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Unexpectedly expecting? You’re not alone. About half of all pregnancies in the United States each year are unplanned and, by age 45, more than half of all American women will have experienced an unintended pregnancy.
Not all of these pregnancies are necessarily unwanted—they’re just a surprise. As a result, they are accompanied by a wide range of emotions, including disbelief, anger, fear, panic, excitement, embarrassment and resentment.
“When I found out I was pregnant, my emotions were a complete jumble. I felt totally lost and overwhelmed,” says Faith Marthe of Grand Forks, N.D. “I often told friends that I would never have children of my own and would rather spend my time doing things that I wanted to do. The moment the test was positive, I felt like everything I had dreamed of doing was impossible.”
The confusing array of emotions is normal.
“It doesn’t make you a bad mother to have conflicted feelings,” says Lara Honos-Webb, Ph.D., A.D.H.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 are harming your baby. It's not uncommon for moms in this situation to feel that they are not bonding with their babies in utero or to worry that they won't bond after giving birth.
Lara Sortwell of Maribel, Wis., was upset and depressed when she discovered she was pregnant just two months after the birth of her second child. “I remember thinking, I don’t want this baby. I have a 1-year-old and a 2-month- old. I can’t handle another one,” she says. But after her 20-week ultrasound, Sortwell’s feelings shifted. “Once I could call my son by his name, it really helped me to bond with him,” she says.
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, says Honos-Webb.
Coping with an unplanned pregnancy requires time, space and a network of support. “It isn’t something you wrap your head around overnight,” says Ann Douglas, author of The Mother of All Pregnancy Books (Wiley).
“You need to actively work through what you’re feeling. Talk to other couples who have experienced a surprise pregnancy to find out how they got through the tough times.”