Removing The Stigma Of Unplanned Pregnancy
Photo credit: KidStock/Blend Images/Getty Images
I notice these things, simply for one reason:
I had an unplanned pregnancy.
And you know what? It's none of anyone's business how it happened.
Was it planned?
I understand the natural curiosity of the human condition, I really do. But for some reason when we see certain types of women — say, the very young or the very professional —and wonder if their pregnancy was planned or unplanned, we are doing a disservice not only to them, but to pregnant women everywhere.
In short, we are saying that pregnancy is only acceptable in the most perfect of situations.
Which, as any mother knows, is a situation that simply doesn't exist.
Unplanned does not equal unwanted
One of my favorite unplanned pregnancy stories happened to my cousin, a teacher and blogger at B Sides: The Amateur Mom. She was grocery shopping with her then-infant son, casually tossing broccoli on to the conveyor belt and trying to calculate if she had purchased enough for the sale price, when the clerk gestured to her baby.
"So was he planned?" she asked.
Um, what? In what world is that question ever OK? And what does it even mean? It's as if, by placing so much focus on the planned vs. unplanned children, we are trying to gauge their worth. Or, possibly, the worth of their mothers. Because everyone knows that pregnancy is always the woman's fault.
When I had my unplanned pregnancy during my senior year of college, it obviously drastically affected my life, to the point where I saw a need to write a book about it and connect with other women who were facing motherhood a bit unexpectedly. But what affected me the most about my experience with unplanned pregnancy was the expectation that I shouldn't be happy about my baby. Which, in a twisted sort of way, made me question if I did deserve to be happy.
It took me a long time, but I finally realized the truth about unplanned pregnancy: It doesn't always mean an unwanted baby.
A new normal
The truth is, unplanned pregnancy is the new norm. And while, of course, unplanned pregnancy doesn't just happen to couples or women who aren't married, out-of-wedlock pregnancies and births are a huge majority of births to women under the age of 30.
So what are we to do with this information?
For one thing, we can stop treating unplanned pregnancy as a life-threatening epidemic. It happens; and while it happens more to younger women (nature does sort of work that way), it can happen at any age and in any economic situation.
Our need to place pregnancy on a checklist of life is actually very detrimental; we want women to become mothers, but only after they have traveled and purchased a home and saved for retirement and found a husband and are established in a career they love, but definitely before they have to worry about IVF or maybe they should just freeze their eggs right from the beginning.
The pressure is absurd. How on earth is any one woman suppose to accomplish all of that, let alone every woman who wants to be a mother?
Life doesn't work that way, and I think that our current system of support for mothers reflects that. We don't have colleges and universities that adequately support pregnant students and parenting resources. Our workplaces want to peg taking care of children as unprofessional — and maternity leave? That's a luxury, not a right.
Acknowledging without judging
I don't want to disregard the fact that unplanned pregnancy can be a tough situation to encounter — trust me, I know this firsthand. But I also don't want to make unplanned pregnancy harder than it needs to be. I want women to be able to walk through the grocery store without feeling judged for having a baby with them. I want women to realize that they don't owe anyone an explanation for their childbearing choices. I want women to feel empowered to make the choices they want to make for their lives and their careers and not buy into the notion that an unplanned pregnancy is always a mistake to be avoided at all costs.
Because I have one very special 6-year-old example of why an unplanned pregnancy can change your life forever —
In the very best way.