So there you are, standing in the bathroom staring at the little white stick with the two lines and you cannot believe your eyes. You’re pregnant, and you sure weren’t expecting that!
Before you start to panic – how did that happen?! How will you cope? What will he say? – just remember that you’re in very good company.
We really mean that. Australia has one of the highest rates of unplanned pregnancy in the western world with about half of pregnancies accidental or badly timed.
Planning to have a bub is a big deal in itself, but when you get blindsided by the news, it can take a little extra time to get your head – and your life – around it.
At least that was the experience for Elanya van Heerden who fell pregnant unexpectedly at 27. Elanya says, “I was a high-flying career woman that had started getting my health and fitness on track for the first time in my life,” she explains.
“When the (pregnancy test) results showed positive, I felt like my world tilted on its axis. My husband was so happy he just wanted to hug and kiss me, but it took me about a week to get used to the idea.”
A roller coaster of emotions
Elanya’s one of the lucky ones. Many couples take a lot longer says clinical psychologist Vera Auerbach of Gymea Lily Psychotherapy Centre.
“Many women think they can avoid falling pregnant in this day and age, so it comes as a surprise,” she says. “There are so many serious decisions couples have to make, such as childcare, work and paying for the mortgage – and this comes on top of the fact that there’s a lot of internal, emotional stuff going on.”
That ‘emotional stuff ’ can include everything from shock, disbelief, anger and remorse to acceptance, anticipation and delight, and sometimes all in the space of a few minutes!
Vera says mixed emotions are incredibly healthy. “It’s the women who aren’t ambivalent that psychologists really worry about. Showing ambivalence means you’re getting someone with realistic expectations who’s in touch with the pros and cons of pregnancy and baby and what it means to her life. If you’re too idealised about this baby, the reality – which is not all hunky-dory – will be much harder to bear.”
When the shock subsides
So how do you work through the initial shock and/or excitement and come to a realistic view of what lies ahead? It sounds obvious, but a good first step is to sit down with the father of the baby and explore how you both feel.
“You made this baby together, it’s a shared thing,” says Vera, “so that person ideally should be the one who emotionally partners a woman through any feelings of shock or grief, and who does the conversations with her as she tells other people she’s close to.”
Of course, the dad-to-be will also run the gamut of emotions as he comes to terms with the news, and if he’s at all negative, his reaction can really impact on you. “Talk about those feelings,” urges Vera. “You might also talk to friends or your own mother, whoever your emotional safety net is.”
Amanda suggests that women write down how they’re feeling when they make the decision to have their bub – it could come in handy later when you’re in the throes of parenting: “Reminding herself of the positives of her decision to proceed with the pregnancy, and richly imagining these play out in the future can help her to stay connected to her decision.”
Always be conscious of how you discuss the issue in front of others, especially children, and if you’re after more confidential or objective advice you can also talk to your GP, family planning centre or a qualified counsellor who can provide antenatal mental health support.
Don’t hesitate to seek help, suggests Vera, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Residual feelings of resentment or regret should also be worked through long before bub arrives, she says.
“Resentment can become like a cancer and poison your relationship with the baby. If you haven’t fully worked that through it can get communicated to them: ‘Because of you we didn’t get that house on the water’ or whatever it is. That’s not fair on the child because they didn’t choose this. The work needs to be done while you’re pregnant so you’re really ready to receive this little human being and give it your best shot.”
Thankfully, pregnancy is the ideal time for that work. “I think pregnant women can do three or four years of therapy in nine months,” explains Vera. “It’s such an inwards-turning process that you’re really good at looking at your internal emotions. ”
And if it doesn’t, biology usually wins out. “Luckily, once you give birth, all of the healthy hormones take over,” says Vera, “and you get the time to get to know your baby, bond with them and fall in love.”
Elanya, who now has two kids, can vouch for this: “I had my daughter and not only fell in love with her, but also with motherhood!