Heart to heart with Adele: When your teenager wants an abortion
You would think our family did not have enough problems with Covid-19, job insecurity and a plethora of unpaid bills! Our teenage daughter decided to check out our capacity for dealing with stress, by engaging in unprotected sex, and then feigning utter disbelief and surprise at a pregnancy! Suggested solutions are flying, right, left and center! My daughter wants an abortion. Her grandparents and girlfriends, think she can parent. My Catholic husband and I prefer an Open Adoption. We never in a hundred years expected to have this parenting challenge! Can you offer a few words of wisdom?
Shocked, Surprised, and Definitely Stressed
Dear Shocked, Surprised and Definitely Stressed,
I can offer you a few words. Whether they are wise words or not, will be for you to judge. I did meet a large number of women in my adoption practice over 31 years, who had unplanned pregnancies and had to decide to terminate, or to carry, and then parent or place the child for adoption.
I met human females as young as 13 and as old as 42. Some were single, some were in relationships and some were married. Some planned their pregnancies. Some did not, but wanted them anyway. Some did not want them under any conditions.
Some women knew exactly what they wanted to do. Others wanted to hear about the options, and then wrestled with the complexities of choices. Most would have been smart to accept unbiased, comprehensive, up-to-the-minute accurate information, about the major options. This service is best provided, devoid of judgement by a competent, knowledgeable, experienced professional. Then, and only then, can a woman make an INFORMED CHOICE.
You might assume that that happens all the time in sexual health clinics, physicians’ offices, university health centers, high school guidance offices and religious counselling places. Best not to assume anything, in my experience. Most do NOT offer women that kind of comprehensive education. For a variety of reasons, ranging from ignorance and inadequate training, to personal, cultural or agency bias, some counselling sources regularly fail to fully respect women’s intelligence and capacity to learn and deal with factual information. They sometimes water down or omit salient facts. In so doing, they deny women the opportunity and right to make an INFORMED CHOICE.
I suggest you try to ensure your daughter has access to accurate comprehensive information about the ins and outs of abortion, since that seems to be the direction she wants to go. Check out several sources. This needs to happen expeditiously. Once she decides, she can get a first trimester abortion quickly and easily in our area, likely faster than she can get a dental appointment.
While your daughter needs opportunities to be fully informed about abortion, there is another aspect of that choice which causes me a lot of concern. That concern is about the freedom of her choice. A woman’s right to reproductive choice should not only be INFORMED but it should be FREELY chosen. A FREE CHOICE. An unpressured choice.
Historically, women were pressured and shamed into hiding their pregnancies. They were pressured into closed adoptions, and denied involvement in their children’s lives. Women often suffered deeply, in silence. Many grieved the loss of their child, and longed for that progeny, their entire lives.
Fortunately, practices have changed. ‘Open Adoption’ involves the birth parent in choice of adoptive family. It allows contact with the child. Archaic and woefully insensitive resolutions are defunct, for the most part, in our area.
A lot of you might be surprised to know, that the pressure upon teenage pregnant females to have an abortion, is considerable. In fact, it is extremely considerable. It is a factor I do not see acknowledged or addressed by many of those who say they are supportive of a ‘woman’s right to choose’ and who carry the banner high for the ‘Pro-choice’ movement. It is a very significant factor for women, whose most basic natural primal instinct and biological role is to carry the human fetus to term, give birth, bond and protect the young, not to terminate its opportunity for life.
When a pregnancy is interrupted through a miscarriage, a delivery of a stillborn infant, or a termination through abortion, there is a strong emotional reaction in a human female. It can impact her for a lifetime. Women need and deserve support and understanding of that emotional overlay, no matter the outcome of a pregnancy. This is especially true for women choosing abortions. Unfortunately, this emotional support is sadly lacking out there, in my life experience.
Part of a woman’s long-term emotional comfort with an abortion choice, rests on the fact that it was her choice, not anyone else’s choice; and that it was a FREE choice, not a choice made because of pressure from others.
