If someone we know is facing a difficult decision, it is important that before we offer a solution or assistance, we assure that person of our respect by being present and available for attentive listening.
In the context of a woman or family facing an unexpected or crisis pregnancy this empathetic listening approach is particularly important.
Studies into the experience of unexpected pregnancy can leave a woman feeling as if she is completely overwhelmed and swamped and that her own life and future is under threat.
Offering her the space to share her feelings, her fears and to discuss the pressures she is experiencing is the essential first step to allowing her the stability from which to make real decisions and plans about herself and her unborn. She may also be able to talk about her values and her hopes.
Here are some steps you take to show the woman in difficulty your support:
Ask, “How are you feeling?” and listen carefully to her response. During this time, it is not uncommon to her to experience a flood of changing emotions; excitement, fear, anxiety.
Our first helpful response is to assure her: “It’s okay to feel that way, I’m here to listen.” Don’t jump to any early conclusions about what her decisions might be. A listening ear, encouragement and her own discernment of areas of need and practical help may be the most important gift we can offer at this time.
Then it is possible to ask, “What can I do to support you?” “What do you need from me at the moment?”
When she brings up a concern, ask her to, “Tell me more. Let’s deal with this together.”
It is also important for us to remember that we are not there to be professional counsellors; there are professional services available in every state for this. Please see our Contacts section for these.
This first conversation may help us discern the next stage in our support of the woman and or her family.
Below are some possible options we can direct her to:
A. Non-directive Emotional Support
Many people benefit from companions who can offer a “listening ear” and encouragement to reflect and discern. The safe space created by the loving support of another often helps those facing tough decisions to make free, strong, and life-giving choices.
B. Practical Support
Practical support provides services and resources for pregnancy and beyond (e.g. financial advice, care, etc.). It is offered by people who will take the time to look at a person’s whole situation and care for them.
Within these support areas, there is much that can be offered and provided, including:
- Options for continuing education or returning to work after childbirth;
- Personal accompaniment to assist with a sense of loneliness, isolation, or helplessness during pregnancy;
- Understanding how to handle possible rejection from family and friends;
- Methods to balance career and parenthood;
- Household budgeting and financial support after the baby is born; and,
- Assistance with managing issues that may exist between you and your partner during pregnancy and post-partum.
C. Decision-making counselling
Professional counsellors facilitate the discernment process, discuss options, and help clients arrive at an informed decision are available. With a focus on exploring options in a non-judgmental and empathetic way, these counsellors seek to empower their clients to overcome the obstacles that they face.
D. Mental Health and Support Services
Sometimes the experience of unexpected or crisis pregnancy will trigger sudden or underlying mental health issues in the woman, in her partner or in her family. It may be important to refer her to a General Practice in order for her to access professional mental health support or the assistance of a team of professional services.
E. Abortion Grief Counselling
Abortion affects a woman deeply. Many women carry their grief and shame for many years, sometimes decades, believing they are unworthy of good things or even of being loved. Sometimes a new crisis will bring past wounds to light.
Healing and forgiveness is available with counselling, and special ministries like Rachel's Vineyard. For those who are Catholic, a priest is always available to receive you in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
You can also find resources on this page, dedicated to assist priests and pastoral workers.
F. Disability Support and Counselling
Facing the prospect of a baby being born with a serious illness or disability can be a daunting. Many people face pressure to abort their unborn child through messages about it being “fairer to the child,” “easier than seeing your baby die after birth,” or “the reasonable thing to do given that the baby will die anyway”.
Despite the presence of a disability, families find that the prospects of good quality of life and a positive future for their child are not thwarted. Once families get past their own negative feelings, their child with disability becomes a valued and much loved member of the family.
Those who oppose abortion or feel confused about their position can experience hostility and lack of support, even from the medical profession. Yet research points to the fact that women who have an abortion when their child is diagnosed with a disability have a high rate of psychological problems afterwards
Women and men who feel pressured to abort under these circumstances rarely have the same chance to grieve and to work through their loss. Their grief is also complicated by the fact that as well as dealing with the trauma of their baby dying, they were a part of the decision to end their baby’s life.
Those who courageously choose to continue their pregnancies with the knowledge that their babies will die, either during birth or soon after, find that they have the priceless opportunity to hold, get to know and properly grieve their child.
You can be supportive by:
- Listening to all of their feelings, including grief about lost dreams and wishes. Avoid speaking negatively about life with a disability or treating the potential birth of a baby with disability as a tragedy.
- Helping them to find out more information about the disability. Be positive about living with disability and the value of all people.
- Encourage them to consider making contact with families who are already caring for a child with disability – this will help them to think more realistically about the future and reclaim some of their dreams.
- Helping them to find out about the services and supports that will be available to assist them.
You can find out more about these through the Contacts link.