According to the National Survey of family growth, 49% of all pregnancies in the United States (excluding miscarriages) and 31% of all pregnancies resulting in live births are unintended. If you are struggling to accept an unplanned pregnancy, the greatest comfort may just be knowing that you are not alone. 28% of women have had at least one unplanned. For a woman, an unplanned pregnancy can be the source of great stress, and sometimes of negative feelings. Black women can have more initial adverse reactions to unintended pregnancies because we tend to have stronger control issues. We have a tough time dealing with things that “Aren’t supposed to happen.” We could easily beat ourselves up, thinking, “How could this happen?” and end up mired in guilt. The truth is, unplanned pregnancies happen – and quite often, that is, according to the stats. And state-by-state data collected by the Centers for Disease Control, the percentages of Black women giving birth after unplanned pregnancies in various states range from 46.2 to 76.7%. Not surprisingly, Colorado was a state with the lowest incidence of such pregnancies (presumably because it has a low incidence of spotting and actual Black person anyway). And Illinois was the state with the highest prevalence (let’s hear it for Chi-town!). Let’s face it, condoms break, the pill does fail, a heated moment of passion leaves your birth control on the floor with your panties instead of where it’s supposed to be, and we have all heard about a woman who got pregnant even though her tubes were tied!
By the government’s definition, an unintended pregnancy is either mistimed (the woman wanted to be pregnant later) or unwanted (she did not want ever to be pregnant). There is an interest in this distinction because they may affect a woman’s behavior and experiences during the pregnancy and affect the health of the baby. Specifically, women who have mistimed pregnancies are likely to discover their pregnancies later than those who have planned pregnancies and that makes them less likely to get an early start with prenatal care. You may already know how important folic acid is in the early, early stages of pregnancy and the prevention of neural tube defects. In fact, if you are planning on getting pregnant, your doctor will likely tell you to beef up the folic acid months before conception. Unplanned or unwanted pregnancies can also affect infant health, since studies show that women who have unintended births are less likely to breastfeed, and breastfed babies have fewer respiratory and ear infections and have been proven to have a higher IQ.
Most of the women I met worried that the timing was just wrong – their husband had recently lost his job, they just moved, they were having marital or other relationship issues, their career was just taking off, or they were on the cusp of an overdue promotion. Others who already had children, just considered themselves “done” and put the thought of carrying a crying baby, late-night feedings, and diaper genies, completely out of their mind. But as my husband often says, “If the world only had babies who came just at the right time, there wouldn’t be any of them on the planet.” If you ask around your family, you may be shocked at how many surprises there are in your group; you may also find that even you were an “unexpected blessing,” as my mother would say.
A lot of your anxiety may be centered around your spouse’s or partner’s response. He may not be very excited about the idea. A man’s anxiety about fatherhood often stems from financial concerns and worries are over how he will provide. He may even blame you. “I was reaching for the condom, and you said don’t worry about it.” Do not let him play the blame game. It still takes two to make a baby, so there is a shared responsibility. Do not feel you let him down or you betrayed his trust in you. Take responsibility for your actions and ask him to do the same, remembering that pointing fingers and wallowing in guilt are not going to change anything.
Dianne, married only three months when she became pregnant, struggled to feel good about her pregnancy. Even though her husband was happy and supportive, she couldn’t help but feel secretly saddened. In fact, his excitement made her feel more guilty and upset. “We just got married. After investing so much time into finding a life partner, I couldn’t believe that my plans for how I envisioned married life were ruined. We wanted to travel, live abroad, and drive cross-country,” she says. “We had a small apartment and we’re financially recovering from an expensive wedding and honeymoon. I just couldn’t believe that.” She faked excitement to her friends and family, but she spent most of her time alone and tears.
It took several months for Dianne to get over her negative thoughts. She forced herself to eat healthy meals, but “I was motivated by duty – nothing more,” she says. She really turned the corner when her belly swelled and ultimately she when she got her first little kick. “That’s when it really hit me. Literally. I just woke up the next day and said I was going to stop whining about what didn’t go right and focus on my baby. I made a conscious effort to be positive.” You can do the same.
What to Do
- Think positive. Negative feelings can be so overwhelming we forget that we have options. We can wrongly assume that the present situation is the cause; therefore, the only option is to ride out the problem to the end. But you can choose to respond and react differently. You have the option to make a change for yourself. The next time you’re feeling negative thoughts, stop yourself and ask, Can I respond differently this time? How can I adjust my thinking?
- Propagandize yourself. Immerse yourself in the wonderful world of maternity and motherhood. Get the magazines, buy more books – soak up all of the positive information about pregnancy you can find.
- Be honest. Don’t give yourself the extra burden of keeping up a pretense of happiness. You are not the first person to have ambivalent or negative feelings about pregnancy. Try, “It’s an adjustment, but I’m getting there.”
- Do something. When you start to feel sad go for a stroll through a local baby store, going over the cute outfits you’ll be buying soon. If it works with your budget, buy a small item, maybe booties or a bib. Check out the strollers and other baby gear – it’s never too late to start thinking about your gift registry.
- Count your blessings. Think of the millions of women out there who are desperately trying to have babies. They spend thousands of dollars on fertility treatments or fly across the world in search of a baby they can call their own – consider yourself blessed to have conceived.
- Have faith in yourself and God that you will make it through.
- Don’t let people get to you. Inevitably, some insensitive friend or relative will make a comment like, “However will you manage?” If you have a particular family member or friend who keeps going there, just say it’s a topic that is not open for discussion. And then never talk about it again. And never be afraid to tell anybody who needs to be told, to mind his or her own business.
- Get help. If your feelings toward pregnancy prevent you from taking care of yourself – eating properly, seeing your doctor, and soon – or linger into your second trimester, then you need to talk to a professional immediately.
You won’t feel this way for long. Even if you think you have the maternal instincts of Mommie Dearest, you’ll be surprised how actual motherhood will turn the staunches of former anti-motherhood crusaders into blubbering moms complete with teddy bear diaper bags and two brag books.
Excerpted from The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy (Amistad/HarperCollins, 2005) by Kimberly Seals Allers