With the statistics as high as 50% of pregnancies being unplanned and unexpected, chances are you've experienced that yourself or you definitely know someone else who has. But we often don't hear about it!
I was one of those mothers. My postpartum experience with my first child was very challenging and a dark time for me. Because of that, I decided that I was not going to have another child, even though I had always imagined I would have more than one.
Turns out life had other plans. In a major plot twist to my life story, I found myself in the bathroom of a women's shelter where I had moved a week prior with my 2.5 year old son. On top of the deeply and painfully emotional experience of leaving my marriage, I was staring in shock and disbelief as I watched that second line slowly turned blue.
I personally found that news quite traumatizing and the following weeks and months were some of the hardest of my life.
Whether it's your first or your fourth baby - it's a significant moment when you realize you are unexpectedly carrying a baby.
Some women decide they don't want any children...and are faced with an unexpected pregnancy.
Some women thought they would have children sometime in the future...but it ended up being now.
Sometimes the timing is different than what you wanted, like starting med school, a new job or career or your finding out your partner is being transferred or deployed overseas.
Sometimes you've struggled with conceiving, choose to adopt and find yourself welcoming your own biological child as well.
Sometimes you thought you were done having children and had given away all your baby things when you get the news.
Each person's experience and circumstances are different and deeply personal.
However, here are some gentle considerations around how to move past that initial surprise and explore how to move forward with your feelings around your pregnancy.
Allow all your feelings to be
I speak to many mothers during their pregnancies. And I notice that people often feel a HUGE range of emotions when sharing that their pregnancy is unplanned. From embarrassment to anger to sadness to ambivalence to excitement and to shame.
However you are feeling, it is normal and OKAY!
Allow your feelings to be. Observe them neutrally and with curiosity.
It makes a lot of sense to experience emotions like a rollercoaster - one minute or hour or day you are feeling one way and then the next, you feel something completely different.
You can't selectively numb your emotions. Feel all of your emotions - even the hard ones - because what you resist persists. To get to the lighter, more enjoyable emotions, you need to wade through the hard stuff first.
Your reaction doesn't reflect on you as a mother
Everyone's natural response to pregnancy news is to congratulate you.
When the feeling isn't mutual, we can think there is something wrong with us. This can cause a shame storm where our thoughts spiral more and more, convincing us that we are a terrible mother for having these thoughts or feeling a certain way.
For example, I felt angry towards this little person that came so suddenly into my life. I felt a lot of shame because I thought that reflected badly as a parent.
Not loving every single moment of your motherhood journey does not mean you're a bad mother or parent...it merely means you are human. And being human means you will experience the whole range of emotions - including the hard ones.
How we feel in one moment or one period of time, does not determine how our stories will play out.
It's okay. However you are feeling right now, it's okay.
Understand what your options are
One thing that helped me and also helps others that I've spoken to - is talking over your options.
Understanding that we have choices, gives us a sense of agency and control over our life. There is a big different between feeling as though we have made a CHOICE vs feeling as though we are a victim without any options.
With pregnancy, it comes down to three choices - keep the pregnancy, abortion or adoption. There is no one right decision and it's a deeply personal one. Speaking with a trained counsellor around this choice can help you clarify your thought process if needed.
Talk with someone
There is something so powerful about speaking our inner, private thoughts out loud and having them respected and reflected back to you.
But be mindful about who you speak with. Choose someone who has earned your trust and can calmly and empathetically listen to you share what is going on for you in this vulnerable moment.
It could be a friend, family member or a counsellor or therapist.
Allow yourself to grieve
What you are feeling right now may be grief.
Here is a definition...grief is defined as the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behaviour.
It's a normal and natural emotional response to a loss or change of some kind.
Grief represents an end to what has been familiar to us and we must adapt to that new, and sometimes unwanted, reality.
So in this case, we often have an idea in our mind about how the next couple of years might look. Receiving the news of a coming baby, can dramatically alter those plans. Babies have massive implications on our lives both financially, emotionally, logically and practically.
You may find you need to grief the loss of how you thought life might look, your short term plans or the loss of parts of your life that will change. For example - heading back into the reality of interrupted sleep, diapers, constantly being needed, losing time to be alone or do things that you enjoy doing.
Allow yourself time and space
Give yourself time, a lot of it, to process this. There is no timeline or even a goal around how you "should" be feeling so practice showing compassion for yourself.
Find ways to connect with your emotions or express them in creative ways. Do you like to paint, play music, walk quietly in nature? Find some moments of stillness.
How do you care for yourself? Prioritize and care out more time to care for your needs. Do you enjoy movement, connecting with others, do you need to clean your home, do you need to sit on the couch and binge watch Full House reruns on Netflix? Do what helps you relax and find joy.
Write a letter to your baby
I vividly recall sitting with a counsellor while talking over this news, clearly deciding on my choice to go through with the pregnancy and discussing the implications this will have on my life.
I felt like I was deep in an ocean of turbulent emotions and it was overwhelming. We were winding up our conversation and she scooted her chair a bit closer to me. She asked me to look at her, which I did and she softly said to me - "and now I want you to go and write your baby a letter."
I burst into a fresh round of tears. Later on I settled into bed with my toddler sleeping next to me, opened my notebook to a fresh page and paused. I put my hand on my belly and for the first time, recognized and honoured that there was a little person growing inside of me.
Then I started to write. I wrote about how I was feeling. I wrote about what I was hoping for in the future. I reassured this person that I was going to take care of them. And I told them about the love for them that I already noticed stirring in my heart.
This may or may not be something you are ready to do - but I promise you that it is powerful and a healing activity to do when you are ready to emotionally connect with your baby.
"Hello little one,
This is your momma. I found out that are you coming to join our family..."
With love, light and warmth,
If you are expecting a baby and are feeling nervous or anxious about your upcoming postpartum, send me a message and let's talk about it. There is a lot that you can do in advance to make your upcoming postpartum experience an enjoyable one.