Coping When You're (Unexpectedly) Expecting
Positive. I looked down at the pregnancy test in disbelief, willing that second little line to somehow disappear. No, I thought. This can't be happening right now. The timing couldn't be worse.
I am no stranger to unplanned pregnancy. In fact, I've almost made it my entire mission in life, launching my own blog and upcoming book on my experience of becoming a mother a bit unexpectedly during my senior year of college.
In our world of leaning in and planning out, an unplanned pregnancy goes against the grain of all things that we as women know to be part of our path to success. An unplanned pregnancy, especially if you happen to be young, poor or unmarried also carries with it its own particular form of shame.
It can be hard — so incredibly hard to reconcile what you think your life is "supposed to be" with what your life actually is. And yet, unplanned pregnancy happens, and it actually happens a lot in the U.S. in fact. According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than half of all pregnancies are unintended, with the majority occurring in women ages 18 to 24. In my experience, there a few stages that any momma-to-be continuing an unplanned pregnancy will go through.
The shock and denial phase
Interestingly enough, the first phase of unplanned pregnancy is good old-fashioned denial. I waited almost two weeks after missing my period to finally give in to the pregnancy test. And even after one or two (OK, four) positive pregnancy tests, it was weeks before I could actually believe that I was really pregnant. The shock of knowing that there is an actual human being growing inside of you in those early weeks is really too much to comprehend when the pregnancy is planned, let alone completely unexpected.
The shame phase
The second phase of an unplanned pregnancy is shame. White or black, young or poor, many women facing unplanned pregnancy feel shame — if not for religious reasons, or for cultural reasons, for the stigma they will inevitably feel when the world wonders, How could she not avoid this? Doesn't she know how babies are made?
Listen, people... sometimes birth control doesn't work. And we all have our own methods, OK? And can I just please point out that mankind has kind of evolved in favor of pregnancy? Let's think Jurassic Park here. Sometimes, nature wins.
The resolution phase
Fitting with New Year's, the third stage of the coping process with unplanned pregnancy is the resolution phase. Resolving that you will continue this pregnancy, resolving that you will find a way to make motherhood and your career work and resolving that you will not allow any of the "statistics" about unplanned pregnancy to define your life. Whether you are a young mother still in school or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, no one exactly equates unplanned pregnancy with a successful life path move. And yet, it truly can be, especially if the pregnancy occurs earlier in your life than you may have planned. As the book The XX Factor by Alison Wolf points out, women who actually have their babies earlier in their lives, such as in their early twenties (ahem), actually have a better chance of reaching their career goals and successfully "having it all."
For me, I was — and in a lot of ways, still am — the typical type-A list checker, but my pregnancy forced me to learn to let go of the supposed control that I had on my life. Did I want to continue to try to live life in a series of neatly checked-off boxes? Or did I want to open myself up to something greater?
The community phase
Part of the resolution phase, for me, was finding a new model of women who had become mothers unexpectedly and went on to not only have a rich and fulfilling family life, but also followed their own personal dreams. Women like Michelle Horton of Early Mama, Tara Pringle Jefferson of The Young Mommy Life, and Meagan Francis of The Happiest Home all became unexpectedly pregnant at young ages — and all catapulted off of their unplanned pregnancies to carve out careers that they loved. Amy Scerra, a young woman who recently launched the incredible non-profit organization Think Global Institute, which connects and helps women entrepreneurs across the world, found out that she was unexpectedly expecting in the midst of realizing her dream. But instead of despairing that she had ruined everything, Amy chose a different attitude. "What better life could we hope for our family than one filled with purpose, global travels and working with some of the most inspiring, change-making women entrepreneurs on the planet?" Scerra told me.
The community phase is all about redefining what an unplanned pregnancy means. It means surrounding yourself with smart, successful women who have been in your shoes and made it work. It means letting go of any Teen Mom stereotypes or doom-and-gloom predictions about a pregnancy at the wrong time throwing off the entire trajectory of our lives.
It means looking for a different path, carving our own way, and realizing that an unplanned pregnancy is not always a dead end.
But sometimes, just a beginning.
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