of her plan. She will find peace of mind in knowing that she gave her baby the best possible life she could.
If you are looking for ongoing adoption support for your patient, please reach out to Adoptions With Love. If you would like to schedule an in-service training in your Massachusetts practice, and learn about the emotional and complicated decision of adoption, please contact us at 617-964-4357. For more advice on helping patients with an unplanned pregnancy, please download our “Clinician’s Guide to Adoption” below.