Unplanned Pregnancy: Your Guide to Processing and Coping with the News

Life is full of curveballs. Whether that’s a sudden breakup, a dramatic shift in the stock market, or even a worldwide pandemic, we never know quite what’s coming. 

But we love making plans, don’t we? We write in our planners week by week, schedule our Google calendars full of meetings and events, and set one-year, five-year, and ten-year goals. We’re going places! And when something as significant as an unexpected pregnancy disrupts that very organized life plan, whew. That’s a lot to process. Many of us thought we would graduate, launch our career, enter a loving relationship, adopt our first dog, and put a down payment on our starter home before beginning family planning. Throw an unintended pregnancy into that mix and often, our knee-jerk reactions are feelings like panic, anxiety, and fear. And these feelings are normal. We promise. 

Thankfully, you are also incredibly strong and brave. You are designed to be adaptable and flexible; as humans we are natural problem solvers. We get to decide–will my fear control me, or will I take charge over my fears? When we choose practices that help us process in healthy ways, we can gain the necessary perspective to make the best decisions possible. 

I’m Pregnant… Now What?

Back to the topic at hand. So you’re dealing with a surprise pregnancy. Maybe your form of contraception failed; maybe you weren’t on birth control at all. Either way, you’re here now. What should you do?

Step 1: Breathe

First, breathe. Feel what you need to feel. Accept those feelings. If this unintended pregnancy is stressing you out, you might feel like you need to deal with it right away. While you do need to decide what to do with your pregnancy, try to give yourself a second. You have 3 main options. Adoption? Abortion? Parenting? It’s a big decision, so take some time to process. Don’t rush yourself. You may feel like you have to solve this problem today, but chances are, you can give yourself at least a few days (if not a few weeks) to process. Determine when you need to make your pregnancy decision by asking these questions: 

  • When was the first day of my last menstrual period? This should give you a rough estimate of how far along you are. If you are considering a chemical abortion (the abortion pill), the abortion pill is FDA-approved up to 10 weeks gestation. That means if you are 6 weeks from your last menstrual period, you still have 3-4 weeks to make your decision. That’s almost a full month! So try to breathe. 
  • What are the abortion laws in my state? In Massachusetts, you can access abortion up to 24 weeks into your pregnancy, with some exceptions later than that. Although medical abortions are unsafe past 10 weeks, surgical abortions remain an available option. All that to say, most likely, you have time. Family planning, pregnancy decisions, abortion, adoption, parenting–these are big decisions to make. You don’t have to rush, so take time to make the best decision you can. Before pursuing abortion, it is important to verify gestational age (the age of your pregnancy based on your last menstrual period), pregnancy viability (making sure you’re not having a miscarriage), and that the pregnancy is inside the uterus (aka, not an ectopic pregnancy). 
  • Schedule a free ultrasound at Clearway Clinic to confirm your pregnancy and talk to one of our nurses about your options. (Estimates show that anywhere from 10% to over 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, so it’s important to confirm your pregnancy is viable.) 

Maybe you have a few days to make your decision, or a few weeks. Either way, that’s enough time to organize your thoughts, plans, and options to make a well-informed decision. Listen to your feelings–do you feel shocked? Angry? Nervous? Excited? Confused? Worried? Any feeling you feel is okay. If your feelings contradict each other, that’s okay too. It’s your news, your emotions, and your pregnancy! Give yourself space to experience your emotions. But feelings aren’t everything. Give your feelings a voice, but don’t let them make your decision for you. Emotions don’t have vision for your life–you do. Below we will outline some ways to help you take charge of your feelings, and not the other way around.

Step 2: Buy Prenatal Vitamins

This one might sound a bit silly. Why would I buy prenatal vitamins if I don’t even know whether or not I want an abortion? Buying prenatal vitamins is a simple, practical step that empowers you to take charge of your unplanned pregnancy and show love to your body. Whether your pregnancy ends in miscarriage, abortion, or childbirth, taking care of your body matters from day one. Good prenatal care is an important part of having a healthy body during and after your pregnancy journey, no matter where that journey takes you. 

This step will also empower you. If this pregnancy was unplanned, you may feel paralyzed by indecision. To get yourself out of that state, sometimes all it takes is accomplishing one practical, positive task related to your pregnancy. So run to the store and buy those vitamins! It is one small step to reject your fear and take back control of your pregnancy.

Step 3: Identify & Process

Take some time to assess your situation overall. Before you assess how this unplanned pregnancy will impact your relationships, your finances, or whatever other part of your life, think about how it will impact you. Just you, the amazing, awesome person you are. 

  • What are some obstacles you have faced in the past? How did you overcome them? 
  • What are your strengths? 
  • What are your goals? Where do you see yourself 10 years from now? 
  • Who do you want to be? How would motherhood fit into that? 

Sometimes, life’s unexpected challenges teach us something about ourselves. In the moment, it’s normal to experience some anxiety, fear, or psychological distress. But we are bigger than our moments. Self-reflection and making decisions out of a solid sense of self can equip us to make strong choices. Take the Pregnancy Clarity Quiz to learn more about how unplanned pregnancy could affect your particular personality type.

