Shock. Fear. Concern. Those aren’t typically the words a healthy, 30-year-old married woman would use to describe her reaction to seeing two pink lines on a pregnancy test. But Myndee Corkern, a writer and regular contributor to the New Orleans Moms Blog, part of the City Moms Network, already had two young kids—and wasn’t planning to have more—when she found out she was expecting again. So instead of feeling excited this time around, her mind immediately filled with worry. Would her family have enough room in their house for three kids? Would there be enough money? And most importantly, would she be able to give all her children enough attention and love?
Corkern needn’t have worried—at least not about the last point. The birth of her now 2-year-old son, Dylan, turned out to be a great joy for her family, and although they still struggle with day-to-day expenses and household chaos, she says she wouldn’t trade her three kids for anything in the world.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, just over half (51 percent) of pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned. And beyond that, many of those women are going at it alone: 38 percent of women who gave birth in 2010 were unmarried, separated or divorced, according to the Census Bureau.
Everyone’s circumstances are unique, but whether you are facing an unplanned pregnancy alone or have a strong support system, you can and will get over the shock (eventually) and come to embrace your surprise. Here’s how …
Grow into your feelings
The unexpected responsibility of motherhood may take a while for you to wrap your head around. “There is no timetable for excitement,” says Deborah Issokson, PsyD, a reproductive health and healing counselor in Wellesley, Massachusetts. “Ambivalence is quite common and expected. Some women will find it fascinating to learn about fetal development and see their ultrasound scans. Some women will feel excitement at their first sensation of fetal movement. Some women get excited as they imagine the baby or fantasize about life as a mother. But not all women will get excited or feel bonded until after the baby is born. And that’s OK.”
Corkern often felt guilty for not being excited throughout the nine months of her unexpected pregnancy. “We were so fixated on the negative aspects … that we were unable to focus on the positive, which of course brought a hefty dose of guilt,” she recounts. “I was overwhelmed with guilt for not being excited. Didn’t I know how many people would give anything to be pregnant right now? How could I not appreciate this? I remember sitting and rocking my [second-born], crying and telling him I loved him and would not replace him, all the while being excited about giving him the opportunity to be a big brother. The emotional roller coaster was making me sick.”
A gender-reveal party and picking out baby names eventually turned things around, and Corkern got over the guilt just in time for her third baby’s birth. “All I know is that slowly but surely the fears were replaced with acceptance, the dread was overtaken by joy, and the guilt was all but gone,” she recalls.
Share your secret
Once you have your own feelings under control, you’ll feel more confident in your future and likely more comfortable letting family and friends know that you’re expecting.
But remember, Issokson notes, you don’t owe anyone other than your partner any details about the context or circumstances of the conception. “This is very personal information, and only the woman will know when to tell and whom to tell,” she says.
Ready to give it a go? Try prefacing your announcement by saying that you know the news will come as a surprise, but that you would appreciate support—not judgment —at this time. If someone says something hurtful or doesn’t seem especially happy for you, keep in mind that he or she, like you, is probably in shock and will likely come around later.
If you’re trying to keep the news under wraps and have a blabber in your circle, beware. “Be mindful that while you can ask for confidentiality, you have no control over whether people will hold this information in confidence,” Issokson warns. Remember, for close friends and family, it’s always best to hear big news directly from you, not Facebook.
Build your village
Luckily, Corkern’s friends were extremely supportive and encouraging throughout her pregnancy, especially in understand- ing why she wasn’t as excited as she was for the births of her first two children. And those are the types of people you want to surround yourself with during the pregnancy and after your baby is born, especially if you are going at it alone, Issokson advises. “Seeking out friends or family members who may be willing and able to be consistent significant others during pregnancy is helpful,” she says.
Don’t have a network built up close by? Issokson says you’ll meet new mamas if you sign up for community classes like prenatal yoga or other childbirth prep-aration sessions, and these fast friends can provide key emotional support. An added bonus: You’ll already have playmates for your baby-to-be lined up.
If your pregnancy was unplanned, you’ll be shouldering a lot of stress over the next nine months or so. Although it’s normal to feel anxious or worried, don’t let the emotions consume you—it’s not healthy for you or baby.
Issokson says it’s more important now than ever to take good care of your physical self. “Get enough sleep, eat nutritiously, exercise to the extent you are comfortable, and get regular prenatal care,” she advises. “Make time for yourself to relax, engage in enjoyable activities and connect with family or friends.”
Feeling especially stressed? Speaking with a counselor might be a good idea, as he or she can provide a neutral ear. “Counseling can provide a safe and confi- dential environment in which to explore and discuss the various stressors and con-flicts arising from this unexpected preg- nancy,” Issokson says. “It can also help a couple navigate all that needs to be negotiated and decided upon in preparation for parenting.”
Relax and enjoy the ride
Reflecting back on her own experience, Corkern thinks that having three kids in four years ultimately made her a more relaxed parent and allowed her to enjoy each day more.
As for her advice for new moms-to-be in similar situations? “There’s nothing I can say that will help someone [facing an unplanned pregnancy] get over the shock and get excited. That has to happen in time,” she says. “What I would say is that it’s OK to be shocked, scared or sad. Those feelings are normal, and most importantly, they will change. The sadness will turn to joy, the shock to excitement, and the fear will be overtaken by love for your unexpected miracle.”