Most of the women I knew who terminated a pregnancy, experienced pressure to do so. They were often pressured to choose abortion, because it suited their culture, their religion, their marital status, their families, or their school, work or financial situation. Pressure was often greatest from the males who impregnated them. That male might not have wanted a wife or girlfriend to know, other children to know, his parents to know, or his community to know. He may have feared the law, because he was the father of the pregnant girl, the step parent, the brother, the step brother, the neighbor, the coach, the religious leader or a casual hook up from a college Saturday night party. He may not have wanted to take on the role of a father, or be required to pay child support. Birth fathers sometimes figure that funding an abortion gets them off the hook. In their eyes, the best option for the girl and him, seems to be elimination of the problem altogether through termination. A male might liken an abortion to the extraction of a decayed molar, while a female might feel she is killing her baby. When perceptions about pregnancy and abortion is a mighty chasm apart for a male and a female, as in this example, one understands more clearly, why women face such a herculean dilemma.
Your daughter is no doubt experiencing some pressure. Often, those exerting pressure have a lot of power and/or influence over the pregnant woman, and drive her choices. When she caves to such pressure, and has an abortion, the woman can experience a very significant lasting emotional impact, such as feelings of grief, loss, rejection, betrayal, diminished self-esteem, blame, self- loathing, entrapment, powerlessness, loneliness, worthlessness, or mistrust of males. These emotional feelings can stay with her a very long time. Sometimes she never really gets over the repercussions of the choice she made.
A case comes to mind about pressure which I will summarize and make nonidentifying, to illustrate the point.
Lola was a 25-year-old, poorly educated, immigrant from Latin America with a solitary uninvolved sibling, in Canada. She resided in one room, had few friends, and had an entry level job in a retail store run by a middle-aged, married, self-centered, uncaring man. He took advantage of Lola’s naïveté and loneliness, and became the sperm donor in an unplanned pregnancy. When she told him about it, he pressured her to have an abortion. The last thing he wanted was his wife and children to learn about his infidelity, to have his reputation ruined in his network, or to face a long-term responsibility to support an unwanted child.
This is an example of pressure.
Lola was in a quandary. The birthfather was her boss and she needed her job. She was Catholic and sex with a married man and an unwanted conception, was a definite ‘no-no’ capable of garnering little support in her Catholic network. She was not comfortable with the abortion option because her church forbade it. While she hoped to be a mother one day, a child under these circumstances was not her reverie. The very thought of parenting alone, with no partner, no support, no money, and a climate of social shame, drove her into the deep, dark hole of depression.
She decided abortion was out and solo parenting an impossibility. She arranged a legal private open adoption for her baby in a different city. She used an Ontario government approved Licensee, and government Approved Private Adoption Practitioners. Lola chose the adoptive family and made agreements for contact. The baby was born, was placed and Lola’s choice appeared a good choice.
However, a kindly old nun put pressure on Lola. She told Lola that God would not have given her a child if He did not expect her to raise it. The nun promised Lola baby clothes, baby furniture, and future unspecified help. While well-meaning, this woman caused Lola great emotional and mental discomfort, enormous confusion, and significant spiritual turbulence.
This is an example of pressure.
The pressure was so intense, Lola was catapulted in to a reversal of her decision. She asked for the baby back, even though she did not want to parent, had absolutely nothing to offer the child, and was not able to count on anyone for solid reliable long-term help. That, as it turned out, included the old nun whose assistance faded into oblivion, very quickly.
Less than 24 hours later, the adoptive family brought the child to my office. The couple were in utter despair, weeping profusely over the fate of a child that was their son, in their hearts. He was the son they had cared for but a few weeks. He was the son they had come to love intensely. He was the son that had to be given back to a birth mother who didn’t want him, and to a birth father who did not want him. He was the son whose life trajectory appeared to be taking a 180° turn, from the life they hoped to offer him. They said their goodbyes, gave the baby his final kisses, and with tears running down their cheeks, walked out the door, leaving the son they knew they would never forget and likely never see again.
An hour later, the biological parents arrived. The birth father was in an angry, uncommunicative mood, and ordered the birth mother around loudly and aggressively. He was telling her to get this and do that. The hungry baby started to cry in his car seat. The birth father approached. He was annoyed obviously, failed to cuddle the child or speak softly to him, but hurriedly rummaged through an overstuffed knapsack and pulled out a commercial bottle of formula. All the while, he complained about the trip, the time, the hotel, the top on the bottle not coming off, and the sound of the baby crying.
