“I can’t believe she got pregnant… didn’t they use birth control?”
“You’re so young… Aren’t you going to finish school?”
“Really? You want a home birth? Is that even safe?”
It’s not easy navigating an unexpected pregnancy—any pregnancy, for that matter. On top of that, there’s the sound of other people’s opinions constantly ringing in your ears or flashing before your eyes on social media.
Your aunt telling you her labor horror story.
Your parents suddenly making a long list of “dos and don’ts” about raising a baby in their house.
Gossipy neighbors whispering about the fact that you’re pregnant at all.
Other people’s opinions can be overwhelming. No matter how independent we think we are, each of us is impacted by the relationships in our lives. And these relationships are important! They make up our support systems and are key to our success. That said, they can also be the source of many unsolicited opinions, leading to significant anxiety and stress.
You can never control what other people say or think. However, you can control how you handle these opinions. Setting healthy boundaries is a key step for successfully navigating an unexpected pregnancy.
What is a Healthy Boundary?
The first thing to define is what a healthy boundary is in the first place. Boundaries are lines we set that define what is and isn’t appropriate in our personal relationships. They are invisible lines made clear through communication. Author Henry Cloud describes boundaries by saying, “Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership” (1).
Depending on how you grew up, you may or may not be too comfortable with the idea of setting boundaries. Sometimes, our families of origin made us feel guilty, embarrassed, or even punished us for expressing what we really wanted. If that’s your story, it may take some extra effort to feel comfortable setting the boundaries you need. However, it’s important to remember that even if setting boundaries is uncomfortable in the moment, it creates more comfort in the long term. Short-term pain for long-term gain.
Lots of areas of our lives need boundaries in order for us to function healthily: our time, our finances, our jobs, our mental and social capacity. It’s a natural part of growing up and growing into our own sense of ourselves. An unplanned pregnancy needs boundaries too. In order to process and experience that moment in a healthy way, it’s important to have clear boundaries established with the people in your life.
In this article, we’re going to talk about some practical ways to set boundaries before and after you work through your pregnancy decision.
It’s Your Pregnancy Decision
An unplanned pregnancy can lead to a variety of thoughts and feelings. For some, the decision might be clear. Many women choose to continue their pregnancy without questioning it, even if the pregnancy was a surprise. Others are decisive in their abortion decision. According to the Guttmacher Institute, roughly 61% of unplanned pregnancies worldwide end in abortion (2).
For others, however, an abortion decision is not an easy one. Many women experience mixed emotions about their pregnancy. Making a decision while in a state of internal conflict is not easy. For this reason, setting boundaries on who gets to have input in your decision is essential.
Every person experiencing an unplanned pregnancy is different. Some choose to invite others into their pregnancy decision, and others don’t. Often, it is helpful to share your thoughts and feelings with those who are close to you, love you, and support you. But we all know that sometimes people who love us still don’t know how to best support us. We have to navigate these moments with wisdom and grace.
You should know that legally in Massachusetts, if you are over 16 years old, only you can decide whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. (If you are a minor, the state of Massachusetts enforces the Parental Consent Abortion Law or Judicial Bypass Law. This means that if you are under 16, you must have either parental consent or a bypass from a judge in order to obtain an abortion (3).) This matters because while the opinions of your family, partner, or friends may matter to you, they are ultimately not definitive. The only opinion that is definitive in this situation is yours. So make sure the decision you make is authentic to you, because only you can make it.
How Do I Know What Boundaries to Set?
The first thing to consider in setting boundaries is whose voices matter in your life. Some people matter in this decision; others don’t. Evaluate: Whose voices are just noise? Whose voices are discouraging you and making your pregnancy that much harder? It’s okay to cut those unwanted voices out. Take an hour and go through all your social media. Is there anyone that you need to delete? Protect your peace throughout your pregnancy.
Take care of yourself and your child by making sure the support system you have around you truly cares for you. Your support system should be made up of people who know you, love you, and will empower you to raise your child. Many women find that pregnancy helped them set boundaries for the first time in their lives. Feeling like they were protecting themselves and their baby gave them the courage to draw some boundary lines.
