How to cope with an unplanned pregnancy

Having a baby is a life-changer, but when it’s an unplanned pregnancy there’s a lot to get your head around. Here’s how to cope. By Françoise Gallet


Having a baby is a life-changer, regardless of whether it’s your first or another one in the sibling pecking order, but when your pregnancy isn’t planned, the ‘change’ seems more like a personal life-bomb, threatening to obliterate life as you know it. So even if proceeding with an unplanned pregnancy is your preferred choice, there’s a lot to get your head around. Here’s some help and support.

It’s okay to be scared or angry

An unintended pregnancy is the genesis of at least some emotional turmoil. It’s okay, and not uncommon, to feel shocked, scared, anxious, full of resentment, or angry, explains clinical psychologist, Natalie Robbs.

Lungisa Matshoba cried almost non-stop for days when she found out she was pregnant. Although engaged to be married, she hadn’t intended to start a family immediately. She had her career path plotted and hopes of travelling. Suddenly her hoped-for-happily-ever-after seemed impossible.

The impending life changes can sow seeds of panic, continues Natalie. Often that breeds a sense of disbelief and denial, with thoughts like “this can’t be real” and “this can’t be happening”.

This was certainly true for Catherine Moore. Learning that she was pregnant – with twins – only ten months into a new relationship, left her in a state of utter disbelief. The difficulty of aligning the biological facts with the reality of her life as she knew it, made her pregnancy seem a sheer impossibility.

Nonetheless, coming to terms with your pregnancy is your starting point, advises Natalie. The sooner you are able to move from disbelief or denial to accepting your present situation, the sooner you’ll be able to make choices and plans about how you want to move forward.

There’s time to plan

Initially struck by worry and fear (How would they cope financially? What about the health risks of a late-in-life pregnancy? How would the children react?), Johannelie and her partner quickly switched from being shocked at the impending arrival
of their laat lammetjie (late-arrival baby) to a practical, planning mode.

“There was a lot of planning to do. I already had two children and a stepson with my partner,” says Johannelie about her challenge to organise accommodation, finances, and the needs of the other children.

It’s this switch of mind-set, explains Natalie, that allows women who choose to
continue with their pregnancy, the opportunity to recognise that there is time to plan. It’s a shift in focus from panic, shock and worry, to what you need to do to create the most favourable circumstances for both you and your growing child.

Also see: How to choose a pregnancy doctor.

Build your support system

It also helps to have someone rooting for you. You’re not alone – estimates put the number of unplanned pregnancies in South Africa at around six out of 10. So draw on the collective wisdom of those who’ve faced an unplanned pregnancy, and build a support system – from families and friends to online motherhood groups, websites, and various state and private counselling facilities.

“Be it a mother-in-law, sister, or really good friend, a support structure is essential to being able to offload or let off steam,” says Johannelie.

Cheryl Cupido wholeheartedly agrees. Her first baby wasn’t even a year old yet when she unexpectedly fell pregnant with her second. “It was leaning on my support system that helped me to enjoy being pregnant and having a baby.”

As for Catherine, her mom-in-law became a confidant (someone who offered understanding and support), and indispensable to coping with the demands of her twin boys. It was Catherine’s call for help, and recognition that she needed support, that rallied those around her. So don’t be afraid to ask for help. Even if you think you don’t need it, you’ll benefit from it, she assures.

Talk about the tough stuff

Catherine’s partner’s offer to learn about her pregnancy, was also pivotal to helping quell her panic. However, initially breaking the news of her twin pregnancy was scary.

“I think I was so fearful of an adverse reaction from my partner that I just burst into tears after sharing the news; however, conversations about all the tough stuff need to be had before the baby arrives,” says Catherine.

“It’s very important to explore your fears with your child’s father,” says Natalie.

Talk about:

  • What you feel your respective roles and responsibilities are
  • How the arrival of the baby might affect your relationship – even if you are in a committed relationship
  • What you need from each other
  • How the baby might affect your respective hopes, dreams and aspirations.

It’s helpful to remember that both of you are feeling powerful emotions – especially fear and anxiety. So the more you try to understand each other’s points of view, the more you will be able to draw together. A counsellor, psychologist, or even an impartial family member, can offer beneficial support as a mediator.

  • Important considerations at this point might be:
    Lifestyle changes required for a healthy pregnancy – including changes to medication, or stopping smoking and alcohol consumption.
  • Finding a healthcare facility for pre-natal care
  • Addressing the pregnancy with the father of the child
  • Assessing the level of support you have in your life
  • Examining the financial implications of the pregnancy and child-rearing.

Although some of these steps can seem daunting, particularly if you are not in a stable relationship, tackling how you intend to cope with the changes – with all the facts at your fingertips – can be empowering and restore some sense of ‘mastery’ over your own life, says Natalie.

*Originally published in April 2015


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