Carley Schweet, a self-care author, writer, and the founder and editor of Hello Postpartum, shares her experience of unplanned pregnancy, the complicated feelings around the experience and how she feels today.
Trigger warning: unplanned pregnancy
Author’s note: My heart is with those struggling to conceive, those who have lost a child, and those who desperately yearn to become a mother. For the sake of vulnerability, this is my story that I’ve worked hard to own. If you believe this content may be triggering to you, please consider not reading any further.
“I didn’t even know unplanned pregnancies happened anymore,” a friend said to me after sharing that I was five weeks pregnant. And that it very much wasn’t planned.
Becoming unexpectedly pregnant rocked my world. And I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone about how I was genuinely feeling without feeling judged, irresponsible, or completely ungrateful.
This self-induced shame left me paralyzed and disconnected from myself, my pregnancy, and my growing baby.
Earlier this year, my husband and I talked about waiting until 2022 to start trying for our second baby. Secretly, there were many, many days I was okay with one child.
We had a 16 month-old at the time, and I finally felt like myself again after recovering from a traumatic late pregnancy, a birth that went sideways, plus a highly anxiety-riddled postpartum experience. Not to mention a c-section recovery.
The moment I experienced some mid-cycle spotting, it felt like I was punched in the gut by my intuition, yelling, “You’re pregnant.”
So, when I saw the double lines, my reaction was simply, “Oh, f*ck.”
My husband and I were in disbelief, and I even went skiing that afternoon, acting like it was life as usual. I wasn’t ready to face the facts, and I was scared that my life would spiral out of control—again—if I thought too hard about being pregnant.
Here’s the thing: in 2019, studies found that 45% of all pregnancies are unplanned. Yes, almost half. In this context, “unplanned” means either not wanting to become pregnant at any point or wanting to be pregnant but not at this time. I fell into the latter category.
To top that off, another study showed that women with unintended pregnancies are twice as likely to experience postpartum depression, even when factors such as poverty level and education status were considered.
What happened over the next few weeks and months was extremely challenging for me. I continued to feel isolated and alone with my crippling thoughts and even began to slip into depression, all while navigating a very sickly first trimester, a toddler at home, a year-long home renovation, and working self-employed full-time.
Every time I worked up the confidence to confide in someone that I was unexpectedly pregnant, I had hopes of being asked, “Wow. That has to feel challenging/terrifying/difficult. How are you doing with that?”
Instead, my news was met with an enthusiastic “Congratulations!” to which I felt absolutely nothing - not an ounce of excitement. Just simply, nothing.
I can’t blame anyone for their reaction; it’s the norm in our society that we should celebrate every pregnancy, often without considering a mother’s mental or physical health.
I wasn’t having those traditional thrilled, grateful feelings society typically tells newly expecting people to have. Soon, though, I did start to feel something: an immense amount of guilt and shame, and I was too terrified to tell anyone about them out of fear of being seen as a terrible person.
To be honest, I’m still not having those feelings at over 20 weeks pregnant. The gratitude is there, yes, but I am slowly working on the connection to this pregnancy and this growing human. Most days, I am still in disbelief that there’s another baby inside of me.
On the particularly rough days, I let my mind wander, just for a moment, to what it would feel like if I had chosen not to continue this pregnancy or lost it unexpectedly.
Or why, out of everyone in this world, I was deserving of a miracle I didn’t ask to receive?
Anxiety can be a real bitch, sometimes. She hasn’t left my side for over two decades now.
It’s getting better, though—the lack of feelings and the disconnect. I’m working through it and the void is less invasive these days. The emptiness doesn’t swallow me whole or tempt me into believing that I am a bad mom for falling into its grips like it used to.
I’m starting to believe—for once—that good things can happen to me without having to fight for them. That I am worthy of this, that things can sometimes work out with a bit of love, hope, and a hell of a lot of therapy.
I’m coming to peace with the fact that life can change in a matter of moments, things don’t ever go according to plan, and I find myself holding out hope that maybe, just maybe, this baby will help me become the exact person I’ve been seeking all along.
Hello Postpartum is a collection of free, expert-created resources for new mothers.Her work is featured on major media outlets such as FabFitFun, MindBodyGreen, Bustle, Hello Giggles, and Elite Daily.
image credit: joseph beuys