Some people do need to stay in your life. And that’s a good thing! Hopefully they are people who can support and encourage you, even if conflicts sometimes come up. For example, if you are living with your parents, your pregnancy may have caused some tension in your home. However, if your plan is to continue living there, then they will inevitably be a part of the baby’s life. They may be frustrating, but they are here to stay. Sometimes, the people in our lives respect our boundaries only when they see we mean what we say. So, if you stay true to yourself and the decision you feel is best, you might find that the important people, who at first opposed you, come around to really support you.
With these types of necessary relationships, set up scheduled conversations before the baby arrives about roles and expectations. While your parents may be involved in the child’s life, you are that child’s parent. You are raising him or her. Communicate as clearly as possible what that means for you and your parents both. Try to have grace for them—this is a new situation for them too. Thank them for the support they are willing to offer, but set clear boundaries within the context of mutual respect and gratitude. Boundaries can involve whatever topics matter to you–discipline, sleep habits, feeding routines, family visits, and more.
If you are co-parenting, the conversation about boundaries is important too. Schedule a time (or multiple times) to meet and discuss expectations for shared parenting responsibilities. Many arguments and issues can be avoided by clear and respectful communication. Try to work together on what you expect from one another and come to common ground before the baby comes. That way, when the child is born, you are both ready to prioritize her or his well-being over any issues that may come up between you.
How to Set Your Boundaries
Setting boundaries may feel unnatural at first, but the more you practice, the better it will be! Prepare and memorize phrases that work for you based on the boundaries you need to set. For example, some people may feel inclined to share their personal experiences with miscarriage, family planning, morning sickness, labor, stretch marks, fertility issues, weight gain, weight loss, or a thousand other pregnancy-related topics. Some of those topics may be less comfortable for you than others.
Some of the boundaries we need to set are verbal/emotional. Let’s say you are dealing with fear or anxiety related to childbirth, and someone starts telling you their labor horror story. It’s okay to (politely) interrupt them and say, “I’d be happy to hear your story, but can we wait until after I give birth? I’m feeling nervous about my delivery and hearing negative stories doesn’t help. Thank you for understanding.” You can practice this sentence in the mirror if you have to! Remind yourself that it’s okay for you to clearly communicate what you need to those around you.
There also may be physical boundaries you need to set. Oftentimes, when someone is pregnant, people want to touch her belly, with or without permission. If that makes you feel uncomfortable, you don’t have to let it happen just to avoid an awkward moment. You can remove their hand from your belly, and tell them that you would prefer they didn’t touch you. There are various ways to communicate this; find one that works for you. Maybe you can say, “I’m uncomfortable with touch right now and would feel better with a little more space.” You can also offer an alternative, saying, “I’d rather you just talk to my baby or watch as they kick.” Or you can simply say, “Please don’t touch me.” You don’t have to offer an explanation if you don’t want to. It’s your body, and you should be comfortable in it.
Lastly, there are boundaries with your time and energy. Your body changes A LOT during pregnancy, and sometimes you may not feel up to everything you used to do. It’s okay to prioritize rest for yourself! That may mean fewer social events or time commitments. If people are asking too much from you, even if it’s close family or friends, it’s okay to say, “My body and mind are going through a lot right now. I’m not sure I can add (fill-in-the-blank) to my plate too. I appreciate you thinking of me, and I will let you know what I am able to do.” Or even, “I’m kind of busy growing a human right now!” When you respect yourself and your needs, it’s easier to ask others to respect you too. Remember you are worthy, and your body is doing an amazing thing right now!
At Clearway, we offer free pregnancy confirmation services and referrals for local resources according to your needs. If you are exploring your pregnancy options, we can provide you the information you need to make a well-informed decision. Schedule an appointment today or call our office at 508-438-0144 for more information.
Reviewed by Amy G., L.I.C.S.W.