I have been pregnant twice in my life, and both times have been unplanned. Both pregnancies involved two different people; both pregnancies happened in completely different times of my life; both pregnancies ended differently; both pregnancies taught me life-long lessons I have cherished and grown from and am thankful for. The are things no one will tell you about your unplanned pregnancy; things that get buried or forgotten or manipulated or misconstrued because, well, the moment a woman becomes pregnant, everyone has opinions. People want to tell her what to do with her body, how to continue on with her pregnancy, and how to feel about her unplanned pregnancy in general. It's exhausting. It's wrong. It doesn't have to be that way, though.
Thanks to prevailing gender stereotypes, sexism and a patriarchal society, pregnancy and motherhood are held up as the end-all-be-all of a woman's existence. What kind of a woman are you, really, if you don't want to be, or eventually become, a mother? (Hint: a normal one.) Whatever a woman wants to be and do during her lifetime, should be considered "normal," and for a growing number of women in the United States, "mother" isn't on that list. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, in 2014, 47 percent of women between age 15 and 44 had never had children. So, it shouldn't be surprising that not every single woman's reaction to an unplanned pregnancy is joy or excitement. There's a wide variety of relenting emotions that bombard you when you find out your unexpectedly pregnant, and no one gets to say what those emotions should be. You can excited, sure, but you can also be sad and scared and disappointed and unsure. You can feel whatever it is you're feeling, because this is your body and your life and your future.
So while there may be certain people or certain prescriptive messages out there that seem somewhat hellbent on telling you how to feel about your unplanned pregnancy, here's what I know from experience. Here's what I think every woman should know when she looks down and see's two parallel lines she didn't plan on seeing:
You're Not Alone
According to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly half (or 45 percent) of the 6.1 million pregnancies in the United States in 2011, were unintended pregnancies. That's over 2.8 million pregnancies that weren't planned.
Of those unintended pregnancies, 27 percent are "mistimed," meaning a woman wants to be pregnant eventually, just not right now. The remaining 18 percent are unwanted pregnancies, meaning a woman never wants to be pregnant; not then, and not in any time in the future.
Yeah, sh*t happens. You're definitely not alone. You're not "stupid," you're not an "idiot," and you're not at fault. Things just happen.
Your Life Isn't Over...
When I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant, a few "acquaintances" and people who were no longer in my life — or just on the outskirts of my life, watching from a distance thanks to social media — said that my life was "over." I wouldn't be able to continue with my career; I wouldn't be able to have the social life I had come to enjoy; I wouldn't be able to do much of anything at all if it didn't involve staying home and taking care of the baby.
Talk about an outdated way of thinking. Plenty of women have children, work, spend time with friends, go outside of their homes and life fulfilled, well-rounded lives.
...And It's Not A Mistake...
An unplanned pregnancy isn't a mistake, in that it doesn't have to be. Sometimes, pregnancy happens. You can do everything "right" and take all the birth control that is available, and something just happens.
The first time I was ever pregnant, I was on birth control — I was also taking antibiotics that made my birth control useless. Things happen, and it's not a mistake because it's no one's fault. You're not to blame. Your partner or the person who contributed to this unplanned pregnancy, isn't to blame.
...Because You Have Options
An unplanned pregnancy isn't the end of the world or the end of your life or a mistake, because you have options. Just because you found out you're pregnant, doesn't mean you have to stay pregnant. Abortion is legal in this country, and 1 in 3 women will have an abortion in their lifetime. Depending on where you live and your socioeconomic status, abortion might be harder to come by and you may have to go through some unnecessary loopholes — like mandatory counseling, a 72 waiting period, or a very long drive (or even flight) depending on how close the nearest clinic is to where you live — but you don't have to stay pregnant if you don't want to.
Pregnancy is a choice. Even if you didn't plan your pregnancy, you have a choice whether or not to remain pregnant. The first time I became pregnant unexpectedly, I knew I didn't want to be a mother (and that financially, emotionally, and in every other aspect of my life, I couldn't be a mother). I ended that pregnancy and it was the best decision I ever made for myself, my future, my then-partner, his future and, it turns out, my future family.
Now, years later, I am the mother to a wonderful two-year-old son, financially stable and in a healthy relationship. I decided when I wanted to be pregnant and become a mother, and every single woman deserves to make that choice for herself.
