Options Counseling

Alice in Wonderland walking into WonderlandIn 2012, I read a great post at Therapy Is Expensive. Until then, I had never heard of Options Counseling. In the adoption realm, Options Counselors counsel pregnant women, providing information and support about all of their options – abortion, adoption, and parenting. There is no pressure or coercion.

In one of the first Robyn’s Adoption Land posts, I wrote:

Agencies would be required to ensure unbiased counseling to expectant parents (EPs). How? I mean, if an agency is getting its money from PAPs, it’s in their best interest to have more EPs place, right? Not entirely. The PAPs may be footing the bill, but ultimately, the child is really the agency’s client, even if that child hasn’t been born yet. Now, in Robyn’s Adoption Land, we obviously believe that, in general, adoption is good. We are not family preservationists, but we are also not for taking children away from biological parents who want and are able to parent. In this vein, counselors would not be employed by agencies directly. These counselors – known as Options Counselors – would be independent entities. Agencies would simply keep a list of all available Options Counselors in the area and ensure that EPs see them for a minimum of 3 hours before placement.

In Robyn’s Adoption Land, Options Counselors don’t just assess a woman’s current situation and help her through it. Allow me to explain, using words from Jill at The Happiest Sad (italics mine):

[T]here was too much going on to be helped by any single entity or program. I had too many different issues.

That’s the real gist of it, isn’t it? There are always too many things going on in a birth mother’s life. We can talk all we want about how there ought to be support and programs to help women who have just placed a child for adoption deal with that issue. And I’m not saying those things aren’t important. But what we’re forgetting is that so often, an unplanned pregnancy isn’t the overarching problem. It’s a symptom. When a woman is facing an unplanned pregnancy in the kind of situation where she’s considering and choosing adoption, the pregnancy isn’t her problem. If you want to help a birth mom, you have to realize that.

Not that there’s ever one single underlying issue. There are dozens. Low self-esteem, co-dependence, abuse, depression, anxiety, daddy issues … sometimes it’s a combination. But part of what makes placement so gut-wrenching is that you’ve got the grief of placing a child layered on top of these other issues that were never treated. In my personal experience, if you want to help a birth mom, you have to help restore her sense of self-worth.

I would argue that you have to help restore a woman’s sense of self-worth even before she becomes a birthmother. At least, you have to address some of those issues.

Now, I don’t want to say that all expectant moms who are considering placing have issues. I read the blog of one woman who simply didn’t want to be a parent. However, I believe that many, if not most, expectant moms considering placing do have larger issues. I know my children’s birthmothers did. Or, do. I don’t think there should be any shame in that. Laine was required by the state of Louisiana to have some counseling by a social worker. S was not. Counseling was offered, and she declined.

In Robyn’s Adoption Land, declining is not an option. I know people who say that counseling is a personal decision, and it shouldn’t be forced on a person. I was forced into counseling as a child (long story). Most of the time, I didn’t even really talk. The counselor and I played Uno. But ultimately, it was good to have an impartial adult there who was supposed to listen to me. I can only imagine that the same would be true for a woman going through an unplanned pregnancy.

Placing your child for adoption is a huge decision that will impact your life in so many ways. To be fair, parenting your child will too. One major difference is, parenting is a decision that people understand. Placing a child, and becoming a birthmother, is not. It has been said many times that no one can know the pain, grief, and other emotions around placing a child for adoption until she actually goes through it. People need to be informed of the all of the pros and cons of all of the options. They need to know.

Expectant fathers must also receive counseling. I imagine this will be harder to enforce. I might have to compromise and allow them to have only one hour, minimum.
Counseling would be allowed for as long as the expectant parent wanted it, at least up until one year post-birth (whether the child is parented or placed). Even expectant parents who are choosing between a rock and a hard place – placing their child or surrendering their child to foster care – will receive counseling.
The agencies pay the counselors through money received by prospective adoptive parents. Agencies are all non-profits in Robyn’s Adoption Land, so they could also fundraise to support all of their necessary services.  Which is to say, options counselors aren’t employed by the agencies, and they aren’t funded entirely by adoptive parents, thus helping them to remain as impartial as possible.
Options counseling is one part of adoption that I would love to see implemented across all states, all agencies, all professionals, in the world today. I do believe there are too many professionals who paint adoption in rainbows and don’t discuss the hard truths.  Balance is needed. Help is needed. Adoption shouldn’t be marketed as a way out of a situation, the way to a better life. Women and men should be able and encouraged to make informed choices.
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9 thoughts on “Options Counseling

  1. Pingback: Options Counseling | Holding to the Ground | ChildBirth 101

  2. I love this idea. It should include the option of ways you can still parent even if your family had promised to disown you and kick you out unless you adopt. I think so many of the regrets are because the mother felt she had no options. She may have still chosen adoption, but the aftermath isn’t nearly as messy when you feel you actually made a choice vs being coerced.

    • Oh absolutely! I meant to address that situation specifically, but the post was getting so long. True Options Counseling would be so incredibly helpful to all, I think.

  3. Pingback: Options Counseling | Holding to the Ground | Child Adoption Process

  4. I think this is a great idea. I wish there was one more option – parenting with mentor support. If we could have enough people that were willing to walk through life with a single mother, I think it would make a huge, huge difference. So many of our foster children’s birth parents could have benefited from someone – anyone – noticing and investing in their lives.

  5. Pingback: Matching in Robyn’s Adoption Land | Holding to the Ground

  6. Really! This is what you are advocating for . . . Options Counseling which is one of the most coercive, manipulative, practices in the world of adoption. Have you researched, looked in to what it truly is? Here is just some insight to the government funded training of Options Counseling . . .

    http://www.adoption-truth.com/2012/03/coercion-not-choice.html

    I am so sickened to know anyone would actually encourage such treatment for vulnerable, pregnant mothers and their unborn children.

    • Cassi, yes, I did do research on Options Counseling. My primary information comes from a birthmother blogger who has become a social worker and does Options Counseling. I also used Wikipedia and another information-based site. I actually read the post that you wrote around the time that you wrote it. You’re talking about one method of Options Counseling that is used today. However, even today, there is more than one way to present a woman’s options. If you did read my post, then you read that, in Robyn’s Adoption Land, all of a woman’s options are explored. This has nothing to do with the NCFA. This is Robyn’s Adoption Land, where we strive to be as ethical as possible. It has nothing to do with what happens today in the US.

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