Having a child is a life-changing decision even for a fully prepared adult. Discovering that you are pregnant without any idea how to handle the situation is enough to send even the most level-headed teenager into a panic.
In this article, we provide helpful information about the choices ahead and the steps to take if you or a loved one is facing an unexpected pregnancy.
Physically, becoming pregnant is a fairly straightforward process. The surrounding circumstances, however, can be endlessly complicated. All significant factors should be taken into consideration when facing decisions that will have permanent consequences.
So, you’ve just discovered you’re pregnant and you don’t know what to do. First, take a deep breath. You’ll be able to focus better if you’re calm. This article is here to help. Read these questions and think about them carefully.
The first thing to do is to make sure that your information is reliable. There are many myths about sex and pregnancy (among children and adults). Even if you were taught about sex and pregnancy in school, there may still be things to learn.
How did you discover your pregnancy, and what other possible explanations are there?
“My period is late.”. Your menstrual cycle is influenced by many different aspects of your life. Pregnancy is one of the reasons your period might be late (or very light), but there are other possible explanations (such as stress and big lifestyle changes) to consider. If your period wasn’t regular to begin with, you might find some useful information in our article about irregular periods.
“I am experiencing symptoms related to pregnancy.” Many of the symptoms related to pregnancy—headaches, bloating, nausea, tiredness, sore breasts, lightheadedness, upset stomach, and more—overlap with symptoms related to premenstrual syndrome or PMS. This doesn’t mean you should dismiss them (especially if you are experiencing severe symptoms for the first time), but they aren’t a sure-fire diagnosis, either. Some symptoms, such as a swollen belly, can indicate pregnancy, but can also be caused by a variety of medical issues. If you are worried, go see your doctor.
“I took a pregnancy test.” Pregnancy tests are pretty good, but are not always 100% reliable. False positives and false negatives can happen if you take the test at the wrong time, if you are using a particular medication, or are suffering from a particular disease. Read up about how pregnancy tests work. If you have done everything correctly and the test was positive (or if you just want to make sure), get tested by a doctor.
“I received a diagnosis from a doctor.” Visiting a qualified obstetrician (OB/GYN) is really the only failsafe way to know if you are expecting a child. The tests performed at the doctor’s office, such as the pelvic exam, sonogram (a.k.a. ultrasound), blood test, and urine pregnancy test are more sensitive and provide much more reliable data than the home pregnancy test. If they confirm you are pregnant, you’ll be able to talk with a specialist about any questions you have, discuss your options, and schedule future appointments.
Talk to someone you trust. Don't try to solve everything by yourself. Everyone needs support.
You should probably tell your parents, another family member, or guardian. No matter what kind of relationship you have, pregnancy changes everything—this is something they would want you to tell them. They love you. They want you to be safe. And they can only help if they know what’s going on.
It was a shock to you, so it will be a shock for them, too. Take some time to think about what you plan to say. If you are having trouble deciding how to approach the subject, try being as honest as you can. If you can’t bring yourself to say it out loud, you can write them a note instead (but don’t just leave it for them to find, hand it to them yourself).
Parents are people too, with different experiences and expectations. You may be surprised at how supportive your parents turn out to be. Showing them that you are taking the situation seriously will help them focus on problem-solving instead of reacting emotionally. However, if they react with a negative emotional outburst, looking for someone to blame or punish, you can gently remind them that although their feelings are valid, big emotions aren’t helpful right now. Try to keep your own emotions in check, and patiently give them space if they need time to calm down.
It might not go as smoothly as you had hoped, or you might be showered with love and support. What’s important is that they recognise what is best for you and your future.
Unfortunately, there are exceptions. If your family is abusive, or if you are sure that their response is going to be purely unhelpful, unreasonable, or dangerous, you might be best off keeping it from them. In that case, turn to an adult you can count on—an understanding friend or teacher. If no one comes to mind, there are organizations that help people in your situation; find a number to call.
If your parents are supportive, you won’t have to worry about a safe place to stay. If they are not, you may have to stay with a friend or other family member for a while. You can seek help from an adult who has been entrusted in caring for or helping others, such as a teacher, doctor, or police officer. You can also search the internet for helplines. There may be an organisation in your area that offers shelter to people in your predicament.
Be careful, and trust your gut feeling. If you are in the company of an adult who is supposed to help you, but they are acting weird, aggressive, or manipulative, or even if something just doesn’t feel quite right, you don’t have to do what they say. Don’t let anyone force you into something you don’t want to do. If you feel like you are in danger, don’t stay with them, especially if there’s no one else around. Find somewhere safe, find someone you can trust.
You should wait until you are safe and have the support you need before you start thinking about the role of the father of your child.
If you are in a relationship with the father, you have some serious conversations ahead, especially if you want him to be involved. Keep in mind that he might not react the way you want him to. Becoming a father is something he may not be ready for, but he is responsible for his actions, and should understand the consequences. If you feel safe having that conversation with him, do it. Being informed might keep him from repeating the same mistake in the future.
