Many women have stood in line at a drugstore holding a pregnancy test, whether for a friend or a “friend.” It doesn’t matter who is peeing on that thing, if a pregnancy test is being purchased then there’s palpable panic in the air. (Welcome to What It Means To Be a Girl 101. Next up: street harassment and the ickiness of removing dry tampons.)
I was 21 when my stick turned positive. Instantly positive. If that’s ever happened to you — if you ever stared at the bathroom floor with a pulsing surge of anxiety and impatience, waiting for your sentencing via urine-soaked plastic, and you saw a POSITIVE verdict — then just thinking about that moment can give you flashback feelings. You can go right back to that moment when your stomach dropped to your ankles and nothing in life made sense. To that next morning (and the next 30 or 40 after that) when the realization washed over you like a riptide, once again: “It wasn’t a dream. I really am pregnant.”
THAT feeling. I can’t find a word for that particular cocktail of emotions, but let’s just call it terrible. Terrible and scary.
Because of my blog, I frequently get emails from newly pregnant women who are full-on bugging out. Many haven’t told their parents yet. They have no idea what to do — what’s best, what they want, what they need. They’re terrified. And every single time, I’m taken back to that scary, anxiety-ridden feeling, and my heart breaks wide open.
Not because their life is doomed, but because they think it is. And, boy, do I remember that.
I don’t know if you read the “Open Letter to My Embryo” that floated around the Interwebs this month, but a pregnant woman wrote it to the fetus she’s planning to abort. I’m not one to get indignant over abortions (I’m more pro-choice than ever, after experiencing that choice), but it didn’t sit right in my stomach. Something about her reasoning. Her tone. Of course I know squat about this woman beyond the familiar experience, but I wished I could say something to her.
In fact, I wish I could say something to all women wrapping their minds around that life-changing, body-hostage situation. Like …
1. You’re not alone.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than half of American women will have an unintended pregnancy by age 45 (no, unplanned pregnancies don’t just happen to teenagers) and 3 in 10 will have had an abortion. When you take that statistic away from a black-and-white pie chart and into real life, that’s a lot of women who know the unique pain and heartache you’re feeling.
2. No one can tell you what to do next.
People will, of course, but NO ONE can tell you how having or not having this child will affect your life. No amount of Googling can predict your future. But if you can cut through the noise in your head and in your ears, you probably already know what you want to do.
3. It’s okay to be scared.
If you weren’t scared in this particular situation, you wouldn’t be human. I don’t care if you’re 21 or 31 or 41, an unplanned pregnancy is a massive, scary jolt.
It’s also okay to be angry or deeply sad — whether you’re mourning a baby-that-could-have-been, or mourning a vision of your life that you have to let go of. Whatever you’re feeling, it’s okay to feel that. If you don’t allow yourself to feel those emotions fully, they’ll eat you alive.
4. Just because something is hard or scary, doesn’t mean it’s bad.
We have a way of judging things based on how they feel in the moment, but that’s not how life works. If you’ve ever had a devastating life turn that led to an amazing opportunity, you know what I mean.
Not every woman feels enchantment during pregnancy. Not every woman immediately bonds with her fetus or baby. These things can take time, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
5. It’s really important to have a support system.
A support system can be built — it can be virtual, even — but it’ll be a key factor in moving forward. And if you’re reading this because your daughter or friend is unexpectedly pregnant, know that your support means everything in her being successful and happy, no matter what she decides.
6. Fear and anger are bad decision-making tools.
Calm down and think clearly before you make this kind of decision. Our emotions are real and okay, but they can cloud our thinking. What’s the motivation behind your choice? Is it LOVE or FEAR?
7. You don’t need as much as you think.
We’re programmed to think that there’s some imaginary checklist to complete before having a baby — we need a certain amount of money, a certain amount of career advancement, a certain type of stroller. But the truth is, you don’t need as much as society claims you do. You’ll never feel 100% ready.
8. You are not a statistic.
It’s normal to feel shame, embarrassment, even disappointment in yourself. But the truth is, you are so much more than a statistic. You aren’t bound to a stereotype now, no matter what you hear on the news or around the holiday dinner table. Having an unplanned pregnancy doesn’t make you “stupid” or “slutty” or “irresponsible.” Maybe you used protection, or maybe it was a heat-of-the-moment mistake. It’s okay. This does not define you.
9. Your life isn’t over.
The only way your life will be over is if you believe that it already is.
10. No matter what you decide, you will be okay.
You will be happy and grateful and overwhelmed — that’s life, no matter what you decide. You will be okay. Just make sure that your decision is for you and your partner, not to please or conform to an ideal or standard.