Unplanned Pregnancy, Mental Health, and the Holidays

So, here’s the situation. You’re pregnant. This was not the plan, and now it’s the holidays. You have to see family, go to holiday parties, maybe even church services. And you’re… pregnant. What are people going to think? How many times am I going to have to answer the SAME questions? I might not be ready to answer those questions. What if I don’t tell anyone? Will they notice if I’m not drinking? Should I just skip everything? Your mind is spinning.

Navigating the holidays with an unexpected pregnancy can be tricky. Although there is no perfect formula to use, here are a few tools to make it easier on yourself. These involve setting boundaries, protecting your mental health, and surrounding yourself with support. Let’s work through them one by one. First, boundaries.

Setting Boundaries & Knowing Your Limits

Everyone’s in a different boat. Your situation will never look exactly like someone else’s. Everyone has a different relationship with their families, different expectations set on them, and so on. If you know your pregnancy is going to rock the boat and be the hot topic of conversation this holiday season, make sure you have an idea of your boundaries and limits before you show up at any events. 

Depending on how early you are in your pregnancy, you can simply choose not to tell people. If people don’t already know about your pregnancy, and keeping it that way will make for a more peaceful holiday season, go for it. You aren’t obligated to share the details of your personal life with anyone you don’t want to. (Now, if you are someone who usually drinks at events, you might need to prepare an answer to have ready if questioned when declining alcohol. But other than that, you can go about the holidays as normal.)

On the other hand, if people know that you’re pregnant, you may need to prepare in advance to set a few clear boundaries.

Setting Emotional Boundaries

People may have questions or comments about your pregnancy overall. Only you know what questions you want to answer and what questions you want to decline to answer.  family members may ask questions that seem invasive or try to share labor horror stories and unsolicited parenting advice. Know your limits. Prepare a sentence or two in advance to say when someone does start crossing your line. 

“I appreciate your interest, but I’m not comfortable sharing that information.” 

“I’m trying to stay positive about labor and delivery, so please don’t share that story with me now. Maybe after I’ve gone through it, I’d feel okay to hear it.” 

“My partner and I decided we wanted to keep that information private. Thank you for respecting us in that.” 

If you know you may see certain people who tend to be super negative, you might try to avoid them altogether. If you can’t do that, give them a civil greeting and then move on to safer people. Remind yourself that other people have the right to offer opinions and voice their opinions and concerns… and you have the right to ignore them.

Setting Physical Boundaries

If your bump is starting to show, some physical boundaries might be necessary too. Not sure what it is about a pregnant woman’s belly that makes everyone want to connect with that life by touching her stomach! They seem to think they suddenly have the right to touch her! Your body is still your body, even when there’s another body growing inside. 

It’s your choice whether or not people can touch your belly (or any other part of your body)! If something makes you uncomfortable, say something. It might feel awkward, but you have the right to decide who can touch you and who can’t. Maybe it’s okay for your mom to touch your belly, but not your aunt. Or maybe you are comfortable with one cousin, but not another. It’s okay! Consent about what happens to your body is up to YOU. 

If you see someone moving to touch you in a way you wouldn’t like, you can take a step back and say something such as, “Excuse me, please don’t touch me right now. I am not comfortable with people touching my body.” If you don’t want to be that blunt, you can also say, “I’m feeling really sensitive to touch right now, so I would appreciate it if you didn’t. Thank you for understanding!” Find an expression that works for you. 

Setting boundaries can be uncomfortable in the moment, but in the long term, it sets clear expectations that make for better relationships. Now, some of you might be reading this and thinking, That’s hysterical. No one in my family has respected a boundary a day in my life. If I even tried to say anything like this, they would just laugh at me and do it twice as much! 

That’s unfortunately common. Many people have been raised in environments where they were not allowed to have boundaries. In that case, it’s important to recognize that setting boundaries is not the same as trying to control someone’s behavior. For example, you can tell someone, “I really don’t want any parenting advice right now. Thanks, though.” Understand that some people will go ahead and give you advice anyway. Try to give them the benefit of the doubt and believe that they really are trying to help. However, remind yourself as often as you need to that you don’t have to take anyone’s advice. This is your life. You can listen politely and even ask them questions about their own parenting experience. You can always answer, “That’s really interesting to think about.” Then you can walk away to go get a snack or a beverage to talk to someone else!  

If you worry that your boundaries will not be respected, it is still important to stay firm in them. Remember that boundaries are not about controlling people; they are a way of helping us care for ourselves. However, there is also a time to know your limits. If you know that when you enter a specific space, your boundaries will not be respected, consider not entering that space. Or enter it together with someone who will have your back. Bringing a “buffer” person can be a great help, especially when you’re feeling vulnerable. If that person is also a family member, they can divert conversations and even help you move away from a conversation that’s starting to feel uncomfortable. As you grow to know yourself better, and feel more confident, you will find the best way to navigate these circumstances. Mistakes are okay; we’re all growing. Learning how to set boundaries is one step in that process.