You Don't Have To View It As A "Blessing," Either
I didn't see my unplanned pregnancy as a blessing. Not at first. I had to weigh my options, talk with my partner, decide if this was something I could handle while maintaining my career and the other aspects of my life I valued, love, cherished, needed and deserved.
You Don't Have To Be Excited...
The initial reaction to your unplanned pregnancy has no bearing on the kind of mother you are going to be. Trust me.
I was scared, confused, unsure and almost sad when I found out I was pregnant with my son. Now? Now he is happy, healthy and thriving. I'm not a bad mom just because my first reaction to a pregnancy isn't, "Hooray!" Big, life-changing moments deserve and often require a moment of pause, reflection, and even a dash of understandable fear.
...Because It Can Be Shocking And Scary....
Make no mistake, we're talking about pregnancy, here. We're talking about parenthood. We're talking about a life-long commitment. That's big potatoes, my friends. That's overwhelming. It's alright if you're shocked and scared and not having that typical, media-produced reaction of complete joy and excitement. You're under no obligation to feign happiness, just because you're a woman and just because you're pregnant. Pregnancy isn't the end-all-be-all of a woman's life, so you don't have to fulfill some predetermined social role as procreator, even if other people really and truly think you should.
This is your life, and it will be your life that changes. You get to feel whatever it is you want and need and end up feeling.
...But You're Allowed To Be Excited, Even If You Didn't Plan Your Pregnancy
Of course, at the very same time, you don't have to feel upset or scared if that's not your initial reaction, either. You don't have to plan for something to be excited that something has happened. If you're super happy and excited, be super happy and excited!
Basically, Whatever You Feel Is Normal, Valid, And Worthy Of Expression
Honestly, no one gets to police your feelings about your unplanned pregnancy (or anything else, for that matter). If you're scared, you should be supported. If you're excited, you should be supported. Whatever you're feeling is yours to own, and no one should be judging, shaming, or condemning you for it. No one should be telling you what you should feel, and no one should be telling you that whatever you're feeling is wrong.
This is your experience to live, and no one else gets to live it for you.
If You're Not Married, You Don't Have To Rush To Get Married
When my partner and I found out we were pregnant, so many people starting asking us when we planned on getting married. Not if. When. It was this foregone conclusion, apparently, because we were going to have a baby together.
We didn't get married before our son was born, and we didn't get married afterwards, either. We're still not married, and our son is over two years old. Marriage is not a necessary requirement of procreation, and procreation isn't the thing that always follows marriage. Plenty of couples never get married but raise a child or children together. Plenty of married couples never have children, because they either can't or just don't want to.
You Don't Have To Explain How You Got Pregnant
You don't have to go to into detail about failed birth control or condoms or diaphragms or IUDs or whatever else. It's no one's business. You don't have to say how great you were at taking your birth control pill every day, or how horrible you were at it. Again, it's no one's business.
Everyone knows how babies are made. There's no need to explain how you ended up pregnant.
You Don't Have To Hide Your Pregnancy...
You don't have to hide the fact that you're pregnant just because your pregnancy wasn't in your initial plans. If you feel safe and comfortable doing so — and if it's something you want to do — you should express your pregnancy anyway you want. You don't have to act like your pregnancy is something shameful. It isn't.
...But You Don't Have To Make A Big Announcement Either
Of course, you don't have to make a big announcement about your pregnancy either. If you don't want anyone to know, don't tell anyone. You don't have to show your pregnant belly or tell anyone that you're pregnant if you don't want to. This is your body, so it's entirely up to you how you handle your pregnancy. Whatever is most comfortable for you; whatever leaves you feeling the most supported and empowered; whatever fits your specific and unique situation, is what you should end up doing.
Whatever You Decide To Do, It Will Be OK
If you decide to terminate your unwanted pregnancy, you're going to be OK.
If you decide to move forward with your pregnancy, you're going to be OK.
I know, I know; pretty presumptuous of me to say, huh? After all, I don't know you, dear reader, and you don't know me. However, based on my own experience — as a woman who has had an abortion, and had a child— I can tell you that I was OK after both experiences. Surround yourself with people who love you, support you, and encourage you, and you're going to be just fine. Be excited about your pregnancy, or don't be. This is your body. It's your life. You're in control. It's up to you.