If you are sitting on the bathroom floor with a small pregnancy test plus sign staring back at you, shaking you to the core, you may feel more alone than you’ve ever felt, but I’m here to tell you that you are not alone. Not by a long shot — an army of women (including Jesus’ own mother!) have faced unplanned and even shocking pregnancies, too.
One of the greatest lies you can believe is that you are alone in this moment — that a life that honors your gifts, your strength, your dreams, and your resilience is now out of your reach, or has to become some watered-down version of what you had in mind before that plus sign appeared.
There are tangible ways to overcome the overwhelming feeling an unplanned pregnancy can bring — there are places to find encouragement, support, and goodness that drives out fear. I know, because I have spent time serving women in crisis pregnancies in a pregnancy center, maternity home, adoption agency, and long-term support settings. I speak with women in this situation almost every day. Here are some of the stories and lessons I’ve learned about what gets women through an unplanned pregnancy.
Allow for shock absorption, and embrace mixed emotions
There is often undue pressure to feel excited and confident the moment a pregnancy test reads positive. Meanwhile, a mix of shock, anxiety, excitement, shame, hurt, fear, wonder, anticipation, and just about everything else on the emotional spectrum can color the process of coming to terms with a pregnancy for any woman, especially when pregnancy comes outside of the bounds of your expectations and plans.
Especially in moments of high emotional intensity, our bodies tend to take a fight-or-flight posture: our heart pounds, palms sweat, our ability to really focus dwindles, and we may even feel an urge to move to a faraway country — like, right now. In moments like this, it helps to ground yourself. Concentrate on reigning in all that is running through your head. Resist the temptation to hurry to finalize reactions or make decisions.
When Jennifer faced an unplanned pregnancy during her early college years, she was flooded by thoughts and emotions that had potential to be all-consuming. Jennifer felt the weight of expectations to be a good role model and feared what others would think of her. What’s more, she was now experiencing all of the shifts that go along with taking on life as an adult, on top of a surprise pregnancy.
Once Jennifer began to process things out loud and to get her thoughts down on paper, however, her perspective shifted. “You will experience things differently after hearing them, and being able to process them that way,” she said. “And write down everything you can — get it out of your head!”
Jennifer emphasized the importance of being completely honest about how you’re feeling, and finding at least one person to confide in — your intuition can be instrumental in choosing whom to share the news with first. (As you share what is happening, remember that whomever you speak with will need time to process, just like you did.)
“Take a few days to breathe and think about it,” said Susan Gallucci, a clinical social worker and the director of a pregnancy center in Washington, D.C.
There’s no need to rush to any conclusions, Gallucci says. She recommends taking some time to ground yourself in the tangible facts of the situation: How far along you are, or what milestones in fetal development your baby may have already experienced. Concentrating on the steady rhythm of growth your body has maintained naturally and intuitively — despite how much you may have been freaking out — can help you find confidence and a sense of peace.
Choose community over isolation
Jennifer acknowledges that “there can be a temptation to shut yourself off from others” during your pregnancy out of fear of how they will react. But she encourages women facing unplanned pregnancies to be open to the possibility of being surprised by others’ reactions. Many of the negative scenarios you may anticipate could turn out to purely be things of your imagination.
“You may feel like people are going to react negatively,” Jennifer said. “I remember wondering what people were going to think of me. I was always the Goody Two-shoes. And then I ended up being showered with love. I really was so blessed.” Allowing others to love you will give you strength for the journey ahead.
Still, some women learn of an unplanned pregnancy and have seemingly no one to turn to. I respond to the phone line at an organization that offers long-term support to women in crisis pregnancies, and on more occasions than I can count, I have heard women describe feeling isolated and wondering how they could possibly manage it all. Perhaps a significant other has threatened to leave if a baby is carried to term; perhaps relationships with family members are toxic; or a woman finds herself far away from every sense of home.
More often than not, however, these women come to realize there are far more people in their corner than they thought possible. Reaching out for help is never easy, but there are many nonprofit organizations (like Stand Up, Girl) that extend a hand to help women in just these kinds of situations, not to mention the connections of support that are hidden within your own networks simply because you haven’t found them yet.
Ella learned that she was pregnant in the middle of a cross-country move, and she reached out to the pregnancy help organization where I work. She told me that in what felt like a matter of seconds, she had gone from working a job she enjoyed, dating, and living in a home she called her own to feeling abandoned and wholly responsible for a new life she was carrying within her. The father of her baby was out of the picture, and family members seemed to only focus on the choices she could have made differently. Still, Ella had the courage to talk to me, a total stranger, and our conversation opened doors for her to see a way forward.
Ella moved into a maternity home, where she was able to finally catch her breath and experience stability and find a plan for next steps, which offered hope and peace of mind. Here’s the thing, though: all it took for her to find that stability was calling one phone number and talking to one person. A team was ready to support her in both welcoming her baby and realizing the life she was dreaming of for herself.
For every person who fuels your discouragement or shame, there is another out there ready to meet you and your baby with the warmth of compassion, encouragement, and welcome. All it takes is reaching out — these kinds of connections won’t surface if you let isolation take over.
Another example: during her pregnancy, Jennifer found solace and acceptance in a group at her church, where members welcomed her wholeheartedly. It didn’t matter that “I was obviously pregnant and showing,” she said. The friends Jennifer made there dreamed with her, and brought a new perspective on the miracle of life at hand. Talking about everything from baby names to milestones allowed her to discover faith was bigger than fear.
Once they discover they are unexpectedly pregnant, many women believe they are sentenced to some dreadful combination of shame, baggy clothes, and losing their long-held dreams. But settling in this way fails to acknowledge the resilience, creativity, genius, intuition, and strength of women.
An unplanned pregnancy might come as a surprise, but it doesn’t have to be an emergency. There is a way through this — it is possible to care for the new life you are carrying and to thrive. Whether you lean on friends, family, a church community, a crisis pregnancy center, or a nonprofit in your community, we are here to make sure you — and your baby — do just that.