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I'm pregnant: he's MIA, and my parents want me to abort. Help!

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Elydia asks:

I found out that I was pregnant a couple of months ago and after I told my boyfriend, he broke up with me. I'm not really sure what to do especially because he won't even talk to me and his friends are starting to spread rumors that the baby isn't his. When I told my parents, they completely freaked and said that I had to have an abortion, but I don't want to. Basically, I'm not sure what to do. I don't know how to reach my now ex, but I do want him to be a part of our baby's life. What am I supposed to do if he doesn't want to?

Heather Corinna replies:

Elydia: I'm so sorry you're having to go through this with so little support. Being pregnant can be scary enough for anyone, even when it's wanted, but it's even more overwhelming when you're going it alone.

First of all, understand that NO ONE can force you to abort, or make your reproductive choices for you. ONLY you can make that choice, and all anyone else can do is either support you or not in doing so.

Even if your parents take you to an abortion clinic, once you let the clinic staff know that an abortion is not what you want, they will discharge you, and will not provide an abortion. If you have your parents with you at the time, they will let them know that they do not have the right to insist on a termination you do not want and consent to yourself. You may even want to go to an abortion provider with them so that that person can make clear to them that this is your choice, only, if you're having a tough time getting through to them yourself. I have had this discussion with a parent of a client more than once; making what plans you want to make, whether that's parenting or adoption, with a mediator present can make clear to parents they just can't push you (or clinic staff) into a termination and that they are just going to have to deal with your choice, even if it's not what they want. If they want to make a choice about a pregnancy, then they can get pregnant themselves and make one. This one is yours.

What I'd suggest you do right now is first try and tune out the static of what anyone else wants you to do, and then look at your options and choices realistically, based on no one but yourself and a child.

It's generally helpful to start by looking at ALL your options here: pregnancy and parenting, pregnancy and adoption or abortion. Before you rule any out, just try and take a look at each of them, with an eye towards how you feel about them, how you envision them working for you (or not), and how you envision how your choice of any is both best for you and best for a potential child. You might get out a pen and paper and make a list of the pros and cons for each choice, both for you and for a kid. For instance, is it realistic for you to be able to financially support yourself and a child -- without any help, as that may happen -- including things like healthcare costs, food and housing? What about daycare? Does it feel like this is a good time in your life for you when it comes to being a parent? Does it seem more or less ideal to parent a child now or later? Do you want to parent by yourself, given that is a very real possibility?

If abortion is something YOU want to consider, then you'll want to talk to others who have terminated and arrange an appointment with the abortion provider nearest to you, and if it's something you want to consider, but aren't sure about, you can ask for options counseling, where someone helps you think through your options. If adoption is something you want to consider, then you'll want to talk to an adoption agency, adoption lawyer, or to social services to find out about that, and also see if you can't talk to other birth mothers. If you want to consider parenting, I'd suggest talking with your OB/GYN, other young parents, and then also having a discussion with your school, university or job, with a local social services department, and/or with a local or community group that supports young mothers.

At the clinic I work at part time, we use the Pregnancy Options Workbook you can find here for clients who need help working through their options, and it's a great, in-depth tool you may find very useful. You might also want to take a look at a piece we have at Scarleteen for young adults considering parenting to get an idea of what's really involved: I Want It NOW!.

If it turns out you do want to continue your pregnancy and parent, sounds like you'll need to prepare to be doing so on your own, with very limited support from your immediate family and your ex. If you're in the U.S., know that your parents can't kick out out of the house lawfully because you remain pregnant and have a kid, but they are also not legally obligated to provide your child any kind of financial support, nor are they obligated to help you care for a child.

All your ex is legally obligated to do is to provide child support. There isn't anything you can do to make him help with your pregnancy, nor, when you deliver, can you compel him to be an active and involved parent if that is not what he wants. Who knows, maybe he'll grow up and take responsibility, but since it's not looking that way now, it's best you don't expect that to happen and that for now, you focus on yourself. Too, you might want to emotionally prepare yourself for him demanding paternity tests when you deliver should you seek out financial support (which I'd say you should: you're probably going to need it). It appears that as of right now, anyway, he's looking to ditch any responsibility, to the point he'd slander you, so it wouldn't be surprising if he kept on doing it, particularly once money is involved.

By all means, if he does contact you, you can talk with him about co-parenting, but I'd say that for right now, if you're going choose to remain pregnant and intend to parent, your time and energy is best spent on doing what you can to take care of yourself, and to prepare to parent a child yourself. You're going to have so much to manage that anyone who is just a vacuum when it comes to your energy and your heart isn't someone who is probably healthy for you, especially at a time like this.

