How to Adjust to a Surprise Pregnancy
“Dear God in Heaven, this can not be true.” I said these words out loud to no one but me when I saw the results of my pregnancy test at age 42. Having a “late in life” baby is one thing, but a late in life “surprise” is something entirely different.
Less than two weeks before my monologue, I had had a dialogue with my fiance where I cried and told him I wanted to make sure he was positive he wanted to marry me, knowing I would not be able to give him a child of his own.
I had told him I was too old. My other kids were too old. I couldn’t start over parenting again. Lucky for me, he chose me without the baby. Lucky for us both, we got each other and the baby.
But lucky wasn’t how I was feeling at that moment.
I had just come through a divorce and had two girls, ages 11 and 13. None of us were expecting to add a baby to the mix of life.
I was one of the older moms when my older girls were in grade school, having had them at 29 and 31. But this time? I’d be giving birth at 43. That marked me as “advanced maternal age.” I’ll blog more about that in another post. But before I got to the physical aspects of an unexpected pregnancy at 42, I had to process the emotional challenges.
Now every life trajectory is different, and not much of life is linear. But here are a few suggestions I hope will be helpful for you if you find yourself in this unusual life situation.
Take Your Time
No one’s life is going to change as much as yours. Yes, there are lots of individuals who will be affected, but you’re the one whose life will alter most drastically.
It took me over 15 hours of internal silence and turmoil before I could tell my “fiance” (who was my boyfriend at the time until we had a middle age shotgun wedding!) I might have taken longer if he weren’t so perceptive to tell that something was going on in my brain.
I had spoken on the phone the evening before with my best friend of over a decade and I couldn’t bring myself to say the words out loud to tell her.
I had to let my thoughts roll around in my brain and the emotions churn in my stomach. No one could do that for me.
So there is no moral imperative for you to say something immediately to anyone. Give yourself some space and time to adjust and give the reality voice when you’re ready and able.
Allow yourself a range of emotions
After that initial processing period, you may think you’ve come to terms with it all. Don’t be surprised if you haven’t.
You may move from “this is the best surprise ever” to “how in the world am I going to handle this?” Not only are you processing this big change, you’re doing it with hormones running amok.
Don’t expect to be stable and rational. You won’t be and that’s okay.
Schedule your first doctor’s appointment quickly
“Advanced maternal age,” a pregnancy at 35 or older, comes with more complications than when we’re younger. There’s no need to panic or start scouring the internet for articles that will scare you about the health of you and your baby. But this is also not a time to put off getting to the doctor to start prenatal care.
Once you can say the words, “I’m pregnant” without hyperventilating, pick up the phone and call your doctor.
Don’t overthink how to tell everyone the news
Depending on your circumstances, not everyone may be happy for you at first. You may anticipate this and spend an inordinate amount of time preparing how to share the news.
Don’t use your precious energy trying to come up with perfect scripts. There’s no such thing. Just prepare yourself for some negative reactions and let those go as much as possible. Focus on the positive people and let the others come around in time.
Spend extra time with children who have difficulty accepting the news
Sure, we can say everyone will adjust and be happy when the baby gets here, but that’s not necessarily so. Some children are more adaptable than others, so tune in to the subtle cues your other children are giving you.
A little extra snuggle at bedtime, a trip to get ice cream (because, hey, you have cravings now, right?!), or anything else that speaks your child’s love language can go along way toward soothing their little soul and calming their fears about their place in your heart.
Schedule a night with your besties
Bring that circle of girlfriends in close, Remind yourself that you’re still the same woman you were before the news. An evening of being who you are with those who make you laugh and support you, even if you can’t drink wine with them, can give you a boost of normalcy and strengthening of your relationship.
Yes, you may break down and cry, but hey, what are friends for?
Schedule a date with your partner
Whether this is your first child or a late in life surprise, your relationship with your partner is about to undergo some unplanned twists and turns. Set aside some quality time together, whether it’s a full weekend away or just a Saturday morning breakfast date. Whatever you can manage together with the intent to be open and honest about how you’re both feeling.
Be honest about your place in the journey. If you’re still struggling to come to terms with the pregnancy, tell him. If you’re ready to start picking out colors for the nursery, start planning.
Along the way, keep each other in the loop of your thoughts and feelings. Things can be complicated enough without each of you wondering what the other one is thinking.
Don’t put your life on hold
One thing about midlife is it forces us to evaluate how we use our time. We don’t want to waste life sitting around and not making progress toward our goals.
With a surprise pregnancy, we can fear that all of those things we want to do are now out of reach. We re-evaluate our plans and wonder if all the things we had hoped and dreamed of doing are now impossible.
Nope, not impossible. More challenging? Definitely. A different time frame? Probably.
But don’t start saying, “Well, I guess I’ll have to wait until after the baby (insert dream here).” Yes, you may have to modify what you’re intending, but don’t phrase it to yourself in such a way that you set yourself up for resentment.
Make the modifications to the plans that your new life circumstances require, but don’t give up on them. Do what you can in the ways that you can and you’ll be surprised at how much of those dreams you can still bring to fruition.
Get help when you need it
If you really struggle to come to terms with your pregnancy, find a therapist to help you work through it. You don’t have to tell the world you’re not quite as excited as women are expected to be when they find out they’re having a baby. But you can tell your counselor and they can help you work through the mixed emotions you’re experiencing.
It’s been awhile, almost nine years now, since I saw that plus sign and spoke my disbelief to my empty apartment. And there are still days when I look at my child and can’t believe I’m 51 with a second grader.
So when you feel like you’ve got this whole surprise baby thing, you do. And then you don’t. And then you do again.
Give yourself grace and love in the process and believe that you’ll be a great mother. Even if this time you have gray hair and people think you’re the grandmother.