He may have a strong opinion about whether or not you should keep the baby. Remember—you have the final say. This is happening to your body, not his. You get to decide what happens next. You should also look into the legal implications of your situation. You may be entitled to his support.
If your pregnancy is the result of a sexual encounter that happened against your will, don’t contact the father. Talk to the police or to a women’s support organisation, especially if you think the father might put you or your child in danger. If you are prepared to use a rape kit (a package of items used for gathering evidence of rape), don’t shower before seeking help—you don’t want to wash away the DNA that might be left on your body.
News of a life-changing, unplanned pregnancy is news no parent (grandparent, sibling, guardian, mentor) wants to hear.
It’s okay to feel shocked, disappointed, angry, but please remember—don’t make her feel worse than she already does. Making your feelings her problem isn’t going to help. Under no circumstances is it appropriate to punish your child for what has happened.
Consider what she is experiencing—despite terrifying jolts of emotion and fear of judgement, and rejection your child decided to ask you for help. No matter how many petty arguments you’ve had, no matter how often you misunderstand each other, your child chose to trust you and ask for your support. Don’t betray that, or they might not turn to you in the future.
You can choose to be exceptionally supportive, do your absolute parental best. Talk to them about what happened, let them know that it’s okay to be honest. There might be important information your daughter hasn’t told you yet—she could have been coerced, manipulated, abused. Make sure you know what you are talking about before you blame anyone (but remember, blame isn’t what you should be focusing on right now).
Let your child know she is accepted and supported, and help her get the information she needs to decide what to do next. Discuss options in detail, weighing the pros and cons of each one. Help her make a choice if she asks, but do not make the choice for her.
Raising a child is both rewarding and challenging. Becoming a parent at a very young age requires you to put your child first at a time when you are still developing yourself. You will want to do your best to prepare for the challenges ahead. Here are a few questions to consider:
It is also very important to evaluate, if you are financially, mentally, emotionally, and physically capable of taking care of your child long-term. It’s one thing to take care of yourself, but an entirely different thing to be responsible for two people at the same time.
Where will the money come from? How will you keep yourself and your child healthy, both mentally and physically? Will you be able to avoid the classic parenting mistakes that breed resentment?
It is equally important to understand what your support network is before making a decision. Will raising the child be your sole responsibility, or do you have someone who can help? For the first few years of its life, your child will need attention 24/7. Even if you feel you can handle it on your own, you are going to need a break sometimes. Whether it’s the father of the child, family members, guardians, or trusted friends, having someone who can take over when your energy levels have dropped to zero is a godsend.
If you decide to keep the child, it will affect your chances of continuing your education and / or working. At a bare minimum, you will need time off in the last month or two of your pregnancy and the first month or two after giving birth. Realistically, it could be much longer. This also depends on your financial situation and how much help you have. Some schools/employers might not want to take you back. All of this will have an impact on your future, so find out as much as you can.
Be aware that pregnancy can affect your health. Even a healthy pregnancy takes a toll on your body.
The most common problems include anemia, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, preterm labour, miscarriage, and a string of possible infections. If at all possible, you will want to have regular check-ups throughout your pregnancy—not just for your sake, but also for the sake of your child.
You should also find out about the possible risks of childbirth during adolescence. The fact that you are able to become pregnant doesn’t necessarily mean your body is ready to give birth. Depending on how quickly you have matured physically, you might need to have a C-section to minimise the risk to both you and your child.
If you decide to keep the baby, you will need regular check-ups to make sure everything is going to plan. Plan a healthy diet, and make sure you don’t lack any essential nutrients—a daily prenatal vitamin can fill in the gaps of any you don’t receive from the food you eat. Any unhealthy habits like smoking or drinking will also need to stop for the sake of your child.
Birthing classes and support groups will help you prepare both physically and mentally. It means a lot to see that you are not alone. Other women tend to be happy to share their experiences and give you tips on establishing a routine, breastfeeding, etc. Some birthing classes include exercise, but in any event you should stay reasonably physically active. If you have an underlying medical condition, consult a professional about the type and intensity of physical activity best suited for you at this time.
It might feel like your whole life is falling apart, but actually it’s just shifting and changing. The only constant in life is change. Having a child doesn't mean you have to give up on your goals and dreams, it just might take you longer to get there than you originally thought.
If you decide against keeping the child, the next step is to look into terminating your pregnancy. You have some emotional preparation to do if this is your choice. You might want to ask a friend or family member to go with you to the clinic—knowing someone is there for you will help. You may also need someone to drive you home after the procedure if you’re feeling groggy.
There are two ways to have an abortion—a medically induced abortion and a surgical abortion. Both are equally successful.
A surgical abortion is the most common choice. It can be performed during the first trimester (up to 14 weeks) with minor risk of complications, and, in some cases, can also be performed in the second trimester (the exact week differs from country to country), but the later you leave it the more complicated it becomes. The procedure itself usually takes about 10 min, but from check-in to recovery the whole thing can take 4 to 5 hours.
The side effects of a surgical abortion can be divided into three categories:
Anticipated symptoms, or symptoms frequently experienced after the procedure include abdominal pain and cramping, nausea, diarrhea, spotting, and bleeding.