I know that sounds bleak, and it's certainly often very hard -- especially without the support of your family as well -- but if pregnancy and parenting feels like your best choice for you, it is absolutely doable. A big challenge? Absolutely. Impossible? No. But to make it doable, what you'll want to do is all you can to prepare for that reality, rather than holding up hope that someone who seems pretty unlikely to step up will change. In situations like these, it's very common for the biological father to just walk away, and not to want to parent, unfortunately.

So, what can you do?

The very first thing you'll want to do is to see a doctor and get started on prenatal care for yourself and your pregnancy. If you have insurance, you may well be able to get that through an OB/GYN under your parent's insurance, and if you do not, or their insurance does not cover those services for you, you can get in touch with your local medical assistance office and apply for care. If you don't even know where to get started with that, you can ask your gynecologist, general doctor, a school or university nurse, a community center, or even just do a 'net search. Once you get connected with medical or social services, they can let you know how else they can help you with your pregnancy and with parenting, particularly financially. As well, they can fill you in on what you need to do to file for child support from your ex.

I'd also suggest roughly mapping out your next year. Do some estimating about your costs for both your pregnancy, for delivery, and for the first few months of a child's life. If you don't have at least a part-time job yet, I'd say now would be the time to get started with that. You're going to need some kind of employment to support your kid. If you're in school, you'll want to see what your school's policies are with pregnant students, and find out how you're going to work that out. If you need to work during the day after a birth, they may offer night courses to finish getting your diploma or degree. Some schools or universities even help with or provide daycare, which is something else you'll likely have to have. You will also want to have a peek around in terms of getting some emotional support, because you're going to need it: even if your ex isn't supportive, that doesn't mean you have nothing: friends, family, teachers, mentors, neighbors, healthcare providers and other people in your life are all potential sources of support.

And obviously, you're going to need to talk to your parents and let them know what choice you intend to make. From the sounds of things, that is not likely to be a pleasant conversation. It will be helpful if you do all you can to be calm and firm. If you've done some of the things I've suggested getting started with above, fill them in on the real deal, and make sure you're owning your own choices here, rather than blaming them in any way, or giving the impression that they somehow should take responsibility here. If things are really awful with them right now, if you can bring in someone you trust and they respect (like a teacher or extended family member) to help mediate the conversation, that should make that conversation easier on you.

No doubt, all of this may be making your head spin. Really, ANY potential parent tends to feel pretty overwhelmed, but it's clearly more overwhelming when the pregnancy was unplanned, when you're not financially or practically prepared in any way, and when you're a young person. One recourse I'd suggest for you to get some online support, and also get a good idea of what your reality is going to be -- without any scare tactics -- is by having a look over at Girl-Mom, where you can find a lot of words and community from other young mamas, and also get a good idea of what you'll want to prepare yourself for.

And by all means, get in the habit of asking for help when you need it from those who can offer it to you. Raising a kid is very hard work, so if that's what you're going to do, doing it completely alone isn't ideal. Just because the biological father isn't involved (if he opts to stay out of it), or you don't have your parents support (though they may change their minds: that happens often enough, especially once there's a living, breathing grandkid present), doesn't mean you're alone or have to be. Other parents, friends, other relatives, supportive adults like teachers or mentors and people like your doctor and social services are there for you, too.

Through most of history and in most of the world, the two-parent family isn't actually the norm: rather, worldwide, most kids have and have had a network of people -- parents, grandparents, family friends, teachers, other members of the community -- as a family. The American notion of the nuclear family is actually pretty new, and very often neither realistic nor ideal. Even if your ex is out and they're short one active parent, that doesn't mean their life will be substandard or that they have to get shafted: even if he was in the picture, I'd encourage you to build a larger support network than just one person for yourself and a kid.

One last word? One of the toughest parts of being a parent is that you have to put your kid's needs first. So, when it comes to the drama with your ex, do be sure that whatever energy you're putting into it is actually productive, and is actually in your possible kid's best interest, not based on fantasy, or the idea that even a second parent who is crappy is better than none at all. By all means, it's great for kids to have as many people around as possible to be there for them, but a Dad who is more of a kid himself than a parent isn't someone who is going to be healthy for either of you.

Okay? So, look up that workbook, make those pro and con lists and then see how you're feeling. If you want some extra help working through your options, I'd also suggest calling Backline, an excellent options counseling service by phone. You can reach them at: 1-888-493-0092 in the evenings during the week, and during the daytime on weekends.

Just remember that whatever choice is the one that YOU feel best about, for yourself and for any kid you may have, is the right choice, and the choice you feel best about is almost always likely to net the best result, even if you have to deal with some conflict in making it.

written 16 Jan 2008 . updated 10 Sep 2008

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