Crisis pregnancies - how one service is helping women

by Deborah Condon

The Crisis Pregnancy Agency (CPA) was established in 2001, with the aim of reducing the number of crisis pregnancies in this country, through the provision of education, advice and contraceptive services. However, the agency was also established to help those who were already pregnant and in crisis.

One such CPA-funded service is the Crisis Pregnancy Counselling and Support Service serving the catchment area of Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe. It covers East Galway, Roscommon, Longford, Westmeath, Offaly and North Tipperary and provides a good example of how the service works for women who need it.

Personal crisis

A crisis pregnancy is defined as a pregnancy which is neither planned nor desired by the woman concerned and which represents a personal crisis for her. This definition also includes women for whom a planned or desired pregnancy develops into a crisis over time due to a change in circumstances.

The Portiuncula service is unique in that it has a hospital and community base, to facilitate easy access. However, according to social worker and project manager, Cathy Fox, the large number of women who do not make contact until their pregnancy is well advanced - is also unique.

"One of the issues we have seen in Portiuncula Hospital is the high incidence of delayed contact. From speaking to social workers in other areas, it appears to be a problem unique to this area", she told irishhealth.com.

Prior to the establishment of this service, at least 50 women every year were presenting at the antenatal clinic in Portiuncula with concealed pregnancies. Those who had delayed contact were at least 20 weeks pregnant already.

Waiting to seek help

Apart from the potential physical consequences this can have on the mother and unborn baby, Ms Fox points out that these women are 'open to damage', due to the possible psychological and emotional effects of waiting to seek help.

"Women give various reasons for their late presentation. These include fear, denial, the anticipated negative reaction from their family or partner or the perceived disruption to their life plans. For some women, there is unfortunately still a stigma attached to becoming pregnant".

But what proportion of pregnancies can be considered crisis pregnancies? Due to the sensitivity and secrecy which can surround this issue, the CPA has had difficulty in establishing this. However it does estimate that 30% of all conceptions outside of marriage end in abortion.

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So what kind of women use the service in Portiuncula? Is it mostly teenagers, too afraid to tell their parents that they are pregnant?

"We often think of teens when this subject arises. Actually, the number of teenagers having babies has not risen significantly in recent years. Women in the 20-24 age group and the 25-30 age group are presenting more. They may be attending college or in the middle of establishing their career, therefore a pregnancy presents a real crisis for them", Ms Fox said.

Older women

She added that older women use the service too and are 'often left out of the literature', when it comes to this subject.

"An older woman may have already finished her child-rearing and then find herself pregnant again, resulting in a crisis for her. It is essential that older women realise that this service is for them too".

So how does the service work? Women who wish to avail of it can call a phone number or send an email (contact details are at the end of this article). They will be offered an appointment with a social worker within 48 hours of making contact. That appointment will be made at a time and location which suits the woman.

The service has a base in the social work office located in the maternity department of Portiuncula Hospital. But for women who are in the early stages of a crisis pregnancy, or who for whatever reason, do not want to attend the hospital, an outreach office is now open in the Marina Centre in Ballinasloe. According to Ms Fox, this office is located in a 'discreet location'.

"A woman who contacts the service will be offered a home appointment if she cannot make it to the hospital or the outreach office. This is to ensure that issues such as a lack of transport, do not act as a barrier to the service", she said.

Appointments

During counselling, all options open to the woman are explored, from keeping the baby, to adoption to abortion. Ms Fox points out that legally, if a woman seeks information only about abortion, she can only be given this in the context of all of her options. Furthermore, if the woman chooses to go ahead with an abortion, the service can only provide a contact number for a recognised clinic in Britain - it is up to the woman to make the appointment.

However, the service also offers post-abortion counselling for women who have had a termination either recently or some time ago.

"Many women who have an abortion do not receive any kind of counselling. They may feel that they do not need it at the time, however it may become an issue later, for example, with future pregnancies", she explained.

The service recognises too that men may experience psychological and emotional stress when the woman in their life is confronted with a crisis pregnancy.

"Women are encouraged to share the problem with their partners or the father of their baby. We also encourage them to put both parents' names on the birth certificate, both for theirs and their child's sake", Ms Fox said.

Free counselling

The counselling and support service in Portiuncula is free of charge and completely confidential.

"It is important that the service is there, but also that there is confidence in it. Every woman is unique and every position is unique. We offer a non-judgemental, non-directive and sympathetic service", she added.

The counselling and support service in Portiuncula can be accessed through a callsave number, 1850 200 600, or at (090) 964 8190. Phone lines are open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, with a message minding facility outside of these times. Alternatively you can email crisispregnancysupport.Portiuncula@whb.ie.

Referrals from GPs, public health nurses, youth workers etc…can be made using either of the above numbers or by calling the social work department in Portiuncula directly at (090) 964 8306.

If you live elsewhere, contact the Crisis Pregnancy Agency’s national number: Dublin 8146292.



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