A Compassionate, Informed Counselor Makes the Difference

crossroad sign 

By Brittany Hudson, Founder of 4TheLoveofAlex.org

I sat in a cramped, overstuffed nurse’s office with clammy hands as we went over the information in front of her.

I had discovered two months earlier that I was pregnant, but when excessive bleeding and cramping sent me to the emergency room, I was hoping that I had somehow avoided an unintended pregnancy. I was referred to my doctor for a follow-up and an ultrasound the next day.

The simple test revealed a fluttering heartbeat and what seemed to be a very healthy little life resting in my womb. My doctor smiled at the monitor as I cried. I really didn’t want to go through this.

I was still swimming in grief over the loss of my husband just 10 short months earlier. My lapse in judgment over seeking comfort in the arms of another man turned into the trial of my life within the trial of my life. How could this be happening?

My doctor scheduled another appointment for me to meet with his nurse to go over my options. The time between visits gave me time to think it through.

She sat there and consoled me as I cried. When I rallied, she started talking. “Are you going to keep your baby or are you going to terminate the pregnancy?”

My mind spun with her statement. How could the same thing change terminology within the same sentence, simply depending on my ‘choice’? How did a baby become something that I could just dispose of?

I wish I was a fly on the wall for what came next. “No, I am seeking adoption for this child.” I said, looking down at her paperwork. I watched her face go chalky as she drummed her fingers on the desk. She slowly turned her chair around to the rack of information behind her, knowing she didn’t have anything to offer me. Her sighing told me what I already knew. I was on my own.

“I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t have anything for you to take. I have never been in this situation before. Why don’t you go on the internet and see if you can find an agency in the area.” Her nervousness came through her voice as she tried to avoid direct eye contact with me. I left her office after a few exchanges and a follow-up appointment scheduled.

I left with nothing but a card with a date on it.

The internet seemed daunting. Who was reputable? Who was in my area? I didn’t know anyone who had gone through this before. Could I trust an agency? What if they wanted to make me sign something right away? What are my rights?

I found a site and read what they had to say, but I then discovered I was at least 14 hours from their nearest location. They referred me to Bethany Christian Services, where I called and left a message for someone to return my calls. I then prayed to God that I wouldn’t be lied to or talked into something I wasn’t ready for.

Facing the fact that I was pregnant was hard enough. Even though I knew what I wanted to do, I also know that it would have made a world of difference to have someone who knew me come alongside to tell me about what I’d decided before I had to launch headlong into a dialogue with an adoption agency.

I wished the nurse had known as much about choosing to parent and parenting through adoption as she had about abortion. It would have eased my mind and helped curb my fears.

My adoption went just fine. In fact, it went as well as I could have hoped, even though it was very difficult to go through.

The things I’ve learned for myself, and the experiences I went through have come together to form a ministry for the woman who chooses adoption for her unborn child. I give these women what I wished I had—a listening ear, independent guidance, direction, and the very real hope of restoration in Christ in the midst of an unintended pregnancy.

The women I’ve mentored so far have all come from agencies who see the value in coupling an expectant mother with a birthmother who has lived the experience of an unintended pregnancy for herself.

There is peace in being able to relate to someone and help them see there is a life after the trial. It is my joy to see that God uses the most painful things in life to create something beautiful. And He does so wonderfully.

6 Effective Ways to Mentor a Teen Parent

 

by Rebecca Dawson, MA

With the help of our local pregnancy center, I established a list of what was most important to keep in mind when coming alongside a teen parent. 

Where do you start this process? Once she is committed to life, begin to expose her to six areas that may be unfamiliar to most teenagers:

  1. Social Services (with a twist)
  2. Spiritual Encouragement
  3. Education Options
  4. Community Awareness
  5. Care and Concern
  6. Support Emphasis

Wrapping around a teen parent will involve guiding wisdom, generous amounts of spiritual insight, as well as an understanding of the vast array of social services and guidance in community awareness… Oh, and a lot of care.

