Your friend has just told you she’s pregnant. But before you can congratulate her, she tells you this pregnancy wasn’t planned. You may not be sure what to say or do. How do you react to such news? Not only will your friend need to make some incredibly difficult decisions regarding her pregnancy, but she will also experience a host of emotions before, during, and after her baby is born.
If you have a friend who is facing an unplanned pregnancy, there are many things you can do to support her throughout the adoption journey.
Supporting Her Decision-Making Process
If your friend hasn’t decided what to do about her pregnancy, there are ways you can support her.
First and foremost, listen. Allow your friend to talk to you as much as she needs. Listen to her without judgment. Don’t interject your opinion or advice. Sometimes the best thing you can do is provide a listening ear. Let your pregnant friend know that while you may not understand what she is going through, you are there for her. Let your friend come to you on her own timetable; don’t pressure her to talk before she’s ready.
Second, you can help your friend decide what to do about her unplanned pregnancy by asking her questions. Try asking open-ended, thought-provoking questions. Some questions you can ask your friend include: Are you ready to be a parent? How do you feel about adoption? What type of life do you want your child to have and can you provide the life you want for him or her? How will parenting affect your life?
Third, keep your own emotions out of it. Remember that this is not about you. It is about your friend and her situation. It is best not to give advice because your own beliefs and values will inevitably influence the advice you give. If your pregnant friend asks you for your advice directly, remind her that this is her decision and you’ll support her no matter what she decides. If she presses you for an opinion or advice on what she should do, state your own beliefs and values as they are, acknowledging how they bias your opinion upfront.
Remain calm whenever you are talking to your friend. Be comfortable with her emotions – she will feel sadness, relief, guilt, anger, joy, and grief among others. Allow your friend to cry when she needs to. Let her know that what she is feeling is normal and that you are there to support her.
Help Her Learn
Facing an unplanned pregnancy is overwhelming. Support your friend by helping her learn about her options. Research her options – parenting, termination, and adoption – and provide your pregnant friend with the information she needs to consider each one. You can find reputable sources online or you could call a pregnancy hotline and talk with one of their counselors.
If your friend decides that adoption is the best option for herself and her baby, you can help her find a reputable local adoption agency to work with. Your OB/GYN or local Planned Parenthood will likely be able to refer you to reputable local adoption agencies to look into. You can also search for adoption agencies online at Child Welfare Information Gateway’s National Foster Care & Adoption Directory.
A reputable adoption agency will be licensed. Each state has its own requirements for licensing. Each state has a licensing division that sets forth minimum standards for adoption agencies and creates criteria on agency staff, training and education requirements, and record storage.
Interviewing a few adoption agencies in your area can help give your friend the information she needs to choose the one she feels is right for her. You can help her draft a list of questions to ask each agency. Some good questions to ask prospective adoption agencies include: What requirements the agency has for prospective adoptive parents, what pre- and post-adoption services the agency provides, how long the agency has been open, how many placements the agency has made, how many families it have currently waiting to adopt a child, and what types of education it offers prospective adoptive parents.
You may also want to note how quickly the adoption agency responds to questions and requests for information. Asking the adoption agency for references for other birth mothers they’ve worked with can also help your friend make an informed decision about which agency she will work with.
Your friend will also need to decide what type of adoption she would like – closed, semi-open, or open.
Closed adoptions used to be the most popular type. They are still done today, but they are much less common than they once were. In a closed adoption, an infant is placed with adoptive parents and their adoption record is sealed. This means that the adoptive child and biological parents do not have any interaction with one another. Oftentimes, the biological father is not listed on the original birth certificate.
In a semi-open adoption, birth parents, adoptive parents, and the adoptive child can have a relationship with one another, but all contact is typically done through a third party, such as the adoption agency. All identifying information is kept confidential in these situations.
Birth parents may choose a semi-open adoption in hopes that having a less intimate relationship with their child as they grow up will allow them to heal more easily after placement. Adoptive parents may want a semi-open adoption to allow birth parents to maintain a relationship with their child while protecting the child’s privacy.
Open adoptions allow birth parents to maintain a relationship with their child and the adoptive parents directly. During the adoption process, how much and what types of contact they will have will be discussed and decided upon by the birth parents and adoptive parents. Contact may include exchanging emails, photos, and letters, phone calls, and in-person visits.
