In a world where no one has enough money and survival feels like a burden, financial counseling is monotonous, hardening, and repetitive. As we know, often getting an abortion means coming up with money that most people don’t have. It means selling belongings that you might need, not paying bills, getting evicted, selling food stamps, lying, and borrowing money with no means of paying back. Most women have to piece together money that simply does not exist.
I spend a vast amount of my time running through a long list of ideas about how to exhaust resources that aren’t exactly available. Most times women have to compromise their pride, independence, and sometimes honesty in order to raise money. Every so often, a women needs more than money. Another part of my job is to offer options counseling: I help women think through all of their options regarding the pregnancy.
When someone faces an unintended pregnancy she has three basic options; carry the pregnancy to term and parent a child, carry to term and give that child to someone else to raise, or have an abortion. Most of the women who reach me already know they want an abortion and they just need help figuring out the how. But sometimes I am in the position of helping a patient think through this major decision.
For me, helping women figure out what they want to do is one of the most important aspects of my job. When a woman is unsure about what to do with her pregnancy, first I remind her that no one else can make this choice for her -- not her mom, not her boyfriend, not the staff at an anti-choice pregnancy crisis center, and not me. I let her know that I can help her try and sort out her own thoughts and give her accurate information, but ultimately she needs to figure out what she thinks is right for her life and body. I always tell patients who are teetering on their decision not to have an abortion if they are not sure it’s what they want. I tell them to find out how far into the pregnancy they are and hope time is on their side.
Most women I have spoken to never consider adoption as a real option. When I counsel women they typically weigh two options, parenting or ending the pregnancy. Adoption is not an option for everyone. Most often putting a brown or black child up for adoption means foster care, which may or may not ensure a stable home. On the other hand white women who bear healthy white children are able to set up private adoptions, have medical expenses paid and sometimes other expenses, and choose an open adoption if they want. We live in a society where race defines one’s life options. White people more often have resources and the ability to adopt children, and the demand for white adoptees is much higher than the supply. As transracial adoption becomes more popular this trend could change; however, the mental and emotional health of transracial adoptees is also a very complex issue. In addition to race as a factor, adoption or foster care means that after spending nine months carrying a fetus in her body a woman will not know if that child is safe, cared for, and happy. Most women I talk to immediately shoot down any suggestion of adoption.
When a woman wants help making her decision and for her the options are parenthood or abortion, I ask her if she has a support network, what her goals are, where she sees herself in five years, and how a child might add to her life or hinder her from accomplishing her goals. Most recently, an 18 year old asked me, “I mean is a child really like a burden?” I wanted to say, “um, YES!” However, in the interest of being objective I said, well a child does not have to be a burden, but raising a child means putting someone else’s needs before your own, and that’s a challenge, so if someone is not ready to take on that challenge raising a child may feel burdensome.
The most common emotion after an abortion is relief, particularly when a woman goes into the procedure feeling sure this is what is right for her life and body. When I provide options counseling for women, I want them to know that I trust their ability to make the right choice. I want them to know that whichever choice they make is OK. Options counseling is refreshing when most of my conversations are about nickels and dimes. These conversations with patients remind me why I believe in this work and why pro-choice is synonymous with pro- woman, pro-empowerment, and pro-family.