The hope is to address and meet this young mother’s needs by utilizing all these areas of service that already exist around her.

Social Services

Help mom jump through the hoops of social services. Bring the social services to her. Monthly group meetings highlighting local, state, and federal resources benefit your clients, as well as bringing a vast array of networking opportunities your center’s way. Imagine for a moment you’re a teenager, trying to sort through medical papers and legal jargon. Help mom see the benefits to these services by empowering her to make choices. Start with identifying the services available to her. Sort through them, and piece together those with the best-suited benefits.

If your center offers a packet of resources available in your area, that’s a great start… But, what if you take it one step further?

What if you offer to go through that packet of information with this client? What if you arrange a follow-up, educational, session to equip her with all the information she needs?

The Twist… Give Back!

The twist to Social Services is training your clients to give back. When we eat too much, we get full. Too much candy causes tooth decay and tummy aches. Ask any 5-year-old after Halloween. Too much of anything generally leads to trouble.

Giving back is a powerful teaching tool. If we dismiss giving back as an educational-teaching tool, we completely miss out on the blessing that comes with giving. There is growth and maturity that transpires in giving. There is something powerful in saying, "I gave to someone else. I was useful, and I helped."

We only need to remember a time when the Lord used us to help another, and how satisfying it was to have been used. The principle of giving transcends understanding. Teach your teen clients to give back now and they will reap the benefits.

Spiritual Encouragement

To mentor someone means to come alongside them as a wise, trusted guide. How do you mentor a teen mom or dad? Gently, by the hand. You cannot force a teenager to do anything. A shepherd (or a mentor) diligently looks after his and quickly responds to any lost lambs. He gently curbs them back to the flock and leads them (Matthew 18:10-14).

Ultimately, we must remember your client is a teenager, a child in her own right. She does not need our judgment. She needs our love and support. Teen parents need to know they can be forgiven. They may or may not know the acts they have committed were sinful, but they will most likely feel the shame others place upon them.

Teens will not listen to your words with as much attention as they will watch your actions. Moving in love towards mom will motivate change quicker than mere words. If your actions toward here are loving, she will not expect you to be "up" on the latest texting fad or care that you don’t understand all the functions on your Smartphone.

Concern can be felt when you enter the room. How is your presence perceived? How would she feel when you entered the room? Would she feel judgment or embrace?

Educational Options

Your teen parent will need help exploring her educational options. Make your center staff and volunteers aware of local high school programs. A director who’s savvy in these areas will be able to make options available for clients. 

Contact your local High School and request a collaboration meeting, looking for various networking opportunity such a meeting would present. Initially, there may not be a warm reception to this idea, depending on the department's worldview. But go into this meeting prepared, with your agenda in hand.

What questions do teen parents ask regarding education? Are there established plans in place for teen parents? What educational options do teen dads have, if any? How can both entities—the school and your center—work together for the betterment of the teens?

Are there resources you can provide, or ways you can both partner together to encourage academic success during the teen parents’ high school and college years?

Even if these meetings are not pleasant, keep in mind that an educational advocate is needed for teens in several arenas. Your center represents that for teen parents!

Are there other resources centers can provide for additional support? Creatively structure a child-free study hall time, manned with knowledgeable volunteers who are willing to assist with homework. You can also consider dedicating one night a week to a homework-help hotline for teen parents. Reaching out in the educational realm will broaden your scope, and has the potential to draw more teens from the community.

Community Awareness

I am currently working with a creative bunch to lead a single mom's ministry within our church. Our reoccurring discussion is, "How do we advertise this group and offer support to the community and families at-large without isolating or offending single-parent households?"

We want to be sensitive so they do not feel put forth for judgment. Our goal is to wrap love around them and provide them with unique services. I am learning a great deal about my approach to these women through a friend who is also a single parent. Single moms do not necessarily choose this option. It's a lot of tough work. Many are alone, making hope out of less-than-hopeful situations.