Offer Practical Help
When people are overwhelmed by their circumstances, they really appreciate practical support. Offer to go to doctor’s appointments and adoption counseling appointments with your friend. You can offer moral support and take notes to help her remember important information. Offer to do some household chores or cooking. Offer to run errands. Ask her what she needs. Just be sure to keep any commitments and promises you make.
If she doesn’t have other support, you can offer to go to birthing classes with her. Offer to be her support person during her delivery if she needs one. Don’t offer to do anything you aren’t comfortable with, but offering to do things others won’t do will mean a great deal to her.
It’s important for you to not overcommit. Know your own limits and respect them. It’s wonderful that you want to support your friend in a time of need, but it’s also necessary to acknowledge how much you can reasonably do to help.
Help Her Relax
It’s easy to allow the pregnancy and adoption process to become all-consuming. That’s why it’s important to remind your friend that there is still more to life. What did you and your friend enjoy doing before she became pregnant? Did you like going out to restaurants to eat? Did you enjoy shopping at the mall, thrift store, or flea market? Did you attend a book club together? Whatever it was, be sure to continue to do these activities. Enjoyable activities will help your friend stress less.
Your friend will need the most support after her baby is placed with the adoptive parents. She will experience different emotions; any emotional reaction she has is normal. Assure her that what she is feeling is okay and you’ll work through it together.
Make regular plans with your friend. Knowing that you will be there for her consistently and being able to look forward to something fun may help her when she’s struggling.
Realize that some days will be harder for your friend than others. Difficult days may include the anniversary of the placement, the child’s birthday, and Mother’s Day. Holidays may also be difficult for your friend, especially initially. If possible, be available on these days for support. Be sensitive to your friend’s feelings, especially on difficult days.
Help Her Find a Support Group
Your support will mean a great deal to your friend, but unless you have been a birth mother yourself, you cannot relate to your friend in the same way another birth mother can. There’s nothing quite like being able to talk to someone who gets it. Other birth mothers can be invaluable in helping your friend heal her heart after placement.
Support groups are generally open-minded, accepting, and supportive of their members. Assure your pregnant friend that it is normal to find it difficult or intimidating to share her story, feelings, and struggles initially. Encourage her to attend a few meetings before deciding whether she’d like to stick with the group or look for another that’s better suited to her needs.
Birth mother support groups cover a variety of topics. Common topics discussed in these support groups include but are not limited to the pros and cons of placement, feelings when receiving photos or emails from the adoptive parents, asking for encouragement when a birth mother is struggling, sharing about frustrations when they arise, coping with the stereotypes the general public has about birth mothers and adoption placement, milestone days, and talking about how the placement has impacted a birth mother’s life.
In-person and online birth mother support groups exist. Ask your pregnant friend what type she’d prefer before helping her search for a group. If your friend used an adoption agency to place her baby, the agency may or may not run a support group for birth mothers. If the agency doesn’t have a support group your friend can check out, you can do an internet search for birth mother support groups in your area.
There are numerous birth mother support groups and forums out there to choose from if your pregnant friend would like to try an online support group. Some of these groups can be found on social media sites while others can be found on other types of websites. Adoption.com has support forums for birth mothers that may be beneficial to your friend.
Be mindful that most support groups have rules to help protect the privacy of birth mothers. Rules usually require members to be respectful and kind to one another.
Help Her Find a Therapist
Seeing a therapist after adoption placement can be very beneficial to helping your friend heal. A therapist can help a birth mother in several ways including helping her acknowledge and explore her feelings regarding the placement of her child, create new goals to focus on, help her recognize how the placement has impacted her life, acknowledge and explore her feelings when she has contact with the adoptive parents and the child she placed for adoption, and teach her coping strategies for especially difficult days such as the child’s birthday, Mother’s Day, and other holidays.
When helping your friend search for a therapist, you should look for one that’s covered by her insurance policy. If your friend’s insurance doesn’t cover mental health services, you may be able to find local therapists with sliding scale fees. A good place to start is your community’s mental health center. You’ll also want to find a mental health professional that is licensed in his or her field of study, such as social work, psychology, or marriage and family therapy.
Every person is different. While you might click with one therapist, your friend may not. Encourage your friend to see a therapist for a few sessions to see if that particular therapist may meet her needs. In general, an effective therapist should be warm, accepting, empathetic, and nonjudgmental. He or she should have excellent observational, communication, and listening skills.
If your friend is facing an unexpected pregnancy, she’s likely feeling overwhelmed and needs your support. Offering her practical help before and after the adoption placement is one great way to support her. But what will mean the most to her is that you are there for her to provide emotional support throughout her adoption journey.