Possible symptoms, or symptoms that only happen if something goes wrong include heavy or persistent bleeding, infection or sepsis, damage to the cervix, scarring of the uterine lining, perforation (a small hole) of the uterus or damage to other organs.
Severe symptoms, or the worst possible scenarios include abdominal and back pain that keeps you from sitting or standing, foul smelling discharge, high fever, and continuing symptoms of pregnancy.
To minimise the chances of something going wrong, choose a reputable clinic. Be sure you’ll be in good hands. The doctor should brief you on the procedure and related risks before the abortion.
A medical abortion is a non-surgical procedure. This option is not appropriate if:
A medical abortion is achieved using a combination of two medications. This can be done at a clinic or at home with follow-up visits to your doctor. It provides a choice for those who don’t have access to an abortion clinic. The first medication is administered by your doctor or taken at home. It’s an anti-hormone medication that blocks the hormones needed for the pregnancy to continue. The second medication opens the cervix and helps the uterus expel the pregnancy. It is usually administered 24 to 48 hours later, and is taken buccally (placing the tablet/s in the side of your mouth and letting it dissolve there until swallowing the remains with water).
A medical abortion will be followed by some common symptoms, such as vaginal bleeding and cramping. These symptoms usually start a few hours after taking the second medication and last an average of 10–13 days. The amount and severity of these symptoms varies from person to person. Additional symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and chills or fever, but these are usually short-lived. The worst-case scenarios include heavy and prolonged bleeding, infection, fever, digestive discomfort, an incomplete abortion, and an ongoing unwanted pregnancy.
Again, seek out a reputable source for abortion pills. Give yourself the best chance of a successful procedure. After the symptoms subside, you’ll be able to continue your life as normal.
If you have decided against having an abortion, but are unprepared to raise a child, there is the option of giving it up for adoption. There are countless people who long for a child of their own and would make wonderful parents, but cannot conceive for medical reasons, or would rather give a home to a child in need rather than bring another one into existence. Contact an adoption agency in your area, they will guide you through the process of finding the best fit for you and your child.
You can choose an open adoption or a closed adoption.
An open adoption is one where the adoptive parents meet you and actively stay in contact with you so you can follow along with how your child is growing up. The level of interaction is freely chosen depending on what feels comfortable for both parties.
A closed adoption is one where you know nothing about the adoptive parents, and they know nothing about you. Sometimes living separate lives is best.
Giving your child a different home can (but doesn't have to) come with strong feelings of grief or sadness, and trouble letting go, which might make you feel as if you’ve made the wrong decision. Maternal hormones have a strong effect on your emotional state. Some women have found that it helps to write down the reasons you are making this choice and to keep it with you. Letting go is always hard, but once you’ve made the decision sticking to it is best for everyone.
Teen pregnancy isn’t only the result of individual choices in isolated circumstances—systemic problems also play a big part. If we want to tackle the issue as a whole, these problems need to be addressed. In order to do this successfully, we cannot leave young people to fend for themselves when it comes to education about the risks so many of them fall victim to. Government institutions and affected communities must act together.
Adolescent pregnancy comes with considerable medical risk. Pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of death for girls aged 15 to 19 around the world. Teenage mothers aged 10 to 19 are at higher risk of suffering from eclampsia, puerperal endometritis, and systemic infections than women aged 20 to 24. Some 3,9 million unsafe abortions are performed each year among adolescent girls aged 15 to 19, significantly contributing to the maternal mortality rate and leaving many survivors with lasting health problems. Infants born to mothers under the age of 20 are at greater risk of low birth weight, premature birth, and serious neonatal conditions.
Behind these harsh statistics are young girls and their children from both developed and developing countries. 250,000 teenage girls give birth every year in the United States alone. According to figures from the World Health Organization, in less developed countries at least 12% of girls marry before the age of 15, and 39% before the age of 18.
While planning their future in an ever-changing environment, young people must have access to credible sources of information on sexuality and sexual health. There is a lot of misinformation regarding sex and pregnancy. This must be addressed. While some schools do an adequate job, communities that lack access to education cannot enjoy that privilege, and not all families can fill in the gaps with parental guidance.
Some communities prefer an abstinence-only approach. Sadly, the majority of these are not only unsuccessful, but also provide little information about sexual relationships and problems young people are likely to encounter when they become sexually active. Focussing on abstinence fails to address how to approach sexuality in a healthy way, often doing more harm than good to those on the receiving end of an incomplete and shame-based education.
Some countries (such as Sweden and Norway) address adolescent sexuality as a human right, and focus on minimizing the risk of potentially harmful or dangerous situations. Empowering adolescents to have informed opinions about their sexuality and sexual health and to make independent decisions is linked to healthier sexual interactions, fewer unwanted pregnancies, and lower STD infection rates.
We must focus on building and sustaining an adequate sexual education system that provides reliable information about any and all scenarios young people are likely to encounter. By building supportive and informative programs and school curriculums we can guide a new generation of people to happier and healthier lives.
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