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Unexpected Lessons from an Unplanned Pregnancy

I had everything under control, and then my pregnancy test turned positive. I was 21 years old.

It’s a situation that virtually every woman has imagined herself in or avoided being in countless times over, so it’s probably easy to empathize with. Imagine being two months out of college, unmarried, no health insurance, no savings and a packed schedule of job interviews. You’re standing alone in the bathroom, and the positive pregnancy test your mother urged you to buy is lying on the sink.

It instantly turns positive. You’re pregnant. You’re the only one who knows it. It hasn’t even traveled from your brain to your lips yet—you haven’t actually said the words—except you know.

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For dramatic purposes, I could say that I stumbled backwards, clutching my still-flat stomach, hyperventilating from a panic attack. But that’s not true. I felt … numb, as if I had to swaddle myself in denial to absorb that kind of shock.

It took a good 15 minutes for the tears to come—and they came: tears of fear, tears of guilt. This isn’t how my life is supposed to go. I’m not this type of girl. This can’t be right.

Up until that point in my life, I was fully trained to believe that, a) There are “right” and “wrong” paths in life, and b) I could and SHOULD plan my future carefully. I was also hardwired to judge situations and feelings as “good” or “bad” based on how they feel in the moment. In that moment, I didn’t feel very good.

I may have been carrying another life inside of me, but I felt more alone than ever.

Besides fear, I felt anger. Betrayal, even. How could I—a good girl with plans and goals, who used birth control, who deserved to succeed—get pregnant? The A+ report cards, the unpaid internship hours, the dreams I spent years concocting and executing, all evaporated. How could there be fairness in the universe? I may have been carrying another life inside of me, but I felt more alone than ever.

Thankfully I had a choice in what to do next. (If I didn’t have a choice, the walls may have closed in on me altogether.) Against all logic and assumptions, I chose to keep my pregnancy and embrace the terrifying void.

What I didn’t understand back then, six years ago, is that being thrown off of a carefully laid track and being hurled into that void, forced to let go of virtually everything you know about your life, can be transformational. In fact, that unplanned pregnancy gave me so much more than a child.

My unplanned pregnancy ripped my society-conditioned ideas and identity from my clutched, controlling grip, whispering, “Trust me, it’ll be OK.” And it was.

It showed me that my scripts and maps weren’t only useless, but imaginary. I had first-hand experience in how limiting and narrow-minded our plans can be, and that some of the best life turns come when we least expect them.

It showed me another route beyond safe choices, minimal pain and limited vulnerability. Just because something’s painful or hard, doesn’t mean it’s bad.

I birthed more than a child—I birthed a new perspective.

My unplanned pregnancy placed me in the shoes of a stereotype and had me walk through societal stigmas, making me a more compassionate and understanding person.

My unplanned pregnancy proved that I could survive change, and be better because of it.

My unplanned pregnancy blew out the sides of my narrative and forced me to see a bigger picture. It made me a better person.

Maybe I wasn’t “ready” to get pregnant at 21 years old, but I birthed more than a child—I birthed a new perspective. We pretend like we get smarter and more mature as we age, but that’s not always true. Sometimes we get more set in our ways, more convinced of our ideas and identities, more stagnant.

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Instead, it’s life experience that really helps us grow, the struggles and fumbles as much as the achievements. Often the scary, painful, difficult moments are the ones that crack something open inside of us, until we’re changed. Stronger. Awakened.

For some people it’s a divorce or a sudden job loss or some form of “rock bottom.” For me it was an unplanned pregnancy.

Lucky for me, I have a tangible, huggable child to remind me of those unexpected lessons every single day.

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