Pregnancy

Unplanned pregnancy

It is a truth not commonly acknowledged that not every baby is planned. For although contraception choices are better now than they’ve ever been, women still conceive even when they have not planned to. But how each woman and her partner respond to a positive pregnancy test is highly individual. After the initial shock of having a pregnancy confirmed many say they are secretly delighted and quickly start making plans to accommodate their new baby. Some don’t react with the same degree of enthusiasm and cannot even consider including a baby in their future.

How did that happen?

There is no doubt that coming to terms with an unplanned pregnancy constitutes one of the greatest emotional dilemmas a couple can face. This becomes an even greater hurdle when a woman is single and she is not in a relationship which is likely to continue. Ultimately, it is the woman who has to live with the consequences of her decision regarding her choices about the pregnancy. This has always been the case and is always likely to be. Because no matter how evolved we become in sharing parenting responsibility, it really is generally the woman who is quite literally, left holding the baby.

Common emotional reactions to having an unplanned pregnancy

  • Feeling scared and anxious.
  • A sense of “why wasn’t I more careful”, “How did that happen”, “I thought I’d be ok”.
  • Feelings of being alone and isolated.
  • Feelings of confusion and guilt.
  • A sense of panic, lack of control and feelings of crisis.
  • Disappointment and sadness.
  • Surprise, happiness, shock and delight. An unplanned pregnancy can also be joyful.

Where can I go for support?

In an ideal situation, family and friends will be a source of emotional and practical support. But for all sorts of reasons, this is sometimes just not possible. Religious and moral beliefs can prevent some people from being able to offer unbiased, non judgemental support. This makes the job of sharing news of the pregnancy virtually impossible.

In the initial, early days of having an unplanned pregnancy confirmed it is normal to swing from one decision and emotion to another. Making decisions when feeling stressed and at “crisis” point is never a good idea. Neither is making an important decision late at night or when feeling tired and exhausted.

Simple as it sounds, it can really help to just take each day at a time and try to stay calm and in control. For most women, it only takes a few days for the initial shock to subside and they are able to make more rational decisions.

Other sources of pregnancy support include:

  • A counsellor or therapist who works in a community health centre or public hospital.
  • A General Practitioner.
  • A pastor, minister or counsellor who works from a community church or parish. But be mindful that religious faith is likely to prevent them from supporting you if you choose to terminate the pregnancy.
  • NB Check other support services as listed at the end of this article.

Consider keeping a journal or diary where you can record your feelings. Often externalising feelings can help make to sense of them. Weighing up the pros and cons of decisions can help as well – try writing them down in columns so they are clear to see. Don’t feel you need to do this in one session. Sleeping on problems and allowing some time to reflect and filter what is important can really help in making wise decisions.

Some useful questions relating to your unplanned pregnancy

  • How do I feel about being pregnant – did I consider this a possibility?
  • How does my partner feel; should I tell him, when should I tell him and what is his reaction likely to be?
  • What options do I have? How will I feel about these options both now and in a few years time?
  • How does this pregnancy impact on my plans around study/work/home?
  • What are my dreams and goals for myself? How will having a baby impact on these?
  • What will be the impact on my family? This can mean very different things for women of different age groups. e.g., if still at school then the impact on your biological family of you having a baby. If you already have older children, then the impact on them.

Pregnancy options

As soon as a woman has confirmed her pregnancy, the question of “what am I going to do?” quickly comes to mind. Essentially, there are three options and these are:

  1. Continuing with the pregnancy. Having the baby and raising it yourself with or without a partner.
  2. Continuing with the pregnancy and adopting the baby out when it is born. Otherwise, arrangements of alternative care with a relative or close family member.
  3. Having a termination of pregnancy – generally in the first trimester.

Each of these choices has its own consequences, some of which may not be all that clear in the first few days of finding out you are pregnant. Also, you may not be feeling physically well, which makes the job of thinking rationally extra hard.

Some women don’t really consider they have a choice at all. They are very clear from the start about what is right for them and don’t entertain the thought of any alternative decision. In some ways, this is an enviable position to be in.

But no matter how clear you are, it can still be useful to reflect on what alternatives there are, as this helps to eliminate later regrets.

You are not alone!

Although a common reaction to having an unplanned pregnancy is to feel totally alone, the statistics show that it is a relatively common event.

1. Continuing with the pregnancy and raising the baby could be one of those decisions which is a total change from what you may have always thought you’d do. But pregnancy has a way of altering a woman’s focus and there are so many factors to consider. Once the initial shock has subsided, many women start to form a deep emotional connection with their baby; but not always. Some feel a sense of obligation to continue with their pregnancy due to their religious or moral beliefs. But doing what we consider to the “right thing” doesn’t always help with our feelings.

It’s not unusual to feel a sense of resentment towards the baby or even have feelings of ambivalence. Although logically, it is clear that the baby is not responsible for its conception, the very fact that it is there can be enough to really create confusion.

If you do decide to continue with the pregnancy, it is important that you organise ante-natal care. Ensuring your own health is sound is important. As is taking folic acid supplements in the first trimester which reduces the risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect.

Factors to consider about raising a child yourself:

  • What your future plans are for yourself and your child.
  • Your relationship with your partner and if he is prepared to support you and the baby.
  • If you are willing and able to raise the child independently.
  • Your financial position. Although Work & Income benefits do help, they are not substantial and may mean a big change in your current standard of living.
  • If you are mentally prepared for parenthood. Your age, stage of life, living arrangements, family commitments and general mindset will all impact.

2. Adoption has become a less common option for unplanned pregnancy in New Zealand. Currently there are only about 100 non-family adoptions per year in New Zealand, and whilst this number appear to have levelled out in the last decade, closer examination shows that the number of adoptions are still generally declining (Source: Adoption Option NZ). If you are considering adoption, it is important that you speak with a social worker or counsellor during your pregnancy. Final decisions relating to placing a child for adoption cannot be made until after the baby is born. An adoption order can only be processed after birth, not before.

Even after the baby’s birth, it is still possible for relinquishing mothers to change their minds and not proceed with adoption. Feelings of anger, depression and despair are common amongst relinquishing mothers. Support is essential to ensure that the right decision has been made, both for now and into the future.

3. Termination of pregnancy – Statistics show that approximately 18% of pregnancies in New Zealand results in termination. It is common for women to feel confused and unsure when they consider a termination, but it can also provide an almost overwhelming sense of relief. Studies show that for most women, they experience no ongoing emotional of psychological issues as a result of their decision. For them, it is and will become a decision they feel is right for them.

Some women can feel pressured into making the decision to terminate their pregnancy, in which case feelings of guilt, sadness, remorse and resentment are relatively common.

The general recommendation is that termination of pregnancy is safest and should therefore occur in the first trimester (three months). Different criteria apply if you are more than 20 weeks pregnant and your doctor will be able to advise on this. Generally, the later stage terminations are conducted when foetal abnormalities have been detected at the 18-20 week screening ultrasound.

Services to help with unplanned pregnancy support