Unplanned Fatherhood: A Guide for Men Facing the Unexpected

One in two pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. Worldwide, as many as 61% of unintended pregnancies end in abortion. Unplanned pregnancies and abortions happen to women of all ages, socioeconomic classes, religious denominations, and cultural groups. 

More often than not, the conversation around unplanned pregnancy and abortion rights revolves primarily around women. Obviously, right? Women are the ones carrying the pregnancy, and only the person who is pregnant has the legal right to make a termination decision. 

Even so, unintended pregnancies impact the pregnant person’s partner too. You may feel like your thoughts don’t matter at all in the decision, since legally, it is hers to make. But that could not be farther from the truth! It took two people to get into this situation, and it will take both of you to navigate this decision as well. If your partner recently became pregnant, you might be experiencing many mixed emotions, some similar to hers and others unique to you. You need a safe space to understand and process your feelings too. It is important to work through both of your feelings toward the pregnancy and approach your response as a team. 

Not all unplanned pregnancies happen in the context of a loving relationship. For women facing single motherhood, see our guide to processing your unplanned pregnancy. For those in a secure relationship, we want to provide you both resources to help you walk this journey. This article contains information and tools for men who are supporting their partner through a pregnancy decision.

Do We Want an Abortion? Making a Decision

So your partner is pregnant, and you don’t know what to do. Maybe her friends and family already know, and they’ve given their opinions. Maybe you’re the only one she’s told. Whatever your situation, know that you’re not alone. The fact that she told you about her pregnancy is an act of trust. Even if you are overwhelmed at the news, try to receive it as an invitation to support her through this process. Take a deep breath. Many couples experience unplanned pregnancy, and you can do this. 

When it comes to a pregnancy decision, the full legal right to decide is in the hands of the pregnant woman alone. This puts male and female partners in very different positions regarding an unplanned pregnancy. A pregnant woman may feel the burden of responsibility and pressure, having the pregnancy in her body and the final decision on her shoulders. Her male partner may feel powerless and lacking any control, even though the pregnancy was a result of his sexual relationship with her. It’s complicated. Sometimes, these feelings can spiral towards conflict and resentment towards each other. 

We want you to navigate your decision honestly, lovingly, and together. Try to focus on the fact that you are a team, working together to resolve a surprising situation. This involves a lot of communication and grace for one another.

You might be experiencing a variety of emotions about the pregnancy. Maybe you feel like it’s your fault she’s pregnant, and you feel guilty. Maybe you feel powerless, because you know she could have an abortion without a word from you, if she wanted. Maybe you don’t feel ready to be a father and just want to run away. Maybe you feel stressed and unprepared, but you can’t tell her that, because she’s going through so much already. 

It is critical to process whatever emotions you are feeling. It’s easy to sweep your emotions under the rug, especially if you feel like you need to be strong for her. But there’s strength in honesty. Maybe this means talking it out with your partner, but it could also mean talking to a friend, counselor, or mentor first. Do you have someone you can talk to who will listen without judgment? Share with them. This will help you have more clarity as you discuss your feelings with your partner. 

When you feel ready to share with your partner, tell her you are here for her and that you want what’s best for her.  Let her know you would like to share how you are feeling about this situation and that you want to hear honestly how she is feeling. Find a time and place without distractions and talk it out. 

Try to process your thoughts and feelings about this unplanned pregnancy with someone you trust.

How to Communicate About a Pregnancy Decision

An unplanned pregnancy can create communication challenges, conflict, and tension that may not have been in the relationship before. Sometimes, how you actually react to a surprise pregnancy is different than you may have previously thought you would. As such, it’s an opportunity to strengthen your communication through healthy practices. 

As the male partner, you will be affected by a pregnancy decision. Still, it is your partner who will accept the greatest consequences. The pregnancy is in her body, and whether she terminates or carries to term, her body will live with the results. Some men accept that it is the woman’s choice, while others find this difficult. 

While it’s okay to have difficult emotions with this decision, it’s not okay to pressure her in any direction. Be honest and truthful about what you are feeling. It’s about balance. Your partner wants your honest support, and most likely, she doesn’t want to feel alone in making this decision. 

When you say, “It’s your choice; I’ll support you either way,” that may feel to her like you just don’t care and are leaving her to make this decision alone. “The reality is that for so many people who are in intimate relationships, they want to engage their partner in their decision-making process,” says one policy-maker (1). According to a 2021 study, men see themselves as most likely to be the one with whom their partners discussed having an abortion, with around 3 in 4 men saying their partner discussed the decision with them. They also see themselves as influential in the decision. This is significant, because although it is her decision, your voice matters. Therefore, use it well. 

