About 16 years ago, I remember receiving a phone call from one of my dear friends. I was around 19 or 20 at the time. I was excited to hear from her and was chatting away about my newfound relationship with my then-boyfriend. As I kept talking, I noticed that on the other end the typical bubbly voice was instead very low. I paused mid-sentence in our conversation and asked her if everything was ok. She told me that she was facing an unexpected pregnancy. She was dating a guy and they were living together. She told him that she was pregnant and they were in the middle of figuring out what to do. She and I became very quiet and our conversation took a turn down into a tunnel of her fears about being pregnant. She was scared. I was scared for her. She said words and phrases like “panic”, “sad”, “why is this happening”, “this was not supposed to happen”, and “but this is wild, what am I going to do?” She and I were both college students. Both young, studying in university, without jobs lived in dorms, and ultimately lived as typical college students. She didn’t know what she should do. I didn’t know what she should do. This was not the last time I would have a conversation like this with someone. I’ve had conversations like this with men and women. Throughout these conversations, I thought to myself, “What does one do if they are in a situation like this?”
According to Bookings.edu, out of all pregnancies, about one-third are unplanned or unexpected. Both men and women are affected by an unexpected pregnancy. Both can be faced with a choice of the next steps or a plan with the baby. Just like anything in life, there are many things that happen unexpectedly to anyone. This statistic includes both married and unmarried couples. Lorri Benson in her book Adopting Hope shares a story about a young woman named Jessica who described herself as feeling “shocked” when she found out she was pregnant”. Jessica at the time was not in a perfect relationship and she had just graduated from college. She stopped taking her birth control pills because of an article written that said that she could possibly get cancer (Benson, 34). Benson’s book also speaks about a man who felt the same way when there was an unexpected pregnancy in his relationship.
Parents.com uses a quote that may relieve those who are initially upset while unexpectedly pregnant. “Our culture leads women to believe that pregnancy should be a time of complete joy,” says Jennifer Louden, author of The Pregnant Woman’s Comfort Book. “But the reality is that it’s a very emotional experience, and the emotions aren’t always pretty.” There are often many fears and uncertainty. There is almost always the feeling of worry, panic, and shock. These are feelings that my friend felt when she became pregnant unexpectedly. We often create this pretty picture or scenario of what should happen when we become pregnant.
PsychCentral features an article by Dr. Shane Higgins, an OB/GYN consultant based in the National Maternity Hospital located in Dublin, Ireland. His sub-specialty is Fetal Medicine and he also lectures in University College Dublin. He explains that throughout his years as an OB/GYN he’s seen all different types of pregnancies walk through his office. Dr. Higgins explains that he’s seen unplanned pregnancies that have been huge game-changers, planned pregnancies which went perfectly according to plan, but also as a fetal medicine specialist, planned pregnancies that didn’t go to plan. He goes on to explain that unplanned or unexpected pregnancies happen all the time, so healthy psychological resources can help you make the right decision for the rest of your life. So while there is often panic and worrying when the news of unexpected pregnancy is released from the doctor, that feeling does not have to stay there forever. There are five things to ponder that can help to make sure that all parties are emotionally healthy and able to make a plan with a clear mind.
1. It is normal to be scared during an unexpected pregnancy
About 45% of all pregnancies are unexpected. Many of the women report that they felt scared and fearful of the unknown of being pregnant. This was regardless of whether couples were married or not, settled or not, financially stable or not. These feelings are usually completely normal. I remember my friend’s voice that day of how scared she was to be pregnant. She started to panic. It was when my friend began to calm down that she started to begin to think clearly about the situation. Feel those emotions. It is often completely normal and fine to be scared and panic. If the feeling is suppressed, then it may pop up at a time when it wouldn’t be convenient. So honest with yourself about how you feel.
2. Do I have people (family or friends) around me who are non-judgemental and are good listeners? If I speak to them about my thoughts, will they still support me and love me? Have they done this with others?
I couldn’t tell you what was the guiding force that day. I couldn’t tell you why she decided to confide me in me. The point was that she did and it was a moment that I will never forget. Was it just being a great listener or what is just hearing her so scared?
My mom at the time worked at the Department of Social Services. As a child, I remember when there was an unexplained pregnancy in our small community there would be a knock on her door. She would take the parent to the porch and they would speak about their child with my mom and my mom would then lovingly explain many resources that would be offered to the family.
