Ways To Cope And Adjust

The surprises in our lives often jump out at us when we least expect it. Sometimes those surprises are welcome, when at other times they downright leave us in awe and utter shock. Unexpected pregnancies can be exciting for many of us, but they can also cause us to feel anxious, depressed and afraid of what the future holds. There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel and though you may not believe it now, there are ways you can cope with the changes you'll face bringing your new baby into the world.
Jennifer Newton Reents

Talk it out
"An unexpected pregnancy is an extremely common occurrence and women oftentimes find themselves facing a host of emotional reactions," says Margaret Howard, PhD, clinical psychologist and clinical director of the Postpartum Depression Day Hospital at Women & Infants' Hospital, Providence, Rhode Island. "Among the most frequent reactions are disbelief and shock. For couples who already have a young child or children at home, an unplanned pregnancy can result in feeling overwhelmed and 'at a loss' as to how they will manage another baby."

Howard, who counsels many families that face unexpected pregnancies, says many families not only worry about finances but housing and space considerations as well as how they will handle the time, energy and fatigue that it takes to take care of a new baby. Luckily, Howard says, these fears are short-lived. "Every couple experiences their own set of unique reactions to the discovery of an unexpected pregnancy.

Talking about their feelings, both positive and negative, with trusted friends and family members can be enormously helpful. Seeking a professional sounding-board may be necessary when the emotional reactions begin to interfere with day-to-day functioning."

All three of Earlene Wilson's pregnancies were unplanned. The 27-year-old from Tampa, Florida says while she was never "upset" about her pregnancies, she and her husband worried about how they would get along with a baby or another baby. "We just realized that there was nothing we could do and that it had happened for a reason," she says. "We did a lot of talking and sharing, and have ended up excited every time!"

Facing emotions
There are a variety of emotions you face just from the new hormones shooting through your body alone. With anxiety on top of it, it can spur a variety of mixed feelings, says Hillary Grill, MSW, a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City who specializes in issues related to reproduction as well as adaptation to parenthood.

"It is most important for unexpectedly pregnant women to know that almost all women experience mixed feelings about pregnancy -- even when the pregnancy is carefully planned," says Grill, also the co-author of Dreaming for Two: The Hidden Emotional Life of Expectant Mothers. "Pregnancy is a monumental physical, psychological and emotional experience whatever the circumstances surrounding it are, and it always takes time to adjust to the identity shift taking place in becoming a mother. In my recently published book about the psychology of pregnancy, I found that most pregnant women shared similar feelings about their sense of self, their relationships and their fears. Women were worried about such issues as who they will be as mothers, their sexuality, careers, sense of independence, how their relationship with their partner will change and fears about not being a good mother."

Missy Bruce* of New York, New York was not ready for her first pregnancy, even at 32. "My initial reaction was sadness, shock, fear. Beyond not being married, we weren't ready for a child. We needed to save more money, further establish our careers, buy a bigger home, et cetera. For the first 24 hours I stayed in bed and cried."

Grill says those feelings are normal when it comes to facing something you don't think you are ready to handle. "Given the magnitude of the changes that pregnancy heralds, it is to be expected that pregnant women feel disappointment and fear in response to these changes," she says. "The expectant mother may feel disappointed about the freedom and independence that she'll lose, she may think about the things she hasn't done yet and wonder if she'll ever have the chance now that she's about to become a mother. It is scary to face an unknown -- like motherhood -- and it's normal to feel afraid of what it will be like, what she'll be like and how she'll cope with the demands and responsibility that having a baby brings."

Dawn Robinson-Walsh, 43, of Bolton, United Kingdom, got pregnant unexpectedly at the age of 41 with her fourth child. Her eldest is now 12. "Basically, we took a risk after too much wine on holiday -- the children for once were all safely asleep," she says. "I thought that as I was over 40, my fertility would be waning a little anyway, although I was stupid to think that especially after such a success rate in terms of getting pregnant -- four children & two miscarriages at this point ? Being married and already having children, we both assumed that if it happened, it happened, but the reality has been harder."

Robinson-Walsh admits her first reaction was devastation and the feeling of being "trapped." She also was concerned about the well being of the baby, being at risk for abnormalities because of her age.

Already the mother of one from a previous marriage, Anna Roberts, 30, of Indianapolis, Indiana, says she took four pregnancy tests with her second pregnancy to make sure they were accurate. "I said 'no, oh no, not now.' I think it was because we just bought a house in February and were already stretching the budget. We had discussed not having any kids and my husband was going to get [a vasectomy]. ? I thought my husband would be very upset," she says. "? We just got my daughter in school and the thought of paying for daycare, et cetera was just overwhelming." But they talked about their fears and eventually overcame them.

"He was actually very happy and said he would work a second job to save money," Roberts says. "We worked out a new budget. Truly to calm ourselves we had to say what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. Slightly corny but it works!"

Feeling bliss
While many moms find themselves at first crying tears of fear, most do eventually find joy in being pregnant and their hearts overflow with love when they hear their baby's first cries.

"Rosanna was born after a quick 20-minute labor/delivery and she filled my heart from the first minute," Robinson-Walsh says. "So the upshot is that having a baby you don't really plan for affects your life, can ruin your plans and is hard work, but it is something you learn to live with and adapt to -- it's not the end of the world, just the start of a new life, a life which I now can't believe I never wanted. She's precious!"

Due with her third baby when her second will be 16 months old, Danielle Tipton of Holiday , Florida looks at her unexpected pregnancy with optimism. "We did at some point want a third child, just not yet," says Tipton, 27. "We tried to just keep things in perspective. That is, after the initial shock wore off. To us a little inconvenience in comparison to a child's life was a small price to pay. There's never a good time to have a baby, but with effort you can make it possible and wonderful. Good communication with the baby's father is, of course, very helpful. Besides, it's a gift. I have a friend who has lost more babies than any woman should. Her last pregnancy was a stillbirth at 32 weeks. She told me that no matter what a bad time it is, it's a gift. There are so many who people who can't have children. That really helped me."

Get help
Once your baby arrives, of course there is an adjustment period for all families. Grill says creating a support system now will help you through your pregnancy so you can confide in your friends and relatives about your ambivalent feelings. "It's also important for [you] to get used to the idea of asking for help not just when it comes to coping with the pregnancy but for the postpartum period when help and support is vital," she says. Grill says hiring a doula or postpartum doula may help if you don't have friends or relatives nearby.

"And, as always, if her negative feelings and thoughts become persistent and pervasive, she should seek professional help," reminds Howard. "For most women, once the initial shock dissipates, and once the more negative feelings and misgivings are expressed, feelings of positive anticipation emerge."

Finances -- making changes in your spending now
If your concerns are simply a matter of finances, perhaps you might consider consolidating credit card debt, asking for forbearance on paying back your school loans for a year and putting off major purchases for a short time. Perhaps you can do without your cable movie channels for a while and if need be, turn off one of your cell phones or lower your calling plan to something a little more affordable. Try to conserve energy in your home, such as turning out the lights when they aren't needed -- it's the little things that can make a difference. You may want to seek the advice of a financial advisor as well, to see where else you can cut back for a brief time. It's all about options and when you look at the entire picture, there is always something we can cut out of our own lives to make room for our new addition! PregnancyAndBaby.com

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