As a church, we do not want to error in our approach to love them. Since I am not a single parent, it takes effort on my part to more accurately relate to and understand single parents. I must educate myself through resources and other women. That's exactly it! Awareness does take work!

Are you and your center willing to exert yourselves to really get to know these young moms? Are you willing to walk in her shoes in full view of both Christian and Non-Christian communities made up of judges who focus only on her sin and mistakes?

Are you willing to advocate for them?

One of the teenage moms I interviewed expressed through tears the shame and judgment she experienced firsthand from her school nurse. The hurtful words expressed were written across this young woman's face and proven in her tears.

How does your center promote a healthy outlook for teen parents in your community? First, it begin with you, your staff, and volunteers by renewing your commitment to teen parents. Activate this commitment by hosting focused annual workshops and trainings on community awareness for local churches, the community at-large (i.e., local public libraries), as well as local school boards.

Continual training and awareness-raising actively pursues the hearts of these young women and educate others on ways to support them. Providing trainings for the community and for churches exposes the teen parents' struggles and the reality of these situations. It may also be useful to attract donors for your cause.

Go with the hearts of these young mothers in mind, and anxiously wait upon the Lord to provide wisdom, acceptance, love, and the potential of new funding.

Care & Concern

View the development of care and concern as a flower. Every flower starts with a seed. When properly planted, growth is likely to occur.
Fostering care and concern starts the moment the client enters your building. Offer the teen parent support, resources, and supplies. Pray this seedling germinates into deep roots once authentic care, legitimate concern, and plenty of prayer permeate her life.

When mom knows you actually care about her, the relationship you offer can grow. Research has a lot to say about the client/volunteer relationship (or whoever works closest to her), suggesting the client/volunteer relationship can be more important than anything discussed. Use your relationship with mom as a training model. Chances are, she may have poor interpersonal skills and her relationships may need major repairs. The client/volunteer bond can be used as a guide for her to cultivate healthier friendships with others. 

Growth brings change, and we know that true change only comes from the Holy Spirit. Pray she fixes her mind upon Him (Hebrews 12:2), and He changes old mindsets (Ephesians 4:20-24). He can make all things new!

Support Emphasis

Offer to help put a support plan in place. Who are her current support people? These are the dominant figures involved in her life. Creating a support plan allows you to know the valuable people in her life. It also gives her the opportunity to establish a list of people to access. Good or bad, this list will quickly tell you a lot about her current status and situation. 

Does she have people who support her? What roles do these people serve? Where is she lacking in support? What needs still exist? A support plan provides her with needed resources, including people resources.

Bringing it Home

When mentoring teen parents, take an honest evaluation of the services your center currently provides. Consider restructuring or increasing your existing services to fully experience success. Think outside the box when given the opportunity to do life with teens.

All the while, keep in mind the truth that our God is not limited by your resources or skills. He will be blessed as you work for "the least of these" (Matthew 25:40). Thank you for serving!


Rebecca Dawson is author of "Help! I'm a Mom-To-Be!", which gives a comprehensive view for creating a support plan and offers greater detail and application on these discussed topics.

What's love got to do with it?

 

Tina Turner got it wrong.

When answering with the question, "what's love got to do with it?" she called it “a second-hand emotion." No way. In the Christian walk, love is both the ultimate goal (being unified in Love with God) and the way to get there (loving God and our neighbor).

In our homes, the demands of love are a constant invitation to show up, speak up, and lift up. Here’s a few ideas for how you live and love incarnationally within the work of maternity homes—loving tough, yet unconditionally.

Love as a Invitation to Perfection (Tough Love)

  • Notice the small movements of growth in others. Don't overlook even the seemingly smallest advances in the lives around us. Often progress is very subtle!

  • Ground yourself in the dignity of every person. It’s especially important to remember that when dignity isn't being shown!

  • Foster willingness to hear feedback and admit your mistakes. Be an example of openness even as you pursue growth in holiness. You’re not perfect, and you’re not expected to be, so live in the freedom that comes with admissions and apologies.