At the end of my conversation with my friend, I offered some suggestions about community support that I learned through my mother who worked with the Department of Social Services and then we hung up. We only spoke about the situation once. Years later she bought up the situation and shared that she respected that I sat and listened to her be scared and that in that moment I pointed her to people who helped her in a respectful manner. This would not be the first time I had a conversation like this with a friend, nor the last, but I appreciated that she filled me in on what was appropriate for the conversation and what I did correctly in that tough moment.
3). Search for Community Resources: Do I have sufficient healthcare for myself and the baby?
Growing up, my mother worked at the Department of Social Services in their clerical staff. I remember as a child seeing mothers bring their newly unexpected pregnant daughters to my mother. My mother would shut the door and they would sit on the porch and she would explain resources for the family. Watching this over and over again throughout the years let me know at an early age that it is possible to receive help from various services within a community. Take the time to look up various resources that you need. Some resources to consider are contacts for food, shelter, and medical care. There are usually centers in your area to help you if you want help. These centers may be able to help you with various resources for medical care and other resources like food, shelter, and a job. Adopting.org has some advice for the various resources that you may need in the case of an unexpected pregnancy.
4. Search for Professional Counseling
In various cultures, there can be a stigma about going to professional counseling. An unexpected pregnancy is often considered very personal and it has been said that personal business is “family business.” If you need help in regards to resources about what is happening mentally, you can go to a family member for help. Also, another reason may be because it could be seen as “weak” to speak to someone concerning mental health. Not handling your own problems yourself could be seen as shameful and it could make it seem like you are not able to overcome a trial. These statements are rarely, if ever, true. Just as you need resources for your physical body, you need resources for your mind. Despite the stigma of going to therapy in various cultural communities, it can be helpful to have someone listen to you who is not involved in the situation. The counselor will most likely be someone who is not in your friend or family circle. They are usually trained professionals who have experience with working with others to help them process various feelings and emotions. Lorri Benson, in her book mentioned earlier, shares in one story that a woman named Hale saw a therapist when she became unexpectedly pregnant. Hale states that it was the “best investment” that she made for her emotional and mental health (Benson, 35). I know that personally, whenever I’m facing something it’s always nice to go to therapy just to have someone see what you are going through. It is also usually very important to be honest about your situation.
5. Self-Care Steps
Self-care is making sure your body and spirit are healthy. It is often tough for people to maintain self-care because it can be seen as not a priority. There can be a tendency to prioritize work matters and other things that we can become so busy that we do not recognize that we have not helped our bodies become healthy and our souls become more clear. Dr. Tchiki Davis says, “it’s so important to make sure you take good care of your body, mind, and soul every day, not just when you get sick”. These things can be so important not only when you are stressed, but truly a part of your everyday life. As a teacher, I can become so stressed with the problems of the students academically and personally and the demands of the administration. It was when I was in therapy that I learned to take care of myself.
First, one would need to think about the things that would make you happy or your mind clear. I learned that the entire cooking process made me relax and was the self-care that I needed. I would set aside time to find a recipe and take a trip to the grocery store to pick up the ingredients for the dishes. Afterwards, I would come home and then fix a meal. Once the meal was done, my mind was clear and I was able to calm down. I learned that other things I would do for self-care naturally that I enjoyed was walking and writing. Other things that people can do for self-care are various activities like running, dancing, walking, watching a movie, reading, writing in a journal, or praying to whatever faith you believe in. These were just three different ways to give myself self-care. I know that when I am stressed something else I can do is to just escape from reality or even clear my head: I go for long walks, read, and write. Other times I am known to listen to music.
Getting back to the story about my friend, there was a follow-up after our conversation. I spoke to my friend a week later and she began to explain the steps she was beginning to take in facing the unexpected pregnancy. She reached out to her support team and they led her through various steps that she could take to get all of the care she needed. She was less panicked and was more clear thinking and focused. It is my hope that after reading this, if the reader encounters an unexpected pregnancy or if one will become unexpectedly pregnant that the reader can have the amount of emotional and tangible resources needed to face the unexpected pregnancy.
Antosz-Benson, Lorri. Adopting Hope: Stories and Real-Life Advice from Birthparents, Adoptive Parents, and Adoptees. Sanger, California: Familius, 2018