In the United States, adolescent pregnancy and child rearing is recognized as a contemporary health and social problem because of its sustained high rate compared to other developed nations, and its association with other social ills such as reduced educational attainment, underemployment, substance abuse, suboptimal parenting, and welfare dependency. Rarely are young unmarried mothers economically or developmentally prepared for parenthood without considerable help and support from others.
Abortion is the route chosen by more than 40% of pregnant adolescents (Hayes & Hofferth, 1987). National concern has been expressed at this high rate and increasingly, relinquishing the child for adoption is suggested as a positive alternative. This option, much more popular a generation ago, is chosen by fewer than 5% of teenagers who give birth. Public interest in increasing consideration of adoption is related to a desire to maximize the welfare of the adolescent as well as her child, and to reduce the cost of supporting dependent families. In view of the absence of any information to explain the change in relinquishing practices among teenagers who do not or cannot choose abortion, this study explored the reasons for such low interest in adoption among this "at risk" population.
Between 1970 and 1987 19 studies were reported that related to option consideration by pregnant adolescents. These studies were primarily quantitative and disclosed a number of variables such as education, SES, family structure, age, school achievement and goals, and religion that were found to be predictors of pregnancy decisions for the various populations studied. There were, however, few insights into the reasons adoption is so rarely considered. Since variables were usually preselected, it could not even be assumed that the right questions were asked. Two of the more current adoption researchers particularly noted the need for more inductive, theory-building research to increase the usefulness of existing research for clinical practice (Resnick, 1984; Mech, 1986).
Studies by Kallen and Griffore (1989) and Resnick (1987) employed matched sample designs (relinquishers/nonrelinquishers) with relatively large samples to validate and expand comparative information on important decision-making variables. Such findings, however, still did not indicate the meaning of these variables to the adolescent and her family, or how they influence the decision process.
Mech's (1984) study, the Orientation of Pregnancy Counselors Toward Adoption, validated the general low level of accurate information about adoption, as well as the reluctance of helping professionals to encourage unmarried pregnant adolescents to consider adoption. Of special significance to nurses in Mech's finding that persons providing counseling and information in health settings were even less informed about adoption and less inclined to help pregnant teenagers explore options than was the case in agencies that were not health related.
The purpose of this study was to analyze data on the meaning of phenomena related to adoption consideration by unmarried pregnant adolescents. The results will assist helping professionals increase the frequency with which they encourage thoughtful consideration of adoption as a result of their greater sensitivity to the meaning and interpretation of adoption by such clients. It is believed that the life opportunities for optimal outcomes of both the adolescent and her child would be enhanced if adoption was carefully considered so that abortion would not be viewed as the only alternative to parenting, and that parenting would be by choice, not default.
This study combined phenomenologic and constant comparative approaches (Omery, 1983; Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Swanson-Kauffman, 1986) to answer the question: What are the meanings of phenomena identified as influencing attitudes, beliefs, and decision-making about adoption as an option among adolescents experiencing an unplanned pregnancy? …