After hearing someone share the news of an unplanned pregnancy, you may feel compelled to help, but not know quite where to start. It’s a life-changing event, after all — there seems to be a lot on the line. What will be helpful, and what might complicate things further?
When accompanying someone who is experiencing an unplanned pregnancy — even one marked by crisis — presence and persistence can offer a steady rhythm in a season of life that is marked by near-constant changes. There are a few practical steps you can take to support a woman you care about.
After working in several crisis pregnancy support settings, I have found there are some avenues of encouragement that have come to stand out against the rest.
Keep a holistic approach in mind
Before delving into any complicated stressors at hand, it can be valuable to check in about the basics: sleep, nutrition, exercise, and prayer or reflection. These can be the first things to take a hit when a new circumstance or situation arises, yet making extra effort to foster or renew them could help build a foundation for thriving.
Especially during times of transition, each one of us has an innate desire to be seen and known. You can offer this with the simplest of questions about how your friend (new or old) has been sleeping, if she’s been able to get some fresh air, or really anything that relates to what replenishes the mind, body, and soul. These are basic human needs and they don’t diminish in importance when a big life event comes along.
Read your friend and follow her lead. Focusing too much or not enough on any one of these needs might just cause more stress. Your friend has placed her trust in you and invited you into her experience of pregnancy, and you know her well, so you are in a position to observe and help her see what might be out of balance in her life. You’ll know what kinds of mental, spiritual, and physical support will best communicate love and compassion.
Starting with the basics lays the groundwork for deeper and more heartfelt conversations.
Ask more, assume less
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is overlooked all too often. Especially if you have already gone through a season (or perhaps more) of pregnancy, it can be tempting to offer others what you found helpful, and to shield them from any trials you may have experienced.
What may have been a mountain for you, however, could be the tiniest of mole hills to someone else — and vice versa! Find the unique aspects of someone else’s experience and respond to that — not what you imagine — and you’ll nurture a feeling of trust and support.
Before sharing your own experience with pregnancy, it’s important to take a moment to open your heart to be receptive to the specific desires, fears, and plans of the woman you are walking with. Self-disclosure is tricky: it can be affirming, superfluous, or a step backwards, depending upon the context.
If you begin with genuine openness, though, you will quickly learn exactly which pieces of personal testimony may bring light. Open-ended questions (that don’t lead to simply a “yes” or “no”) and little pockets of silence can work wonders in making clear your intention to form or strengthen a healthy, genuine, and supportive relationship.
Offer encouragement over shame
Pregnancy-related shame is not uncommon in our culture, especially when a pregnancy comes unexpectedly. It doesn’t help that pregnancy somehow elicits from some people the notion that their opinion is welcome and valued. Especially in the wake of surprise news, these opinions can be cutting and utterly unhelpful. An experience of this kind of intrusion can feel nothing short of toxic, and can lead a woman to feel as though she can’t or shouldn’t or doesn’t deserve to be valued — let alone be excited — during her pregnancy.
This means that the reactions of anyone who may be close to her during this time are critical influences in shaping her perceptions, self-esteem, and sense of confidence. Gentle, kind words and actions of loving service can remedy wounds of shame, large or small. And don’t underestimate the power of calling out and shutting down a lie or other indication of discouragement as soon as you become aware of it!
Your task is pretty simple, actually, and it’s not much different from other moments of her life — it’s just that this is a more intense moment. Your job is to love her. That friendship can feel like a lifeline to a woman who may feel uprooted, confused, resentful, anxious, or any other stinging emotion as she faces the reality of the new life within her.
Here are a few ways you can offer love and positive affirmation:
- Call once every few weeks to offer a gentle listening ear;
- Help her advocate for maternity leave or flexibility in courses;
- Write uplifting letters;
- Knit baby blankets;
- Offer to drive to prenatal appointments;
- Set up a meal train (if appropriate).
Pregnancy help organizations are here to help
Chances are good that there is a pregnancy help organization not far from where you live. Each of these centers is designed to be a resting place for women experiencing unplanned pregnancies — a place to pause, be heard, and be served with compassion. And while each one has its own unique mission, there are some services common to most, including pregnancy testing, options counseling, enrichment programming (support groups, classes, etc.), and material assistance.
Options counseling allows for a caring and trained counselor to listen, help in processing emotions, and share objective information. It is an opportunity for conversation and connection when scrolling through sometimes-factual and sometimes-questionable information on the internet can leave a woman feeling as though she’s on unstable ground.
Often, one of my first questions to anyone who is experiencing an unplanned pregnancy is whether or not she has had a chance to talk to someone in person about all that is running through her head. Talking to someone new — who is far less likely to have an emotionally charged response — can be an excellent way to process thoughts and emotions. Conversation helps clarify next steps in a way that takes into account what’s really urgent and what’s not. This is one manifestation of how pregnancy help centers can assist in bolstering any of your ongoing efforts to support someone spiritually, emotionally, and practically.
The common thread among all these ideas and strategies is joyful availability: the type of presence that does not hesitate to pause and chat over a cup of coffee, to take a few minutes extra at the store to pick up some baby supplies to share, to unearth resources and community members that will rally to stand behind someone facing an unplanned pregnancy, to invite dreaming about the joys sure to come with welcoming a new baby. There is very little that cannot be overcome with a sincere friend.