Protecting Your Mental Health

It’s no secret that the holidays are not the best time for everyone’s mental health. In fact, one study showed that 64% of people with mental illness report that holidays make their condition worse (1). Whether or not you suffer from a diagnosed mental condition such as anxiety or depression, your mental health matters. It’s something to care for as much as your physical health. 

The added layer of an unintended pregnancy can further complicate an already challenging moment for mental wellness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness recommends having your “toolbox” of activities and resources to support your mental health. This season might be a time to be extra intentional with these tools. These can include (2): 

  • Having a safe place to express your feelings. This can mean talking with a partner, a friend, a loved one, or a professional counselor. It can also mean journaling. It’s important to have at least one or two places where you can safely release your thoughts and feelings. Feelings can actually stay around longer when we try to resist or deny having them. It can often help the feeling to move on when we just acknowledge and express them.  (If you experience any form of perinatal depression–this includes prenatal and postpartum depression–make sure you seek the help you need. If you need help finding professional counselors in Central or Western Mass, contact our office for a resource appointment.)
  • Exercising your mind and body. Exercise is good for you! Not all of us are athletes, but even a walk around the block or some intentional stretching can relieve stress and improve your mental health. Spend time clearing your mind too, whether through a spiritual practice like prayer or just by turning your phone off for a few hours. Show some love to mind and body. 
  • Rest, relax, recharge. Everyone has a different idea of what it means to relax. Relaxation could mean playing a sport, doing yard work and gardening, or pursuing a creative hobby. Do something that makes you happy and feeds your soul. Rest also includes getting enough sleep! Even more so if you are pregnant, sleep is essential. Even if you’ve never taken naps, this might be a time to start that practice. Sleep can be healing for both mind and body. Prioritize rest, pursue a hobby, and quiet your mind. 
  • Support and love others. This may sound out of place, but doing something for someone else is a great way to get out of your own head. It provides perspective and helps take your mind off your situation. The holiday season is a great time to get involved in community service activities, since there are so many this time of year! Find out what opportunities are available near you.You can collect supplies for local shelters and organizations, gather gifts for kids in need, make Christmas or Hanukkah cards for your local nursing home, or donate food to a nearby food pantry! There are countless ways to spread love this holiday season. 

According to the World Health Organization, about “10% of pregnant women and 13% of women who have just given birth experience a mental disorder, primarily depression” (3). Maternal mental health matters, and disorders are treatable. Although there are many factors that increase the risk of pregnancy-related psychological distress (including circumstances such as poverty, extreme stress, and exposure to violence), anyone can develop a mental health disorder during or after pregnancy. 

One particular risk factor for poor maternal mental health is low social support. At Clearway, we are here to help with that! Increasing access to support during pregnancy enables women to make an empowered choice. Even if this is an unwanted pregnancy, it’s always important to be familiar with the resources available to you. Everyone needs support and to know there are people around us who love us and are in our corner.

Surrounding Yourself With Support

So add this to your “pregnant during the holidays” toolbox: Surround yourself with good support. No one should face an unplanned pregnancy–or any pregnancy, for that matter–alone. Whether or not you have a partner or family supporting you, know that many resources exist all across the state of Massachusetts (and beyond) to empower you in this pregnancy.

At Clearway, we can get you started with a resource appointment to connect you to whatever you may need. You might feel like your situation is just too messy and complicated. You might have thought this would never be you or you just don’t know where to even start.  You had a plan, and this definitely wasn’t it. Whatever the case may be, it’s okay to feel what you are feeling, and we are here to help you through it. No judgment; just support. All our appointments are free and confidential. We want to empower you in  this pregnancy to thrive!  

Whether it’s housing, insurance, prenatal education, prenatal care, material goods, isolation, or something else, our patient advocates are here to listen to you and help you find the right resources for you. We are happy to get you connected to whatever you might need!

If you need to confirm your pregnancy, schedule your pregnancy confirmation appointment today. Meet with a nurse, get a free ultrasound, and get your questions answered. Call 508-438-0144 for more information. 

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

Please note: We do not provide, prescribe, or refer for abortion.

  1. https://www.nami.org/Press-Media/Press-Releases/2014/Mental-health-and-the-holiday-blues
  2. https://namiillinois.org/preserving-your-mental-health-utilizing-all-the-tools-in-the-toolbox/
  3. https://www.who.int/teams/mental-health-and-substance-use/promotion-prevention/maternal-mental-health

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