Lola never looked at the infant, never approached him and never attempted to soothe him. She stood back in total silence, leaning against the office door frame, with the stunned look of a deer in the headlights. Sadness, anxiety and depression emanated from every pore of her body. She was saying nothing verbally, but saying everything by her response, to the wailing baby. Rejection and failure to bond was so evident. The human boy-child who had emerged from her body, now had to experience life for the next 18 years, according to the decisions and choices this birth mother would make. Good or bad, in his interests or not, his destiny was determined. It was cast in stone due to the unfortunate happenchance circumstances of his conception, that allowed him entry to the planet. While the birthparents had the right to take him, I questioned for a long time, whether the child’s return, was indeed, truly right for the child.
This is an example of pressure.
I hope it demonstrates how a woman’s choice can be truly not FREE. It is happening all the time, these days, to women who conceive children, a natural consequence in the human female body from engagement in a sexual encounter with a human male, much of the time. Pressured choices are regular fare, whether the choice is abortion, parenting, or adoption.
Teenagers parenting babies has become socially acceptable but many females are pressured into this choice. Pressure comes from our culture and its expectations. It comes from parents, peers, and social work supports. Some adolescents have told me they were made to feel like bad mothers, if they ask about or consider the adoption option. One girl left a residence for single pregnant woman because the pressure to ‘keep and parent’ was overwhelming. She said that the adoption option not a choice of one other single girl in the program. She said she received no information about adoption from staff. She said the teenagers were being educated with skills for infant care. Resource information was provided about government sources of housing and financial social assistance. The expected choice was parenting by staff and residents, for every pregnant female.
This is an example of pressure.
Adoption as an option declined dramatically over my career. I was often quite disturbed when I encountered persons claiming to be professional counsellors for woman with unplanned pregnancies, who had so little accurate knowledge of the adoption option, especially ‘Open Adoption.’ Many never even talked about it as an option to pregnant females.
This is an example of pressure.
Abortion is a common resolution to unplanned pregnancies for adolescents. When a young unmarried pregnant woman seeks help, it is often assumed an abortion is what she needs and wants. One university student told me when she went to the health center at her university about a suspected pregnancy, the counsellor simply said, “When do you want your abortion?’
This is an example pressure.
A Globe and Mail article by Zisia Belsky (January 29, 2013) says the national teenage pregnancy rate in Canada rose from 27.9 per cent to 28.2 per cent of between 2006 and 2010. The Sex Information and Education Council of Canada reported ‘that the teenage pregnancy rate clearly has started to increase.’ Sharon Lorber of Toronto Sick Kids has estimated that 20 per cent of teen pregnancies are actually planned. Accurate data is difficult to ascertain, so my guess is, these statistics understate the reality.
I suggest you seek the services of a competent and highly experienced birth parent counsellor who believes in INFORMED AND FREE CHOICE. Such a counsellor, in a totally unbiased way, should go over the features of each option with your teenager, alone. Without judgement, the counsellor should ensure that your daughter has a very clear, accurate and complete understanding of the truth, research and real-life implications of each choice. The counsellor should check that your young lady is fully up-to-date on the research about short- and long-term consequences. She/he should help your daughter verbalize and reflect on the viewpoints of all the players involved in her network. She/he should encourage your daughter to articulate with understanding why these assorted connections have the opinions they do. The counsellor should address the pressure your daughter might be feeling from those connections and make sure she understands that the ideas of others may be driven by their own self- interests, not necessarily hers. The counsellor should spend lots of time, discussing your daughter’s feelings about each choice that she has about her pregnancy. She/he should explore where those feelings originated and how they might change later. This is extremely important for a girl from a Catholic family like yours, because of the values with which your daughter was likely raised. A birth mother’s values will often determine which choice is ultimately the best one for her emotional comfort, going forward. Finally, the counsellor should help your darling offspring understand that it is she, and she alone, who must live and be emotionally comfortable with her choice, for the rest of her life. This is where the rubber meets the pavement. The opinions of others should be put on the bench, while your sweet female-child plays first string quarterback, and calls all the plays.
Given my real boots-on-the-ground experience with unplanned pregnancies, I feel very strongly that the final decision about this one, should be the INFORMED AND FREE CHOICE of your daughter, alone. May I suggest, Shocked Surprised and Definitely Stressed, that you give your daughter your unconditional support, and pull out all the stops to make that kind of choice happen for her. Subsequently, help your beloved daughter to move on with the pursuit of new dreams and goals, just as all excellent parents are born, charged and privileged to do.
I'm looking forward to your questions! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and please put Heart to Heart in the subject line. Note that all columns will remain anonymous.