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How to deal with an unplanned pregnancy

Things don’t always go as planned, and even the best birth control can fail. Keep calm and explore your options.

by By J. Parker Dockray, MSW

So you’re pregnant… and you aren’t sure how to feel about that. Maybe you took a pregnancy test a few minutes ago and are still digesting the news, or maybe you’ve had your suspicions for a while because of your late period, tender breasts, and feelings of nausea.

Whatever you’re feeling and thinking right now, you are not alone. About half of all pregnancies in the United States today are accidental. The good news is that you have options—and there are places you can find support, no matter what you decide to do.

So what are your legal options? Once you are pregnant, you have three choices for how to move forward:

It’s important to take time to consider all the options in light of your personal circumstances and values and make the choice that’s right for you. Let’s look at each option in a little more detail.

Parenting

Most of us want to be parents at some point in our lives. It’s also true that a growing number of people are deciding that parenting isn’t for them. Either way is fine! Raising children is a big job, and it’s good to think about whether or not it’s something you want to do. If you’re already a parent, then you know exactly what’s involved and may have a sense of whether you want to have another kid right now or not.

For many, parenting is one of life’s most wonderful and rewarding experiences. It’s also a lifelong commitment. Choosing to become a parent means going through pregnancy and childbirth, then raising another human being from infancy to adulthood. It can be expensive and exhausting, and lots of families struggle to make ends meet. The question is, do you want to be a parent? And if so, is now the right time for you to bring a(nother) child into your life?

Adoption

If you aren’t ready to become a parent, you might want to think about adoption. Placing your child for adoption means going through pregnancy and childbirth, then allowing other people to raise your child. Adoption has changed a lot over the past 50 years. Today, most adoptions are at least partly open, meaning there is some contact or information shared between the birth parents and the adoptive parents. This might mean exchanging letters and photos, having regular phone calls and visits, or even going on vacations and celebrating holidays together.

That said, adoption is not co-parenting; it is a legal arrangement in which you permanently give up your right to act as a parent. Even with the best arrangements, placing your child for adoption can be very difficult. If you are considering adoption, it is very important to find an agency that will give you honest information and support for all your options without pressure or bias.

Abortion

If you don’t want to be a parent right now (or ever), or if for any reason you can’t continue your pregnancy, you can have an abortion. Abortion is a common and safe medical procedure, though in some places it can be difficult to access. Factors like where you live, what kind of insurance you have, how far along you are in pregnancy, and whether you are 18 or older can all affect how easy or difficult it will be to find a provider.

Different people have different feelings and beliefs about abortion. For some folks having an abortion is a simple decision, while for others it may be difficult or even out of the question. Whatever you are feeling, you deserve to explore your thoughts about abortion in a safe space without judgment or assumptions from other people about what’s right for you.

Support for your decision

You may not be ready to make a decision right away, and that’s okay. There are a lot of factors to consider, and you don’t want to rush such a big decision. At the same time, it’s important to access abortion or prenatal care as soon as possible. A good first step even if you’re not sure what you want to do yet is to look for a health care provider who can help you confirm your pregnancy, find out how far along you are, and make referrals for whatever care you decide you need.

Facing an unplanned pregnancy can be scary and overwhelming, but don’t forget: you are not alone, you have options, and you deserve support.

Parker Dockray is the Executive Director of Backline. She previously served as the Executive Director of the California Coalition for Reproductive Freedom and at ACCESS Women’s Health Justice. Parker received her Masters of Social Work from UC Berkeley. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Parker now lives in Oakland with her young son.

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