Young, Unmarried, and Accidentally Pregnant: WHY?Michelle Horton
There’s a rather snarky article over on Jezebel titled “The Best Time To Get Accidentally Pregnant is When You’re Young and Carefree,” regarding the recent conversation about pregnancies among the 20-somethings.
The Guttmacher Institute recently released findings that showed about half of all pregnancies to 20-something women — married or not — between 2001 and 2008 were unplanned. (More than half of these unintentionally pregnant women were unmarried, but most were cohabitating.)
This is a significant fertility issue. The rate of unintentional pregnancies for 20-somethings is more than double the rate for any other age group. What’s going on?
I think the issue is much deeper than how the Jezebel writer summarizes the Guttmacher findings:
The US is already rotten with unplanned pregnancies…and even though rates of teen pregnancy have taken a nosedive in recent years, one group of ladies just can’t seem to stop getting accidentally knocked up — unmarried women in their twenties.
High-five for unintended pregnancies! We just can’t help ourselves! We’re young and carefree! Double-high-five!
But there’s a bigger issue: Why were/are so many young adults getting accidentally pregnant, while less educated teens are successfully avoiding pregnancy?
As one of those 20-something women who got accidentally pregnant in 2008 (at 22 years old), I think it’s much more multi-layered than statistics can possibly show.
I haven’t been shy about the fact that I had a (very) difficult time accepting my unexpected pregnancy. Guttmacher would label my pregnancy as “unintended” rather than “unwanted,” because it wasn’t that I didn’t want a baby — I just didn’t want one yet. I’ve written about how disconnected I felt, and how dark my thoughts were. But I was in a committed relationship where all signs pointed to eventual marriage, and I just couldn’t bring myself to abort a love-child with the man I wanted to spend my life with. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cross my mind.
Why did I get pregnant?
I was a college-educated, bright, ambitious young lady with prestigious internships under my belt. I was taking birth control pills, but I was in the process of switching to a less expensive alternative after losing my health insurance. (I got pregnant right after graduating college — perfect timing.) But the words of my college professor were always in the back of my mind: “How can any woman, in this day and age, allow herself to get pregnant?”
That’s how a lot of people feel — especially Jezebel commenters. With all of the access and options, how can you possibly get pregnant?
If you’re looking at the years 2001 2008 (before the new healthcare reform law allowed post-grads to be covered under their parent’s insurance plan up to age 26), I wouldn’t be surprised if healthcare access played a huge part. I know it was a major factor in my pregnancy (as well as my early prenatal care). There’s a slew of other reasons why young adults are getting unintentionally pregnant (such as thinking they’re infertile, apparently), but one of the reasons cited in the study was ambivalence.
That conflicted feeling towards pregnancy is something I very much identify with — and I know for a fact, through my site EarlyMama.com, that other earlier-than-expected moms did too. I’ve heard this so many times: “We weren’t trying, but we weren’t not trying.” I don’t take that ambivalence to necessarily be an uneducated feeling, but possibly a biological one.
Although I did want a baby with my now-husband (even at the young age of 22), I was devastated because I felt like my life was ruined. Everything I wanted to accomplish — everything I wanted to be — was now gone. And I didn’t get this from my own head — I got it from friends, family, TV, movies, and complete strangers. Although there are, of course, areas of the country and/or sub-cultures where being a young mom isn’t only acceptable, it’s expected, that isn’t the norm anymore. More young women are putting off starting a family, with the national age creeping towards 30.
My body felt ready, but my brain didn’t. Is there an answer somewhere in this pull between biology and culture?
While I could put on a cheery smile and say that it was the best unintended surprise of my life, unexpected pregnancies aren’t something to encourage — especially for young women. My stress levels were sky-high, my confidence was in the gutter, and I feel like I trudged through one of the most important experiences of my life. I spent so much time being embarrassed and scared and numb that I missed out on my pregnancy.
But I do wish that someone would have told me that my life wouldn’t be ruined. That I could go on to have a successful career, a happy marriage, and a fulfilling life. I wish someone had told me that choosing earlier-than-expected pregnancy isn’t a tragedy, but just a different lifestyle decision. I wish someone would have told me that a 22-year-old mother can be the best kind of mother.
I’m thankful every single day for that accident, and I know plenty of other younger moms who feel the same.
Did you have an unexpected/unwanted pregnancy in your 20s? Why?
Read more of Michelle’s writing at Early Mama.