Oops, We Did It Again: Making Peace With My Unplanned Pregnancy
Words: Dara Mathis
What to expect when you are surprised to be expecting.
No one has ever asked me why I wanted to become a mother. In a sense, I suppose I’d have a hard time answering the question, knowing now what I do about the body-and-soul commitment of motherhood. The desire to mother a child simply existed as an instinct I longed to fulfill.
Still, mothering has long been a part of my vision for my life. I am the proud mother of two little girls. Before each pregnancy, my husband and I planned to conceive and were elated when it happened quickly. It was affirming to choose motherhood when I felt most circumstantially prepared for it.
However, even planned pregnancies can come with unforeseen plot twists. My second pregnancy put me through the emotional wringer because it was considered high risk. For five months, I held my breath during weekly ultrasounds to determine if the baby was growing properly. (She wasn’t.)
I stayed off my feet and tried to fatten us up with grass protein shakes. My uterus hemorrhaged during my C-section and I needed a blood transfusion. Despite all the stress, our second child arrived plump and healthy on her older sister’s fourth birthday.
Even though no one ever asked me why I chose motherhood, I have been asked countless times if I desired more children. No one questioned my immediate answer (“No”) after my second daughter was born. I volunteered my reason anyway: the potential physical and emotional strain of pregnancy seemed too great to attempt a third. My daughters more than satisfied my desire to love and care for children.
At the beginning of 2018, my husband and I were preparing for some long-awaited transitions in our life. He planned to get a vasectomy that February. Our oldest daughter was six and our youngest daughter was two; we could see the light at the end of the tunnel of diapers and co-sleeping. Finally, I was beginning to eye a return to the workforce after nearly three years as a stay-at-home mother. Only one company had called me back for an interview so far, but I was hopeful.
Just a few days before spring began, we discovered I was pregnant for the third time— unexpectedly.
I sat on the floor of the bathroom clutching the pregnancy test in shock. I still watched for my missing period for another two weeks before the denial wore off.
Although the symptoms of early pregnancy felt nauseatingly familiar, I had no idea how to deal with a pregnancy I didn’t plan for. Maternal joy had always been the upside of tender breasts. This time, I ached inside too, in places I could not name.
Something akin to grief resided where baby love usually bloomed. I repeated to myself, “A baby is a blessing.” Regardless, I felt loss at the certain change a baby would bring to our plans. There would be no return to working outside the home for me. Whatever job I found would need to pay enough for transportation and two small children in daycare—a tall, expensive order in the Washington, D.C. area. We would have two little ones in diapers and Pull Ups, and another two years of sleep deprivation.
The shadow of my postpartum depression (PPD) took nearly 18 months after my daughter’s birth to dissipate. Having gone through PPD combined with the winter blues, I worried about the toll pregnancy and new motherhood would again take on my mental health. My prior experience with depression put me at greater risk for it. I couldn’t even begin to think about Black maternal mortality on the road to another C-section.
Then, compounding the negative emotions, I felt shame for mourning my short-term hopes. This baby didn’t ask to be conceived and deserved a good mother… How could I only muster up apprehension at the thought of his or her arrival? Shame blanketed me every time I thought of fielding the question, “I thought you guys were done?” Even as a married woman in her mid-thirties, my deep-seated fear of unplanned pregnancy made me ashamed to have an “oops, baby.” I felt I should know better somehow.
But could I stumble toward feeling better about this pregnancy? I knew I needed to give myself some time to let go, some time to accept what was to come. So I acknowledged all my mixed feelings as valid, and then I told myself I would be okay. I whispered it whenever anxiety slipped its bony fingers around my throat. And I took deep breaths.
When the baby started to flutter about, I talked to my rounding belly in the shower as the water sluiced over it. I told him about the future that would now include him, my son. And when I announced his impending arrival to friends and family, my heart smiled when I wrote “expecting.”
The process wasn’t easy, but I chose to love him, to mother him as fiercely as I did my daughters, the moment my new dreams made him real.
Dara Mathis is a freelance writer whose essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Root. She is based in Maryland where she lives with her husband, two daughters, and a soon-to-be-born son.