Back when I was unexpectedly pregnant, seven years ago this May, my biggest worry and focus had to do with the small human on the way. A child who would need me, love me — and was I really ready? Was I too young?
I couldn’t have possibly reflected on the larger perspective: On top of motherhood, on top of marriage, and even on top of pregnancy, the unplanned aspect of my pregnancy has deeply affected my outlook on life and ended up being a teacher, of sorts.
Now, I’m not advocating for unplanned pregnancy; don’t twist my words. Truth be told, I had some high-stress hormones coursing through my body, especially in the first trimester, and who can say that’s good? I’m also not preaching that every unintended pregnancy is the same, and you need to heed my words and follow my lead. I can’t know where my own story will lead, so how can I presume to know yours?
All I know is this: My pregnancy — hard as it may have been — gave me so much more than a child; it gave me a new perspective. As our scariest, most painful, most challenging experiences tend to do.
Here’s what I learned:
1. There are no “right” and “wrong” paths in life — just different lessons learned at different times.
And the obsession with planning our paths is at worst delusion, at best ridiculous.
2. Sometimes we change our lives, and other times life changes us.
And the biggest life twists come when we least expect them, for reasons we can’t possibly know … yet. So relax. It’ll all unfold as it will, and we’ll be rearranged accordingly.
3. Everything can be okay, even when it doesn’t feel like it.
Something that was once the worst possible scenario can turn into the best possible scenario — and the only thing that changes is our perspective. When you really see it play out in your life, in undeniable terms, it’s enough to make you question your judgment in any situation.
I am not immune to anything — no matter how much I assumed “it couldn’t happen to me.” But I learned that it’s how we respond to those consequences that really matters. That’s where our control actually lies.
5. Fear is temporary, but consuming. Self-doubt is real, but it isn’t our truth.
The hardest part of my unplanned pregnancy was the very strong grip of fear and doubt and resistance to what was happening. It’s helped me be more sensitive to the very difficult emotional states we go through, and how it clouds our judgment, suffocating us. I also can recognize them for what they are: not true.
6. Just because something is painful or hard, doesn’t mean it’s bad.
“How could labor be so painful?” I wondered. “Wouldn’t we have evolved out of that?”
What I didn’t realize is that pain and joy, struggle and strength, life and death — they’re intertwined. I learned this best through labor, of course, but those larger judgments of “good” and “bad” became meaningless. We’re capable of doing difficult things. We’re capable of more than we can possibly know.
7. Our bodies are magnificent machines with their own intelligence.
My body was inhabited without my consent, and then it morphed and shifted to accommodate a human freaking being inside of my stomach. Milk was produced without my say so. Nutrients were shared, cells were swapped, and all I did was say “yes; go on.” The rest happened on its own.
8. Screw stereotypes.
I walked in the shoes of a societal stereotype, for the first time in my life. And because of this, I think I have a deeper compassion for the people we judge, and a fondness for the human spirit’s innate resiliency. Unplanned, unwed pregnancy? Young motherhood? I did it, and I’m still ME.
9. I have a greater sense of intuition — I’ve felt it!
… underneath my incessant fear-based mind chatter.
10. I learned to work with my body — to be kind and loving to my body — rather than hating and judging it.
My pregnancy was the first time I was really inside of my body, listening to its needs, and I’ll forever be grateful for that lesson.
11. Not only can I survive change, I can be improved by it in ways I can’t possibly fathom.
I faced the unknown and still went on living, better than before. Wild.
12. We don’t know what we can handle until we’re forced to handle it.
I had serious concerns about what I could and couldn’t handle — physically, emotionally, financially, all of it. But I learned that when you’re in the thick of a trying situation, no matter how taxing, you figure out a way to do it. No bullshit. No self-created drama. No excuses. It’s much harder to anticipate something hard (or to look back on something difficult) than it feels in that moment. In that moment, you handle it.
13. The moments when we’re scared and struggling — when we’re at our most vulnerable — have the potential to be the most life changing.
I was programmed to pick the safe choices, minimize my pain, limit my vulnerability — as many of us are, I imagine. We don’t want to go through emotionally or physically exhausting experiences; it’s excruciating. But it’s part of the human experience, and for good reason.
I saw this quote floating around Instagram (attributed to Cynthia Occelli): “For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must be completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”
I became completely undone during those first few months of pregnancy — the darkest time of my life, for sure. And then suddenly, inexplicably, I sprouted into something stronger than before.
14. I can only know what’s right for me, not anyone else.
Going through that experience made me see how nuanced and personal these choices are. All choices. Some people experience the mind-blower that is unplanned pregnancy — they experience what it’s like to love someone that they never wanted to begin with; they feel the depth of that guilt and heartache — and become fiercely pro-life. The exact opposite happened to me. I didn’t realize how pro-choice I was until I had the opportunity to make that choice for myself.
15. Some of the best decisions are the ones we never make.
And now I’m able to “roll with it“ easier, and to trust that I don’t have to control every little thing. This is a lesson I’m continuing to learn and re-learn — surrendering to life takes many rounds of lessons, I assume — but the foundation for this understanding will always be the beautiful boy I never knew I wanted.
These types of lessons can come from any challenging life twist. From any time Life snatches control from our grip, giggling, and sets out a detour we never saw coming. From any hard, scary, character-testing circumstance that dissolves our opinions and priorities. For me, it was an unplanned pregnancy.
All it requires is one question: What am I learning from this? If you look closely, even if it takes seven long years and a dose of hindsight, you’ll find your lessons. And you’ll be grateful.