Pregnancy Fear and Anxiety Policy
When someone comes into our direct services with a pregnancy scare, there are some things that we will and won't do.
We absolutely will help users who could clearly be or may soon become pregnant: with things like how to access emergency contraception, self-managed or surgical abortion, adoption resources or prenatal care, legal or other help resources, how to talk with partners about and access contraception, setting limits and boundaries moving forward, and emotional support.
For those who come in with pregnancy scares who, based on what they have told us, absolutely could not be or become pregnant, or who otherwise are not or have not been directly involved with an actual pregnancy: we are happy to talk with you, but we will not engage in ongoing or repeat conversations to validate that you or a partner are not pregnant, nor explain repeatedly how pregnancy can or can't occur.
We are glad to engage in discussions with anyone, however, with ways of helping that are within our abilities and a good fit for the mediums we help through, like:
- providing support for people feeling scared or anxious who are currently pregnant or are directly involved with a current pregnancy
- giving help creating sexual limits and boundaries based on individual needs -- including the need not to become or risk pregnancy -- and/or presenting them to partners
- discussing healthy or unhealthy relationships or sexual interactions
- discussing cultural beliefs, policies or social interactions that create fear of pregnancy
- discussing sexual abuse or assault trauma or other trauma that can create or increase these fears
- providing help finding or using contraception or making reproductive choices
- for those having scares because they have some form of anxiety or other mental illness, help locating qualified care or engaging in sound self-help.
- providing additional resources both on and off-site, like those found here.
Some years ago, our services were deeply overloaded with users coming to us and returning in patterns with intense and irrational fears of pregnancy. These were rarely users who could have themselves actually been pregnant, or where a partner could have been. Given the cultures so many of us lived (and some still live) in, the effects of purity culture, and the legal policies around pregnancy and contraception for so many young people worldwide, this was hardly surprising. Unfortunately, try and we did for many years -- and boy, did we try! -- it also was rarely something that we were able to help with with our resources and in this medium, and something that often resulted in outright abuse of our staff by some users when limits and boundaries were set.
It eventually got to the point where we sometimes couldn't do any other work, and that was extra frustrating, because we also knew that the nonstop reassurance most of these users were asking for wasn't even going to actually help them. Often, what would help either wasn't something we could provide (like qualified mental healthcare, or leaving an unhealthy relationship), or wasn't something those users were interested in discussing (like getting to the bottom of why they kept having scares when, for instance, they intellectually knew you couldn't get pregnant while clothed or by touching a doorknob).
It became clear to us that:
- Chronic irrational fear of pregnancy seemed more often based in mental health issues or larger situational or systematic problems, not in a lack of facts, sexuality education or in realistic pregnancy risks.
- Users with irrational fears were coming to us in a literal panic, and that given, could rarely even retain information we gave them, because that's just how brains are when we're freaking out. As well, engaging with users' anxiety as they were asking us to more often increased that anxiety than quieted it.
- Too much of our time was being spent trying to fix this or managing problem users in this arena, like those who would make multiple handles rather than accept our limits or boundaries.
- Other users we could help felt shut down, or like they were in the wrong place, by the amount of pregnancy anxiety on the boards.
- It had become deeply disruptive to our community and organization and was the single largest source of staff burnout.
After a great deal of thoughtful intraorganizational discussion and consideration of this issue over time, and discussion with outside colleagues and consultants, we determined that the changes we made to how we address these questions are what works best for both our staff and volunteers and our users.
If you have questions about any of this, or want to talk to us when you're having a scare but aren't sure what's okay, just ask and we're happy to talk it over.
One more thing! We absolutely understand that struggling with fear or anxiety of any kind is, indeed, a real struggle, and we're very sorry for anyone who is struggling in any respect, including this one. However, there are sound, qualified and appropriate help resources available to and designed for those struggling with anxiety, and by and large, we simply aren't the right place and lack the credentials or medium to help those experiencing pervasive fear or anxiety. An in-depth list of these kinds of resources, including links to hotlines and other help services from organizations which do have the capacity to provide mental health help can be found here.
For information and help relating to other issues or unmet needs that are often part and parcel of pregnancy anxiety or fear, click here.