If we all had our way, parents would have total control over when and how they get pregnant: minimal trying, minimal effort, and an easy pregnancy journey. Unfortunately, this is not the reality. Sometimes getting pregnant takes many months or years, if at all. The process may involve costly fertility treatments, time off work, and even a journey into alternate ways of creating a family, like adoption. Sometimes, losses happen, and parents do not wish to try again. Sometimes, people who aren’t ready for pregnancy get pregnant unexpectedly. This article focuses on any and all parents who find themselves dealing with loss in such an unintended pregnancy, because even if you weren’t planning on getting pregnant or didn’t think you wanted a baby right now, losing a pregnancy can be devastating, confusing, and full of a roller coaster of emotions all the same.
If you haven’t been trying to get pregnant but suddenly found yourself staring at two pink lines, a plus sign, or the words, “Pregnant” on a test, you may have felt overwhelmed and anxious. It is normal to feel confused and even upset when you discover that you are unexpectedly expecting. Usually, it takes time to “sink in” that you are pregnant, and you may have been trying to figure out if you wanted to keep this pregnancy at all. Emotions can range from guilt to depression to ambivalence—meaning you don’t feel one way or the other about it but are struggling anyway—as you try to visualize whether now is the right time for a baby or not. Unfortunately, not all pregnancies result in healthy babies, and somewhere along the line, you may also have experienced a loss in this unintended pregnancy. This can take the form of an early miscarriage, soon after you found you were pregnant, or later down the line, in the form of a second or even third trimester loss. When this happens, newly un-pregnant people can experience a great deal of pain and guilt.
In the early days, loss in an unintended pregnancy can result in relief, then immediate guilt for feeling relieved. Perhaps you hadn’t decided what to do about your pregnancy, or perhaps you had. Maybe you weren’t expecting to feel relieved but were immediately flooded with thoughts like “Now I don’t have to worry or stress about this” or “Thank God I’m not pregnant anymore”. These are normal, understandable thoughts!! Know that a) it is OK to feel relieved and/or b) just because you weren’t expecting to be pregnant does not mean you wanted to experience a loss. It can feel especially painful that the decision about what to do was taken away from you. That loss of control can add insult to the injury of loss. It can be useful to practice mindfulness during this time, observing your thoughts with curiosity and without judgment, and knowing that it is possible to feel both grateful as well as resentful in this situation.
If you decided to continue the pregnancy and experience a later loss, it is common to feel as though somehow, this is punishment for not being excited in the early days or not attaching to your pregnancy. Even if you decided to stay pregnant, you may have found it difficult to feel a bond with your fetus, and you may be beating yourself up over it. If you had experienced prior losses, attaching might have even felt impossible, as though if you started feeling excited, the other shoe would drop (see: emotional cushioning). Or maybe you were really surprised to enjoy the feeling of carrying a pregnancy afterall. During a time of unexpected loss, it is normal but upsetting to find yourself thinking that somehow you “doomed” this pregnancy by not welcoming it right from the beginning. This is not true. There is no way that your thoughts or feelings about how this pregnancy began affected your fetus and created a loss. We simply do not have that much control! Even women who don’t know they are pregnant and, say, don’t take prenatal vitamins, are capable of producing a healthy pregnancy. Unfortunately, your fetus’ path was not meant to continue, but this is not your fault in any way.
Whether you have experienced an early or later loss in an unintended pregnancy, it can be helpful to write a letter to the child you imagined yourself having, or the growing pregnancy you were just getting used to. Below is a template you might try following:
Dear Lost Baby/Fetus/Pregnancy,
When I first learned about you, I felt (insert 3 emotions):
- Emotion 1
- Emotion 2
- Emotion 3
Because I hadn't planned for you, I thought (write 3 thoughts you had, being totally honest)
- Thought 1
- Thought 2
- Thought 3
I had (circle one:)decided to keep/decided to end the pregnancy, but I ended up losing you instead. Now I feel (insert 3 new emotions):
- Emotion 1
- Emotion 2
- Emotion 3
This is all new to me, and it’s pretty hard. But I want you to know that;
- Insert whatever message you would like to tell your pregnancy/fetus/baby here
- Include any hopes and dreams you developed about what it might look like to be a parent
Even though I might think this at times, deep down, I know this is not my fault. I hope that wherever you are, whatever form you take, or whatever my journey may be, we will both be OK.
You don’t have to be religious or spiritual to write this letter. It helps to have the idea of a recipient to write to. You might decide to burn the letter or tuck it away, or create a daily writing practice until you start seeing any thoughts of shame or blame shift. Take your time, breathe deeply, and keep writing. You need to have a safe space for your thoughts and feelings as your process this loss, which, whether you wanted your pregnancy or not, is still a very real loss. Don’t let anybody tell you anything different.