  • When you have to correct, speak out of a calm, reflective place. Refuse to speak from an angry, reactive place. When you do correct, ask God to purify your motives, so that your correction is truly correction, not frustration masquerading.

  • Recognize the power of timing. Are you and the other person able to have a meaningful conversation right now? Or, are other circumstances (anger, hunger, loneliness, fatigue) affecting the exchange?

Love that Sees through Brokenness (Unconditional Love)

  • Grow in your ability to give and receive forgiveness. Let mercy gush out of you.

  • Love your imperfections—they are part of your humanity. But, don't coddle them. Instead, always be stretching past them. Allow others to have imperfections as well. They’ll have imperfections either way, so better get used to them!

  • In a maternity home, the mothers need to be able to relax and be themselves. Yes, there are battles to fight. But, choose each battle wisely. Your goal with each mom is to create an environment where they can open hearts and breathe deeply. 

  • Because each person has a different set of challenges, we’re stronger operating as a team or community. Create an environment where each individual functions out of her strengths, and where the community protects each other’s area of weakness.

  • Love is a moving target—sometimes it requires giving, other times receiving. Sometimes it requires action, other times inaction. Stay attuned! 

There is a spiritual insight that suffering expands one's capacity to love. The women who join our homes have often known great suffering—some due to their own decisions and some due to the horrific decisions of others.

We have the noble challenge of trying to help each mother understand that the heartache of their lives can produce a bedrock strength and a beautiful ability to love deeply. Starting with themselves and their children.

As we exercise compassion—literally, suffering with—the moms, we too are being perfected in love!


by Mary Peterson, Housing Consultant

 

Preventing Postpartum Depression

 
by Rebecca Dawson, M.A.

Watching my family member's awful struggle against postpartum depression was excruciating. At the time, I knew little about this disorder, but I knew soon enough that I wanted to avoid it. As I muddled through that season with her, possibly making matters worse, I kept thinking, “What is this?” and, “How do I avoid it?”

And so began my frantic search to gather information about motherhood and postpartum depression (PPD). What I couldn’t find was an honest, fun-loving approach to the material that both grappled with tough questions and offered a helpful Christian perspective. That became the catalyst for my book, Help! I'm a Mom To Be!: Picking Up Where Childbirth Classes Left Off, which is designed as a preventive tool to ward off postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression is classified as a mood disorder largely due to the hormonal changes occurring within the body. This disorder has three varying degrees: baby blues, postpartum depression, and postpartum psychosis.

Research suggests that while 20 percent of all women experience some form of prenatal depression, postpartum blues affect 50-80 percent of all new moms, and 1 in 5 women with postpartum blues go on to develop postpartum major depression. In a recent article on postpartum depression, The Wall Street Journal pointed out that “trying to ‘nip this in the bud or prevent’ (postpartum) depression is key.”

Motherhood hopefully brings with it the gift of joy. But, when it does not, moms are often left with the devastating feelings of being all alone and overwhelmed. Countless hours are spent during pregnancy examining how-to books on anything touching on childbirth and child-rearing. But little to no time is spent reflecting upon the emotional changes that occur from conception through early motherhood, because most women think they will never struggle with this disorder. In most cases, the child is not the problem. Rather, the problem is usually embedded in her life, and now rises to the surface with the addition of a child. A child brings sudden and absolute change. Life is no longer about her as an individual.

If PPD is largely due to changing hormone levels, then how you can prevent something that is hormonal? A great deal of research does point to hormonal and chemical changes within the body. However, recent research reveals that men and women both experience this disorder. Since men do not have the same chemical composition as women, something beyond hormones must play a role.

As a pregnancy help center, you and your staff are in a unique position to empower women with the hope that this disorder can be prevented.

