Chaunie Brusie stared at her positive pregnancy test in disbelief; the most coherent sound she could make was a scream. As a college senior — at the cusp of her independent adult life — she was suddenly and unexpectedly pregnant, along with her boyfriend of four years.
As a former valedictorian and now a hardworking nursing student, this wasn’t the way her story was supposed to be written. She wasn’t supposed to be rushing out of class to puke in a garbage can, or frantically trying to fix a wedding dress that was ripped by her bulging belly. She wasn’t supposed to be pregnant when she was practicing “safe sex”. But after five years, three kids, and a fully launched career as an OB nurse/advocate/writer, Chaunie now empowers other young moms to embrace their unexpected lives at TinyBlueLines.com.
So when she read my Parenting.com blog post about young, unwed mothers, the words of one of her friends rang in her ear all over again:
“I just don’t understand how in this day and age, with all the birth control options out there, women get pregnant by accident,” she remembers hearing, while pregnant.
I, too, remember my college professor saying almost the exact same thing in one of my classes, a few months before I’d see my own unexpected positive pregnancy test. And I, too, tucked those words in the back of my brain — only to have them pop out and sucker-punch my fragile confidence every now and then.
How could I allow this to happen? How can any woman allow herself to get pregnant? It wasn’t only a nagging thought in my brain. That was the accusatory tone I was met with over and over as we announced our earlier-than-expected pregnancy. Their eyes and their mouths and their body language shouted: how could you be so stupid?
The fact is that no age bracket is immune from unplanned pregnancies — young, old, married, single — but the numbers are especially high in the 20-something age range. And unplanned pregnancies, especially for younger women, aren’t met with kind words. Everyone from small-town gossipers to Internet commenters immediately jump to a “well you were asking for it” conclusion.
Yes, some unexpectedly pregnant women were being careless. Maybe they thought that they were invincible — that it couldn’t possibly happen to them — or, like the Guttmacher Institute reports, maybe they thought they were infertile for some reason. Or maybe they slipped up, as any hormonally charged person in any socio-economic bracket can slip up.
Some of these women were ambivalent, which is another common finding for researchers. I see evidence of this all the time, just anecdotally: “We weren’t trying, but we weren’t not trying.”
Many 20-something couples biologically want children, but society tells them to work more, accomplish more, and grow up more. Could this be a reason why many unmarried, cohabitating couples are having unplanned pregnancies? This internal conflict between a biological urge and a cultural pressure?
And for some young couples, it’s simply an accident.
“The truth is you can do everything to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. You can be on birth control, and use a condom and spermicide. You can use a diaphragm and use the pull out and pray method. You can even, in some cases I’ve seen as an OB nurse, have a vasectomy and a tubal ligation. But you can still get pregnant,” Brusie wrote for EarlyMama.com.
There are smart, educated, careful young women who get pregnant. It happened to me, it happened to Chaunie — it happens. And when it comes down to it, does it really matter why?
Yet whether it was an accident, ambivalence, or a careless mistake, it’s always the woman’s fault. She allowed herself to get pregnant. She couldn’t keep her legs closed — as one commenter judged. And instead of expressing compassion and support for this very difficult situation that any sexually active person could wind up in, there’s contempt and shame.
I can put on a big smile and say that my unexpected pregnancy turned out to be the single greatest turning point in my life — as can Chaunie, as can many other women. And it’s true.
My life wasn’t ruined, not even slightly, but unexpected pregnancies aren’t something to encourage. My stress levels were off the charts, my self-worth was non-existent, and I spent my entire pregnancy feeling embarrassed and numb. I was keeping my body healthy, but my emotional and mental health was in a dark, scary place.
So while I know all about the judgments and the stereotypes, why do we automatically assume the worst? Why are the fingers pointed at the pregnant women, while the men can slowly back away from the line of fire? And why is there such a lack of compassion and support — from one human to another?
Have you experienced an unplanned pregnancy? Let me know your experience.