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Interview with Melbourne Pregnancy Counsellors

on 03 May 2024 9:35 AM
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It can be hard to find an independent, pro-choice Pregnancy Options Counsellor. Join us as we talk to Patricia Hayes, co-founder of Melbourne Pregnancy Counsellors!

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I am an accredited mental health social worker and counsellor working in private practice, specialising in pregnancy options and abortion counselling. I have worked in this sector in hospitals, private clinics, and private practice for the past 20 years. I am a committed intersectional feminist and activist and passionately believe in the power of collective change, especially in reproductive justice. Throughout my years of advocacy and action I was also a part of the many groups of women that contributed to the Victorian abortion law reform movement (which was super-inspiring to be a part of!).

I am also a co-owner of a fabulous not-for-profit vinyl record store with five of my feminist sisters & nonbinary mates called Feminista Vinyl, which specialises in showcasing women, non-binary & gender nonconforming artists. We have our vinyl record store in the shopfront and house our feminist counselling businesses at the back – how Portlandia is that!

Why did you start Melbourne Pregnancy Counsellors?

By 2017, I and three colleagues who had worked in abortion and unintended pregnancy counselling at hospitals and private clinics for over a decade were branching out into private practice counselling. We realised there was a real dearth of counselling services in Melbourne that were pro-choice, feminist and specialised in abortion and options counselling.

We wanted to make sure pregnant people got unbiased and nonjudgmental counselling, to counter the myths and misinformation about abortion peddled by many anti-choice 'Pregnancy Helplines.' Even in our own professions, there can be a lack of knowledge in this area. Together we decided to form Melbourne Pregnancy Counsellors (MPC) – a network of independently practicing social workers and counsellors who specialised in pro-choice counselling for women and pregnant people who are all at various stages of the reproductive continuum.

What exactly is Pregnancy Options Counselling?

Pregnancy Options counselling is a type of counselling that enables exploration of your values, goals,emotions, beliefs to support you to make the best decision you can regarding an unintended pregnancy. Most importantly, it situates you as the expert in your life, centering you as an autonomous being that can make the "most right” choice, once you have considered all your factors: psychological, social, cultural, physical, financial.

We know that women/pregnant people often come under pressure and judgments from a range of sources in relation to sexuality and pregnancy - family, partner,community, society – so we take care to validate in the counselling that there is nobody better placed to know what's "most right" than you. We emphasise your autonomy; self-efficacy is a crucial factor amidst the numerous psychological and social pressures that often frame your choices as "selfish” no matter what you choose.

Pro-choice pregnancy options counselling does not push you in a certain direction: towards abortion, continuing the pregnancy or adoption, but certainly sees and names abortion as a valid option given the stigma still attached to this option. Of course, abortion is not the right decision for everyone, just as continuing the pregnancy is not the right decision for everyone, so we make space to explore exactly how you feel about each option so you can make a decision that is most aligned with your heart and mind. We also provide post-abortion counselling to those who might experience difficult feelings post-abortion.

Who can come and see you?

Anyone who is pregnant and considering their options, or wish to explore their decision in relation to pregnancy and/or continuing the pregnancy/abortion/adoption. We can also see couples, but usually will try to see the woman/pregnant person first to ensure autonomy.

Are there any myths around the types of people who consider abortions?

So many! Where do I start? We often discuss and challenge the following internalised myths:

That’s why I think that the other critical component for pregnancy options counselling is education regarding abortion, to counteract the many myths that abound. We know from The Turnaway Study that most people who undertake abortion do not regret their decision and this evidence-based context is important to provide for decision-making.

What do clients worry about?

Like any life-crisis, an unintended pregnancy can challenge a person's coping skills and also necessitate some soul-searching about the crossroads in life they find themselves in. Each session is so unique – related to individual factors - but these are some of the common themes that come up:

What do you find most challenging about the job?

After 20 years, I still find myself wishing I had a crystal ball sometimes to assist women to make a decision. I sometimes think this would be a most valuable counselling tool but then I think of how complex life is, and that the reality is that we never will 100% know what is around the corner - we just have to make the best decisions we can with the knowledge and awareness of what we know at the time. The trick, really, is to learn how to acknowledge the suffering we go through without adding to it - by being compassionate to ourselves about whatever we do. The other trick, in this area, is to also assist women/pregnant people to understand and navigate the systems of oppression they often encounter in their decision-making process. Understanding the personal is political can often help in this arena.

Witnessing the unnecessary suffering that women go through in this area – often related to intersecting structural oppressions impacting on their decisions such as gender, class, race, sexuality – still makes me angry after all these years. Abortions that are inaccessible and costly also make me see red – nobody should have to pay hundreds of dollars for a basic component of women's health.

Your job sounds like it could be quite stressful at times! How do you relax?

What do you find most rewarding about the job?

The honour of witnessing women's/pregnant people's suffering, struggle, strength, and perseverance. Knowing that we, as humans, have the job of helping each other out. Feeling like I've contributed to progressive change in this area.

What would you say to someone considering options counselling?

If you are unsure, ambivalent, or clearin decision but unsettled, find a non-judgmental person to discuss with before you make any final decisions. It's better to discuss before than after the decision. It does not have to be adiscussion with a counsellor, but it can be – particularly if you are feeling pressured, judged, or anxious about or by the opinions of those around you.

You can call 1800 My Options to find a non-biased counsellor who specialises in this area (not all counsellors are equal in this respect). Call 1800 696 874, use webchat or send an email to on weekdays, 9:00am - 5:00pm.