Here are a few symptoms to help a mother-to-be identify this aliment:

  • Persistent low mood
  • Inadequacy
  • Failure
  • Hopelessness or helplessness
  • Exhaustion
  • Emptiness
  • Sadness or tearfulness
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Worthlessness
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety or panic
  • Fear of harming the baby
  • Fear of being alone or going out
  • Lack of interest or pleasure in usual activities
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive sleep or nightmares
  • Under- or over-eating
  • Agitation
  • Decreased energy or motivation
  • Withdrawal from social events or contact with other people
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Inability to cope with routine tasks
  • Inability to think clearly or make decisions
  • Lack of concentration or poor memory
  • Fear of being rejected by partner

This lengthy list is not meant to intimidate, but to train women to quickly recognize each and every symptom for the purpose of prevention, early detection, and healing. The main distinguishing element for postpartum depression is that it occurs during pregnancy or after the delivery of a child. Postpartum depression can vary from woman to woman, lasting from six months to one year.

Are there ways to prevent and ward off postpartum depression? Start with these preventive methods:

  1. Help your client create a Support Plan. Identify all the individuals in her life who are able to help once her baby arrives. It may not be necessary to talk to these individuals ahead of time, but knowing beforehand that she has support can be vital.
  2. Encourage her to talk about her fears and expectations during the client/volunteer sessions. Also suggest the importance of discussing her fears and expectations with her spouse or partner.
  3. Discuss the framework of her childhood within a session. Ask her questions regarding how she was raised, such as: “What was common at home?” “How were you disciplined?” “Did you feel a sense of love and acceptance?” “What did you like?” “What didn't you like?” Remind her that we all start somewhere, and even if her past was difficult, she can work to change life for her and this child. Work together to compose a plan that will work for her.
  4. Encourage her to let her weaknesses make her strong. Encourage her to be aware and identify her weaknesses early on. We all have them. Admitting we are unable is often the first step towards emotional healing.

If you find yourself unsure how to help another suffering from PPD, start with:

  1. Encouragement—Ask what are the best ways you can help. Remind her she is not alone. Many women have felt similarly. After that, help support her through the battle.
  2. Convince her to seek a medical elevation.
  3. Pray and remind her there is hope for each new day.

All new moms have to start somewhere. Encourage her to start with what she already knows and then continue to grow. Help her enjoy this baby by offering preventive measures to treat postpartum depression.


Rebecca Dawson is the author of "Help! I'm a Mom-To-Be!" She is a Master's level counselor, former adjunct Graduate Professor for the Grace College Counseling Department, a former Manager of Client Services at her local Pregnancy Center, and the mother of three wonderful little boys. Her new book titled, "Stamped on Every Child's Heart" addresses Childhood Disorders and will be released this Spring. In addition, Blue Room Publications also offers the "Help! I'm a Mom-To-Be!" Training Manual which assists Pregnancy Centers in facilitating groups and individual sessions. Rebecca can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Look for "Help! I'm a Mom-To-Be!" online at Barnes and Nobles and at www.blueroompublications.com.


References

1. Dawson, Rebecca, M.A. "Help! I'm a Mom To Be!" Blue Room Publications and Production. © 2010, pgs. 67-69.

2. Kahn, David A., M.D., Margaret L. Moline, Ph.D., Ruth W. Ross, M.A., Lee S. Cohen, M.D., and Lori L. Altshuler, M.D. A Postgraduate Medicine Special Report- Major Depression During Conception and Pregnancy: A Guide for Patients and Families. March 2001, pg. 110-111.

3. Moline, Margaret L., Ph.D., David A. Kahn, M. D., Ruth W. Ross, M.A., Lori L. Altshuler, M.D., Lee S. Cohen, M.D., A Postgraduate Medicine Special Report- Postpartum Depression: A Guide for Patients and Families. March 2001, pgs. 112-113.

4. Wang, Shirley S. New Dads, Too, Can Suffer Depression. The Wall Street Journal (WSI.com). 19 May 2010.

5. KidsHealth. “Postpartum Depression and Caring for Your Baby.” © 1995-2009. The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth®. Reprinted with permission.

6. “Depression During Pregnancy.” BabyCenter, L.L.C. 1997. http://www.babycenter.com/0depression-during-pregnancy9179.bc