An Unplanned Pregnancy Doesn’t Have To Derail Your Life

young-woman-pregnancy-testGrowing up in my childhood home I heard a common refrain: don’t get pregnant when you’re young because it will ruin your life. My mom had me at 23 and though she never expressed resentment towards me, I knew she gave up a lot to raise me. I knew her life didn’t look the way she wanted it to look, and I was determined to follow her advice and not make those same mistakes.

You can imagine my shock and horror then when at 23 I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant with a little girl. Even though I was technically an adult, I still felt very much like a child in a grown-up’s body. I had just graduated from college and returned to the U.S. after a year spent traveling the world. I’d only known my daughter’s father for four months. Becoming someone’s mom wasn’t a part of my immediate plan. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if it was a part of my long-term plan. Kids weren’t happy news to me. Kids were life-ruiners.

Ultimately, I decided to keep the baby. I didn’t do it out of some deeply moralistic belief in the baby’s right to life — I am and will always be firmly pro-choice — but I did it because it was what felt right to me. My boyfriend and I also decided to get married, and a few months later I gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Even though I thought I was prepared to become a parent, the reality of my life plan going up in flames was difficult to cope with.

When I was in college, I imagined I would graduate and then settle down somewhere in a big city to pursue a writing career like every 20-something out of every stereotypical coming-of-age movie you’ve ever seen. Instead, I struggled to find a job because I was pregnant and then ended up becoming a stay-at-home for two years because I had no work experience and no prospects.

I mourned the life I’d given up and I grew more and more depressed at the prospect that I would never be able to do anything for myself ever again or achieve any sort of personal success. I felt deeply unfulfilled, but then incredibly guilty for feeling unfulfilled because I loved my daughter so much and everyone around me seemed pleased enough with parenthood. I wondered what was wrong with me that I couldn’t just cope.

It took a long time for me to understand that I didn’t have to give up on my plans for my life just because things had changed. It seems like such a simple, obvious concept, but when your whole life gets turned upside down it’s hard to make heads or tails of it all. The advice you would give to your friends suddenly doesn’t seem to apply to you, plus I had the words of my mother ringing in my head and reassuring me that it was all over for me now.

It took me a few years, but at some point I finally understood that a change in plans doesn’t have to derail your whole life; that you can go on and make new plans and find a way to make things work, even if it ends up looking different than what you imagined. Today I am happily married with two healthy kids, a privilege to be sure, and I am the writer I always dreamed I would be. Sort of. I live in the Midwest instead of a big city, and I don’t have nearly as much free time as I’d like, but I’m doing it. I’m making it work.

Unplanned pregnancies and split-second marriages aren’t the norm for most people, nor should they be. We all have to decide what’s right for us. They ended up working out for me, though, and I’m grateful for all the times my life made me feel like I was drowning because ultimately those moments are what taught me how to swim.

(Photo: Getty)

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