Friday, July 23, 2021

Behind the Scenes with a Pregnancy Helpline Worker

Secular Pro-Life co-leader Monica Snyder interviewed Petra Wallenmayer about her experiences as a pregnancy helpline worker. The interview has been edited for length and clarity. (Portions that were cut for length may appear in a later post; stay tuned!)

Q: What are the primary pressures that women are feeling or concerns that you hear?

A: FEAR, in general. Fear of what the future holds and how they will be able to handle everything. "I absolutely cannot have a kid right now" — fear of pregnancy, parenting, childbirth, and the future. Then there are the financial pressures: not having insurance; concerns about the cost of prenatal care; the cost of abortion; the cost of raising kid(s); not having a job; being homeless; still living with parents; boyfriend or significant other doesn't have a job, can't afford baby items or a bigger place to live, et cetera.

Others cite not feeling ready to parent; they feel too young, financially unstable, or mentally unwell. Maybe she has health problems, or hasn’t finished school yet.

Finally, there's lack of support from family, friends, and/or the significant other. Callers feel alone and overwhelmed.

Q: What support is typically lacking that causes women to need the line?

A: Affordable medical care, or information on how to access affordable medical care. They do not have insurance, they can't find an OB/GYN who will take them unless they jump through a bunch of hoops first, or there are no OB/GYNs with availability. Additionally, many have no idea how to apply for pregnancy insurance through the state or how to ask a hospital system for a payment plan, financial assistance, and things like that to help with delivery costs.

They don't have a good social support system or are too afraid to let people who may support them know they are pregnant. Much of this fear is driven by their assumptions of how people will respond, whether the assumptions are rooted in actual past experience or not.

Information or knowledge about their bodies, birth control, pregnancy, and abortion in general is lacking — so educational and/or familial support is required.

Q: What do you think women need the most in crisis situations?

A: They need emotional support — someone who will listen and not judge them, someone who will encourage them, someone who can offer alternatives and new perspective — and physical support — someone who can help them make phone calls, help getting to appointments, a doctor for prenatal care, insurance, financial aid, classes to prepare for birth and parenting a newborn, and baby and maternity items. If you can help your friend arrange for any of these services, that's a big deal. 

Q: Do callers report being coerced either way?

A: Not all the time, but often, yes.  Culprits usually include the significant other or self-described "baby daddy" and/or the woman or significant other's parents; occasionally a friend or friend group, as well. 

A lot of our callers are underage. A lot. Thirteen is not too young to talk to your kid about sex, periods, and pregnancy! Sometimes minors are afraid their parents will force them to get an abortion. Sometimes these parents are described as religious or really conservative or old-fashioned. It is about how the child perceives their parents valuing their family image. Sometimes these parents are not described as religious, but the fear stems from the fact the parent is a single parent or was a young single parent for a while, and will do anything to prevent their daughter from being in their situation. Whether the parents are religious or not, a lot of the fear of parents forcing them to get an abortion stems from the daughter thinking the parents will be angry/humiliated their daughter is pregnant and that no one can know. 

The boyfriends can be manipulative; they'll offer to pay for an abortion, tell her all the reasons they are not ready for a kid right now, offer to help her schedule an abortion and/or drive her there... but they are not very supportive if she mentions wanting to keep the baby. 

Sometimes the significant others are outright coercive or abusive. I've had many men call and they are abortion-shopping for their woman, and I have no idea if that is something she wants or if she even knows he is doing that. Those calls kind of creep me out. I've had men yelling at the woman calling, telling them to put the phone down/hang up/stop talking to us because nothing is going to change the fact that they're getting an abortion. Women have told me their boyfriend has threatened to leave them — if they live together, kick them out — if they have the baby. Women have called feeling crushed and angry after finding out their boyfriend already scheduled the appointment for an abortion without ever talking to her beforehand.

Q: How can one best support a woman who finds herself pregnant unexpectedly?

A: Be there for her. You can start by gathering information for her and going over it with her, like how to apply for Medicaid during pregnancy in her state or a list of OB/GYNs in her area that might be taking new patients. Help her make phone calls to pregnancy help centers, doctor's offices, WIC, Medicaid, and so on. A really big need for a lot of women is transportation to appointments. You an also help arrange a baby shower and/or registry. If she needs to tell her partner or family and is scared, offer to be with her when she breaks the news or to be available to talk right after.

Obviously, avoid shaming her. Don't tell her she should have known better, or ask how could she let this happen to her. Trust me — she already feels enough guilt and shame. You don't need to add to it! Even if you're shocked and surprised, still try to communicate clearly that you'll be there to support her if you can help in any way. Don't participate in nasty conversations and gossip about her; shut that down.

No one has to do all the things. You are only human, and you can only do what you can do. What is appropriate to do for her or say to her also depends sometimes on how well you know the woman needing help. You can always do your part by supporting pregnancy support organizations in your area! Donate money, volunteer, ask if they have a list of needed items you can fill. 

[Photo credit: Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash]

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