Remember When . . .?
Remember when having cool friends and deciding what to wear were the most serious issues you faced? Since you found out you're expecting a baby, everything else seems trivial. You have so many more serious things to think about now -- and so many decisions to make. You might be feeling fear, anger, or guilt. The pregnancy might still be a secret or something you don't yet want to admit even to yourself.
The first thing you need to do is find support. This is not something you can or should handle on your own. In most cases it's better to tell family and close friends what's happening so you have someone to lean on. If you feel like you can't turn to your family, go to your school counselor, your doctor, your church leader, or another adult you trust, such as the parent of one of your friends. They can help you find out what resources you need and where to find them. Also, check the end of this article for a list of resources.
Once you have personal support in place, don't be afraid to turn to professionals and support groups. They can be a great help in this situation. A counselor can meet with you individually, with you and your parents, or with you and your entire family. Counseling can help you make good decisions and feel hope for the future. Professionals can also help you get medical care, schooling, temporary housing if you need it, and adoption services if you decide to go in that direction.
Many hospitals and universities have created programs to give unwed mothers and their children better prospects for a successful life. One program, for example, helps mothers overcome factors that led to their unwed pregnancy, teaches them how to care for their infant, and runs support groups. These programs generally have shown tremendous success and are highly recommended.
Even if you have a supportive boyfriend, family, and friends, unwed pregnancy is a difficult situation. You'll probably worry about the future, you might have trouble finding good medical care you can afford, and it will take work to prepare for your new responsibilities. You also have to deal with increased concerns about nutrition and exercises, added stress, and attending prenatal classes. To learn more about these issues, see the website Nemours Foundation's KidsHealth.
School will probably be another major concern. It's important to stay in school if at all possible. High school graduates have much greater social, emotional, and income success. If you decide to keep your baby, he or she will be much better off if you prepare as much as you can for your future by getting a good education.
Unwed mothers have four basic options: marriage to the father, adoption, single parenthood, or abortion.
- Marriage. When it appears likely you can build a successful marriage with the father of your baby, this can be a good option. As you and the father consider marriage, it's important to look realistically at whether you're both ready. Many factors play into building a happy marriage. See the article, Important Factors to Consider Before Taking the Marriage Plunge on this website. A danger in marrying in your teens is the higher chance of not being able to continue your education. Less education usually means a lower income, less health care during pregnancy, and fewer chances to learn parenting skills. Problems like these can bring life-long stress, especially the stress of poverty. If you decide to marry, it's important to get help as you prepare - both for your marriage and for the arrival of your baby.
- Adoption. If successful marriage looks unlikely, placing your infant for adoption provides many opportunities for both the baby and you. Your baby will have the benefits of a two-parent family, which often means he will be healthier both physically and emotionally. You are much more likely to achieve higher education and a better income and are less likely to have another unwed pregnancy. Though these benefits are great, giving up a child can be very difficult. If you make this choice, you will need others to help you handle this loss. For information about the joy you would give to the adoptive parents, see the article Dealing with Infertility and Childlessness on this website.
- Single Parenthood. Many single mothers raise healthy and successful children. You should be aware, though, that many do not. Children who don't have a two-parent family generally have higher levels of depression, drop out of school more frequently, are poorer, and are more likely themselves to become unwed parents. If you decide to keep your baby, you can find many resources to help you become the best parent possible. For some of these, see the article Being a Successful Single Parent on this website.
- Abortion. Many women choose this option, though research shows that the majority of them later suffer from grief, depression, and anxiety. These feelings are likely to be more intense and long-term if you believe that abortion is wrong. If you think abortion is right for you, you may want to make sure you have considered other options, then talk about your decision with family, friends, and ecclesiastical leaders. See the article Affirming and Supporting the Sanctity of Life on this webite.
Whatever decision you make, your future can be full of hope and success if you seek the knowledge, help, and support you need. Below are a variety of resources. Choose the ones that will help you best in light of the decision you've made.
- Unplanned pregnancy (2004). What you need to know about: Women's issues by N Katz. Available at http://womensissues.about.com/library/unplanned/blindex.htm
- Parents magazine website. (2003). Gruner & Jahr Publishing. Available at http://www.parents.com
- In the United States, the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists are good resources for help to improve the health of mothers and their babies.
- Family members and trusted adults are often in the best position to help you.
- Phone directories, ecclesiastical leaders, hospital, and the Internet can point you to resources in your area, such as professionals and support groups.
A Final Note
Reaching out to accept the help of family members and others can lessen your burden significantly. Though this situation might be traumatic and distressing at first, you can learn from it. You also can decide what kind of person you want to be from now on and what kind of future you want for you and your child. Books, classes, and the people you rely on can help you achieve your goals and find happiness in the future.
Written by Sarah A. Smith, Research Assistant, edited by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
- Brough, M. J. (1994, September). Guidance for unwed parents. Ensign, 19-23.
- Ellis, B. J., Bates, J. E., Dodge, K. A., Fergusson, D. M., Horwood, L. J., Pettit, G. S., & Woodward, L. (2003). Does father absence place daughters at special risk for early sexual activity and teenage pregnancy? Child Development, 74(3), 801-821.
- KidsHealth: The Nemours Foundation. (2002). Having a healthy pregnancy.
- KidsHealth: The Nemours Foundation. (2002). When your teen is having a baby.
- LDS Family Services (2002, February). Adoption and the unwed mother. Ensign, 63.
- Nowak, R. (2003). Absent fathers linked to teenage pregnancies. New Scientist, 178, 13.
- Rothenberg, A. & Weissman, A. (2002). The development of programs for pregnant and parenting teens. Social Work and Health Care, 35(3), 65-83.
- Sawhill, I. V. (2002). The perils of early motherhood. Public Interest, 146, 74-84.
- Smith, J. (2003). Primary care intervention for the sexually active adolescent. Clinical Excellence for Nurse Practitioners, 7, 24-26.
- Speckhard, A. & Mufel, N. (2003). Universal responses to abortion? Attachment, trauma, and grief responses in women following abortion. Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health, 18(1), 3-37.