Step 4: Face your Fear

Once you have thought about your identity–who you are and who you want to be–it’s time to reflect on what you’re afraid of. What about this unplanned pregnancy scares you? What’s the source of that fear? Your fears are real, but fears on their own are not a stable ground for decision-making. Oftentimes, fears never manifest into realities, so making decisions based on fear can lead to significant regret. It is better to make decisions based on good information and thoughtful consideration than as a reaction to fear. 

The following exercise is a tool to help you process your fears. It’s great to do alone or together with a trusted friend, counselor, or partner. Use these questions to measure your fears about your unintended pregnancy alongside your reality: 

  • Identify what you are worried about with this unplanned pregnancy.  
  • How likely is it that what you are worried about will happen? (Give examples & evidence.)
  • If your worry comes true, what’s the worst possible outcome? 
  • If your worry comes true, what’s the most likely outcome? 
  • If your worry comes true, what are the chances that you will be okay in…
    • One week? (%) 
    • One month? (%) 
    • One year? (%) 
    • Five years? (%) 

Step 5: Weigh your Options

Now, it’s time to consider your pregnancy decision options. There are 3 options for an unplanned pregnancy: adoption, abortion, or parenting. Use these tips as you make your decision. 

  • Listen to others’ stories. Whatever you may be feeling, you are not the first person to go through this! One in four women has had an abortion (1). Up to 20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage (2). One in five women experience some type of maternal mental health disorder. Listening to others’ experiences can help you feel less alone. Ask questions and learn from people you trust. Learn about people’s postpartum experiences, valuable social support systems, adoption journeys, or consequences following abortion choices. She Might is a great resource full of stories and advice from diverse women who have faced unplanned pregnancies at all different stages of life.
  • Make a list of pros and cons. A list will slow you down and help you organize what’s going on inside your head. Mental clutter turns to clarity when it leaves your head and goes onto a piece of paper. Make a list for each option that’s in front of you. For example, you may feel sure that you would never consider adoption. But listing the positives and negatives of adoption and listening to adoption stories could help give you a new perspective on that possibility. 
  • Get accurate information. Nowadays, we get most of our information from social media. But surprise, surprise–lots of times, that info is not exactly the most accurate! Make sure your information is reliable. If you are considering abortion, learn about the different procedures and the impact each has on your body. Schedule an appointment today to get accurate, up-to-date abortion education from our trusted nurses.
  • Ask for support. Is there anyone in your life who you trust to have your best interest at heart? Maybe it’s your partner, mom, friend, or therapist. Whoever it may be, share this moment with them. Ask to process with them. It’s great if they can just listen while you work through emotions regarding your unplanned pregnancy. Social support is key to navigate every life transition well, including that of an unintended pregnancy. And even if you can’t think of anyone, we are here for you. We are rooting for you. Our services are free, and you are welcome in our clinics anytime. We will be happy to network you with other support systems to help with your specific needs, whether those are financial advice, housing, baby supplies, or something else. You don’t have to do this alone. 
  • Remember–this is your pregnancy. It might feel like the world is shouting at you what you should do. But this is your pregnancy, and you get to decide what to do. At Clearway, we are here to support and empower you with good information and a safe space to process. You can do this!   

Don’t Forget to be Kind to Yourself 

Know that in situations like unplanned pregnancy, it is normal to change your mind multiple times. It’s normal for feelings to go up and down on their own emotional rollercoaster. There are countless factors involved, and your situation is unique. No one’s pregnancy journey is exactly the same. That is why it’s important to get good information and to take your time when making the decision in front of you. Know yourself, evaluate risk factors, and get support. 

Thankfully, in some cases, you can change your mind even when it may feel too late. For example, imagine you took the abortion pill, but then you decided you want to continue your pregnancy. It is possible to reverse the abortion process if you have not yet completed your medication abortion. If you take the abortion reversal pill within 24-48 hours of your first abortion pill, there is a chance to continue your pregnancy healthily. Call the abortion pill reversal hotline today if this is the case for you. 

As another example, imagine that at the beginning of your pregnancy, you wanted to parent. But later into your pregnancy, you realized that wasn’t the best option for you. You can always contact an adoption agency and begin the journey towards adoption.

Unexpectedly Pregnant: Show Yourself Grace

Unplanned pregnancies happen all the time, all over the world, to all types of people. It is estimated that one in two pregnancies are unplanned, and many of those happen to women on birth control! So don’t feel like you are alone. What you’re going through is normal, and it will be okay. Allow yourself grace; accept support. Speak positively to yourself. Sometimes, the best things in life are unexpected. You are able to do amazing things, and don’t forget to celebrate your body for all that it can do! You are awesome. 

Clearway Clinic provides free, confidential medical consultations for pregnant women working through their pregnancy decision options. Our services include free focused dating ultrasounds. Schedule your free visit today.

Reviewed by Lynn B., BSN, RN

  1. See https://www.guttmacher.org/news-release/2017/abortion-common-experience-us-women-despite-dramatic-declines-rates for more info. 
  2. See https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pregnancy-loss-miscarriage/symptoms-causes/syc-20354298 for more info.
  3. See also https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-psychology-of-dealing-with-an-unplanned-pregnancy#options-to-consider.
  4. See also https://www.shemight.com/unexpected-pregnancy/pregnant-and-dont-want-to-be.

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