Coping with a surprise pregnancy
Angie Schneider, 30, and her husband have 5-year-old twins, and Angie is pregnant again—with twins. The first time, she conceived while on birth control; the second, while she was in the process of switching the dosage of her contraceptive patch. Bottom line: Both pregnancies were totally unplanned—and unexpected. Though she works as a communications consultant and he as an architect, the Seattle couple struggles to cope with money as well as logistics. "It just seems so insane and impossible sometimes," Angie says.
Belton, Mo., resident Lynn Morley, 34, a magazine editor, and her husband, who left his career in criminal justice to be a stay-at-home dad, had a 17-month-old when they were shocked to discover they were expecting. "We were using natural family planning; I was not on the pill because I was nursing," Morley explains. "I was heartbroken, angry, extremely scared, and afraid to tell my husband. Neither of us began to embrace the pregnancy until the ultrasound at 20 weeks."
About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and at some point in their lives 48 percent of women in the U.S. find themselves unexpectedly expecting. Not all these pregnancies are necessarily unwanted—they're just unintended. As a result, they are accompanied by a wide range of emotions, including disbelief, anger, fear, panic, excitement, embarrassment and resentment. (If, to give one example, the unplanned baby isn't their first, parents may fear their older child or children will suffer.)
These emotions can come in any sequence and at any time, and all are valid, according to Brad Imler, Ph.D., president of the American Pregnancy Association. "I'm pretty sure I hit all the stages of grief," Schneider recalls.
The confusing range of emotions is normal. "It doesn't make you a bad mother to have conflicted feelings," says Lara Honos-Webb, Ph.D., a psychologist in Walnut Creek, Calif., who specializes in pregnancy and motherhood. Low levels of stress are not dangerous, she maintains, so don't worry that your emotions or thoughts are harming your baby. It's not uncommon for moms in this situation to feel that they are not bonding with their baby during the pregnancy or to worry that they won't bond after giving birth. "Mothers should remember to not compare their level of attachment with the gold standard," Honos-Webb says. She adds, however, that if you find you're unable to come to terms with the pregnancy, or if you start blaming the baby, you should ask your doctor for a referral to a mental-health professional, as this could signal a serious depression.
Your partner's reaction is likely to encompass as many emotions as yours, but he may have more trouble putting his into words. Imler predicts a man may get that "deer in the headlights look" and counsels women not to assume the reaction signals a lack of support. "The mother will likely have to act as an 'emotion coach,' helping him express what he is feeling," says Honos-Webb. Men worry most about providing for the family and losing their partner to the commitments of motherhood. To reassure him, she advises, remind him that after about three months, the intense connection between mother and baby eases a bit and you will be able to return more of your attention to him. When it comes to money, Honos-Webb suggests saying, "These are supposed to be the tough years, and we have our whole lives ahead of us."