Tell her what you really think, but do so without applying additional pressure on her. For example, you can say, “I don’t feel ready to be a father, but I know I could be ready when the time comes. I will arrange my finances and make sure we are solid so you can take time off when you need to. I know you have to make the final decision, but I am here for you. No matter what, I’ll make sure you don’t feel alone.” 

What she needs more than your blind support is your honesty. Tell her she doesn’t have to make one decision or another to please you or to keep you around, but that you want to stand beside her in whatever she needs from you. You are in this together. Speak to her gently and from your heart. 

Some Do’s & Don’ts with Your Partner 

DO: Listen to your partner.

When we are in a tense situation, it’s easy for our listening skills to fall off the wagon. But now more than ever, it’s important to really hear your partner’s heart. Listen to understand, not just to respond. Ask questions. If she wants an abortion, try to understand why. Are there certain fears driving her decision? Can you help alleviate some of those fears? 

DO: Stay calm.

Take some deep breaths. She needs your support now more than ever. She may be the one who is pregnant, but this decision has consequences for both of you. Try to cultivate a safe space to discuss this decision and set the tone of calmness as you decide.

DO: Talk about it. 

Not only with each other, but invite trusted loved ones into this conversation. An unplanned pregnancy can induce a lot of stress. Trying to do it all by yourself can increase that stress even further. Don’t keep it all inside. 

DO: Express yourself honestly. 

It’s normal to have feelings like anger, frustration, and fear. But remember, these are feelings, not facts. Remind your partner that she is not alone. Explain that you are working through your emotions too so that you can do the best job possible of supporting her. 

DO: Gather all the facts.

Pregnancy decisions are not all about emotions, but good information as well. Learn about all your pregnancy options. Maybe you are thinking of abortion or parenting, but have you considered adoption? Schedule an appointment at Clearway Clinic for a free pregnancy test, ultrasound, pregnancy education, and resource referrals list. We will talk through all your options with you using evidence-based information. 

DON’T: Ignore your feelings. 

Your feelings are real. Sometimes men aren’t given permission to express their feelings out of the pressure to be strong. But if you ignore your true feelings, it will lead to more regret in the long term. Give yourself permission to acknowledge your fears, insecurities, and emotions regarding this pregnancy. By acknowledging your fears, you take power away from them. You can say, “Even though I feel this fear, I am able to overcome it.” 

DON’T: Bail. 

Sometimes, our fight-or-flight instinct tells us “flight”–run away, NOW! But in the long-term, this is not the solution. It’s better to face your situation head-on. You may want to run or hide from this situation, but you have to deal with this decision one way or another. It is much healthier for you both if you stay present, no matter how hard or scary it is. 

DON’T: Pressure her. 

Applying pressure will only push her away, possibly into a regretful situation. You will do better to listen to each other and work together as a team.

Men & Abortion Grief

Maybe you are reading this, and you’ve already been through an abortion experience with a partner in the past. Many men experience the disenfranchised grief of abortion, as they may have conflicting emotions between relief at the termination of pregnancy and lingering disturbing thoughts. “Common experiences among men whose partners have an induced abortion include ambivalence, loss, grief, guilt, self-reproach, a feeling of responsibility, depression, anger, sexual dysfunction, depression, and posttraumatic stress response (Coyle & Rue, 2010, 2014, 2015b; Kero & Lalos, 2000; Mattinson,1985)” (2). Research has shown that for years and decades post-abortion, men can experience intense grief over loss of potential fatherhood. 

Although this is not everyone’s experience, it is important not to dismiss the possibility. Often in the heat of the abortion debate, the humanity of men and women who experience abortion is forgotten. Grief is a reality that many face post-abortion, and if this is the case for you, it’s important to get support. Support After Abortion has programs particularly for men to process their grief after an abortion experience. 

Whatever happens, know you are not alone. There are men who have become dads at an unexpected time, and it’s become the best thing that ever happened to them. There are couples who have gone through an abortion experience and healed from it. Wherever you stand today, there is hope for a brighter future. So take hold of this moment, fears and all, and work with your partner as you navigate this unplanned pregnancy together.

If you and your partner are facing an unplanned pregnancy, schedule an appointment today for a free pregnancy test, ultrasound, and information on all your options. We are here for you.

Reviewed by Amy G., L.I.C.S.W.

  1. Bonney Corbin, MSI Australia’s Head of Policy,  https://www.healthymale.org.au/news/partner-men-abortion-termination
  2. Quote from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/intense-emotions-and-strong-feelings/202209/the-silent-post-abortion-grief-men.

Please Note: The information in this article is not meant to replace the advice of a mental health professional. Schedule a visit with a mental health provider to learn more.

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