A pregnancy may come as a shock if it is not planned or expected. An unplanned pregnancy can happen for a number of reasons. For example, if you didn’t use birth control or your birth control wasn’t effective. You might also feel surprised by a pregnancy if you got pregnant sooner than you expected or became pregnant after being told that you could not conceive. An unplanned pregnancy can lead to a range of feelings, including surprise, anxiety, anger, shame, guilt, and depression. Everyone is different and may react differently depending upon their situation.
Though having an unplanned pregnancy can be challenging, there are steps you can take to help cope with the experience:
1. Acknowledge your feelings
Finding out that you’re pregnant may cause many different emotions. There’s no right way to react to a pregnancy. If your pregnancy isn’t planned you may find yourself feeling upset or worried about this news. These negative feelings can lead to guilt, since pregnancy is expected to be a happy event.
Whether you are feeling positive or negative about your pregnancy, your emotions are normal. The first step in coping with an unplanned pregnancy is recognizing these feelings and giving yourself permission to feel them.
If you’re having a hard time getting in touch with your emotions, try some quiet time in self-reflection. You could consider journaling, writing poetry, meditation, or creating art or music. This can help you begin the process of acknowledging and coping with these feelings.
2. Know your options
Understanding your options can help you make a decision about how to proceed with your pregnancy. If you’re pregnant, you may consider the following options:
You may choose to proceed with your pregnancy and care for your baby.
You may consider continuing with your pregnancy and finding another family to adopt the baby. This can be a hard decision, since you may develop a bond during the pregnancy. Adoption may be an option for you if you don’t feel ready to be a parent and would like to help another couple grow their family. If you’re considering adoption, you may be able to choose how involved you will be in the child’s life.
Abortion/termination of the pregnancy
You may decide to terminate the pregnancy if you don’t feel ready to parent and also don’t feel prepared to carry out a pregnancy. This can be a difficult decision for many reasons, especially if this decision conflicts with your moral beliefs. If you’re struggling with this decision, it can be helpful to speak with a non-biased person, like a therapist, who can help you weigh the pros and cons.
If you’re struggling to make a decision about how to proceed, you can seek more information or support to help you.
For more information about terminating a pregnancy, you can speak with your OB-GYN. They will be able to advise you about whether your state can provide this service, how it is done, and whether you have to make this decision within a certain time-frame. You can also find more information through Planned Parenthood.
For more information about adoption, you can speak with an adoption attorney or agency. They will be able to explain the adoption process and answer your questions. You can also see the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Child Welfare Information Gateway, which offers guidance on the different types of adoption (e.g. open vs. closed), your rights as a birth parent, creating an adoption plan, and finding an adoption agency or lawyer.
Whether you already chose an option or are still deciding, it’s important to get prenatal care in the meantime. Be sure to schedule an appointment with an OB-GYN, midwife, or women’s health clinic.
3. Give yourself time to accept the unplanned pregnancy
It’s okay to feel unprepared and caught off guard when faced with an unplanned pregnancy. Even if you choose to keep the pregnancy, it may take longer to feel excited. Needing extra time to accept the pregnancy does not mean that you will be a bad mother. Give yourself permission to take some time to work through your feelings.
If you choose to continue with your pregnancy but are having a hard time feeling excited, you may benefit from listing the reasons why you are excited about your pregnancy and what you are looking forward to. You can also begin the process of planning for a baby, which can help build excitement.
4. Reach out to nonjudgmental support
Getting support can help you cope with an unplanned pregnancy. Some women may find it hard to open up about how they’re feeling because of concern about judgement from other people. It’s important to find non-judgemental sources of support. If you have any friends or family that you feel will be supportive, open, and unlikely to judge, criticize, or shame you, then it may help to open up to these people about what you’re going through. Talking about your feelings can help you realize that these feelings are normal and okay.
If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your feelings with someone you know, you can also seek out other forms of support:
The All-Options Talkline is a free and confidential support line where you can talk freely about your pregnancy options and get help in making a decision. The Talkline is open to anyone in the United States and Canada. You can reach the Talkline at 1-888-493-0092.
Postpartum Support International (PSI) is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to providing support, training, and advocacy for perinatal mental health. They offer a confidential phone and text hotline where you can speak with a volunteer about your pregnancy. You can call 1-800-944-4773 or send a text message to 503-894-9453. They also offer help in Spanish.
Support groups are another option which allows you to talk to other women who are in similar positions. You may be able to find local face-to-face support groups in your area through word of mouth, a referral from your OB-GYN or therapist, or by conducting a search on PSI’s provider directory. PSI also offers online perinatal support groups. These groups are available for pregnant and postpartum women. They are led by a trained professional and offered several days per week.
5. Seek professional help
If you’re feeling very sad, anxious, or emotional, you may benefit from getting professional help. This may mean speaking with a counselor or therapist individually or in a group. Therapy and counseling provide a safe space for you to talk about and work through how you’re feeling, while getting support and learning new ways to handle your emotions.
Therapists that specialize in treating perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are equipped to help you work through your feelings about an unplanned pregnancy. In addition to working with postpartum depression and other emotional issues, they also help treat prenatal depression and anxiety. To find a specialist, you can ask your physician or OB-GYN for a referral, conduct a local online search, or see Postpartum Support International’s provider directory, which provides a listing of local perinatal mental health providers.
Talking with your partner about an unplanned pregnancy
Talking to your partner about an unplanned pregnancy and coming to an agreement can be challenging, especially if you and your partner feel differently. If you and your partner are having a hard time discussing what to do, consider the following:
Set aside a good time to talk, when both people can focus without distractions.
Be sure that you are alone and have enough time to have an in-depth conversation.
Establish ground rules for the discussion.
For example, no name-calling, no dismissing the other person’s feelings, and no talking over one another. The goal is for both people to be able to speak about their feelings, concerns, and desires.
Listen non-judgmentally and consider your partner’s point of view.
It can be difficult to sit there and hear how your partner feels when you disagree, but it’s important to respect their right to share their feelings. Avoid dismissing their view right away. Instead, hear what they have to say and take some time to absorb it.
Create a list of options and review them together.
Each partner can take a turn stating what options they would consider. Include all options on the list.
Each partner should imagine what each option would feel like. Again, do not dismiss your partner’s suggestions without considering it. Ask yourself questions like how would I feel if we chose this and what would my life look like?
Establish a timeline to consider your options before making a decision.
Making hasty decisions can lead to regret and resentment, so it’s best to take some time to think more about your options. Come up with a time-frame to make a decision. This may depend upon how far along you are in the pregnancy. You may have to consult with your OB-GYN to determine what length of time would be reasonable.
If you and your partner continue to struggle to come to an agreement, you may consider seeking couples therapy to help work through your decision. Couples therapy involves meeting with a mental health professional to discuss the challenges in your relationship. A couples therapist will teach you new and healthier ways to communicate with one another and guide you through making a decision.
An unplanned pregnancy can bring about many different emotions. There is no right way to respond to pregnancy news. If you’re having a hard time accepting your pregnancy or coming up with a plan, remember to give yourself permission to feel your feelings and seek out more information and support.