Beth Ryan's twins were 4 months old when she began to think that
maybe her irregular menstrual cycle and nausea could be from more
But when a pregnancy test instantly popped up positive, she
refused to believe it. After taking a second test that rapidly
displayed positive as well, Ryan yelled down to her husband that
she was pregnant. His response: "No way."
Two weeks later, the Mokena mom went for an ultrasound. As soon
as the technician put the Doppler on her belly, she saw two hearts
beating. "I saw it right away and I sat up and screamed," Ryan
More than 49 percent of pregnancies are unplanned, and while
many people think of this as a teen problem, it's just as prevalent
for women who are married or in a committed relationship, according
to the Guttmacher Institute in New York. And in spite of being
married, women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant,
especially when their first child is still an infant, can feel
dismay, resentment and guilt.
"One of the most common reactions is, this is not coming on time
or it's interrupting their life plans or their long-term fantasy of
what their family would look like," says Dr. Nehama Dresner, a
psychiatrist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and an expert in the
area of women's mental health. Many moms may fear that this
unplanned pregnancy is going to rob them of their life.
Moms also feel guilty about robbing the baby they already have
of their attention, she says. "It brings feelings of guilt and
sadness about not being able to move into the next stage of
motherhood with the current baby as they would like," Dresner
Victoria Stein-Ziemba of Chicago found out she was pregnant with
her third when her first child was not quite 3 years and the baby
was 9 months old. "I could not believe it. I was actually kind of
upset, but I had to deal with it and accept it," she says. "I came
to terms with it pretty quick. … There was nothing I could do. I
wasn't going to abort him."
For some moms, this can be a challenging time, Dresner says. "A
couple has to work hard to make a decision about the pregnancy and
then focus, not so much on the pregnancy, but on what you need to
accomplish between now and the delivery."
Some moms also worry that somehow their unborn child will pick
up on their feelings of ambivalence and resentment. They may worry
that they won't love this new baby as much as the one they already
have, says Dresner. But ambivalence is normal in any pregnancy,
even those that are planned, as women begin to wonder if they're
really ready for a life filled with pacifiers on the floor and car
seats in minivans.
"I had myself in the mind frame that the boys were old enough
now, I could go to the pool in the summer, I can handle taking them
wherever and not have to worry about them," says Shannon Johnson of
Des Plaines, whose children are 3 1/2 and 18 months, with a third
due in November. "When I found out I was pregnant, it was like,
well there goes that idea. Good thing we have our own little pool
and sprinkler in the backyard."
Acknowledging your feelings, no matter what they may be, and
addressing those feelings is the first step in dealing with an
unplanned pregnancy, Dresner says. The next step is figuring out
how to preserve those things that are important in terms of a mom's
personal identity, whether it's a job or a once-a-week date with
"Think about something that you want to keep doing; it exerts a
sense of control over your circumstances," Dresner advises.
Stein-Ziemba was training for a three-day breast cancer walk
when she realized she was pregnant. After years of up and down
weight, she had gotten into a routine of training and feeling good
about herself. Now that was all about to change.
In spite of her feelings of guilt, Stein-Ziemba decided she
wanted to continue working out even after baby number three came
along. She reasoned that the one hour her children spend in day
care at the Y while she works out is well worth the benefits she
gets from carving out some time for herself.
The more women can hang on to what's important to them, even if
it means calling in reinforcements or hiring a sitter so they can
spend some one-on-one time with the older child-or alone-the easier
things will be.
"If we can inject some predictability into a woman's life and
some control over the situation, that's going to help," Dresner
It also helps to look at the long-term picture, which is rarely
as bleak as things seem at first. "For instance, in three years
from now, I'll have a 3-year-old and 4-year-old, which will be
great," Dresner says. "Siblings who are close in age are often
closer than those far apart. They can play together and stimulate
And ultimately most women realize they can survive this surprise
visitor, who promises to turn their lives upside down again.
Johnson reminds herself it's all about taking life one day at a
time. "I know it can be stressful, but just breathe. I honestly
have to remind myself to do that numerous times during the
Liz DeCarlo is the former senior editor at Chicago Parent.
See more of Liz's stories here.
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