Sherry stood by the bathroom sink, eyes locked on a pregnancy test stick. She closed her eyes tightly for one last prayer: Please, God, no! Her military husband would be leaving for the Middle East soon; her eldest daughter was in a wheelchair. Finally, when she looked, a double pink line glowed in the tiny window of the wand. Positive! She burst into tears.
Nearly three million women a year greet the news of their pregnancies as Sherry did—not with joy or a cry of glee, but with tears, shock, and worry. Surprisingly, half will abort their babies. And while teen pregnancy seizes the headlines most frequently, unplanned pregnancy among married women can trigger crisis as well. The fears of bearing and raising another child can be so overwhelming that according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, 27 percent of married women with unplanned pregnancies terminate their pregnancies. Even more sobering, research shows 13 percent—more than 150,000—of women who identify themselves as "born-again or evangelical Christians"—end their baby's lives each year.
This crisis is real not only for women, but for men as well. The added financial and emotional responsibilities of another child require adjustment for the entire family. And marriages feel the strain.
I know this crisis intimately. While in my 40s, with a completed family of four energetic children between the ages of 5 to 12 and a career as a college professor, I stood before the test stick—twice. Both times, despite careful contraception, the test was positive. God, what are you doing?
I cried each time, incredulous, stricken. I gave up my teaching position, my dream of retirement, and my hopes for an eventually quiet writing life. Yet today—three years after the birth of my second surprise child—I'm grateful for these children's presence and I count myself blessed.
If you or a married couple you know is going through an unexpected pregnancy, know this: Love and joy are possible at the other end. I speak not only from my life, but also from the lives of dozens of couples who have made the journey through unexpected pregnancies. Here are the most common fears we faced, and the hope we found along the way.
FEAR: How can we possibly start over?
If you have other children and have survived years of diapers, late-night feedings, upended oatmeal boxes, and potty training, it can be difficult to return to the chaos and dependence of an infant. "We felt complete as a family," remembers Crystal, who already had two daughters ages 5 and 7. So complete, in fact, that Crystal's husband had a vasectomy. That was in March. In April, she was pregnant. "The whole time I was pregnant, I only thought of the sleepless nights that were coming, the difficulties of nursing," she admits. "It all felt like giant steps backward."
HOPE: Crystal's perspective changed during her daughter's infancy. Even before Gracie was a year and a half, Crystal was able to say, "I'd forgotten how fun it is when a baby discovers the world. When I was pregnant, my fears robbed me of the joy I should have felt. I thought of all the hard things instead of all the good things—watching her play, seeing her take her first steps, or running around the house with the older girls."
My husband and I discovered the same. Throughout both my surprise pregnancies, I feared the coming labor and fatigue of caring for yet another baby. But when I held my sons in my arms each time, when their presence was real and their love and need for me unmistakable, the weight of tending and nursing lightened immeasurably. We moved through the work of raising two more children fueled by their flowering personalities and our growing love for them. During the pregnancies, fears of starting over kept me from remembering what was coming: not just labor, but love. Yes, I'd done all this four times before—but I'd never bathed, rocked, nursed this baby before.
FEAR: What about my goals and plans?
Many of us have life goals and dreams. We sacrifice for our families, knowing the time will come when we're freed from the constraints of tending our family to pursue our gifts, abilities, and passions. For example, after homeschooling her four boys, Trish was excited about going to college. Another mom, Pam, was ready to start her own business. Brian and Sarah were starting to travel with their older children. My youngest was entering school just as I was nearing tenure at the university where I taught. Pregnancy suddenly interrupted our goals, plunging us into a sense of helplessness. Are we to serve others and shelve our dreams forever?
HOPE: It was a major struggle for me to give up my teaching position to be a pregnant stay-at-home mother—again. But through the pregnancies, I realized I'd unconsciously absorbed our culture's values of progress, promotion, and freedom. I'd bought into the prevailing notion that if we sacrifice and work hard, we'll climb the ladder of achievement toward economic independence, increasing authority, and freedom from responsibility, including the responsibility of caring for children. But when Jesus was asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of earth?" he pulled to his side not a middle-aged, professional, self-sufficient adult, but a small, dependent child. "Unless you turn from your sins and become like little children," Jesus warned, "you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 18:3).
God dropped me to my knees during my two unexpected pregnancies. I realized we never graduate from the call to "live a life filled with love" as Christ did. There's no promotion beyond loving and serving others, especially the weak and needy among us. What initially felt like a death sentence—the relinquishing of my personal desires—paradoxically was replaced with a deep peace. And each day as I tended my infant sons—as difficult as it was—I knew something momentous was happening: God was fitting me for heaven. This plan was far greater than any plans of my own.
FEAR: What will this do to our marriage?
Unexpected pregnancy can bring serious tensions between a couple. Mariah, a mother of four children under age 7, fell into depression when she discovered she'd soon have five children under 8. Her husband, though, was thrilled—creating an emotional chasm between them. He didn't understand her struggle and didn't want to hear about it.
For others, the tension can be more serious. Jana and her husband both reeled at the positive pregnancy test, as did my husband and I. As it progressed, however, Jana came to love and anticipate the baby's arrival, but her husband, financially stressed, his job in crisis, couldn't face the economics of a fourth child. Jana felt abandoned.
Some bear an even heavier load: Susan's husband, who wasn't a believer, urged her to abort their third child, creating irresolvable tension between them.
HOPE: A happy ending is possible in these situations. Often the birth of an unexpected child strengthens and renews family and marital unity. The emotional gulf between a couple is bridged when the baby is born. For instance, Jana's husband couldn't deal with the pregnancy, but he fell instantly in love with his just-born son, as Jana knew he would. Mariah was able to celebrate with her husband at the birth of their son. With her pregnancy over, her depression lifted. For me, my husband's fears of added responsibilities—and the tensions that created between us—fell away as he cradled his new sons.
But happy endings aren't always possible. Susan felt forced to choose between her marriage and her child. As a Christian, she chose not to abort her child, which left her separated from her husband and eventually divorced. Though she struggled to raise her two children alone, she never regretted her choice because she understood the precious gift of life.
If you or a friend are in this situation, don't handle it alone. The added burden of marital conflict can be overwhelming in an unplanned pregnancy. Recognize your emotional and physical frailty and seek counsel from godly friends. Find support through a Bible study or prayer group. Let the spiritual elders in your church know if you have special needs they can meet: meals, child care, companionship, or finances. Pregnancy resource centers, available in nearly every city, also have volunteers who will pray for you, encourage you, and help you find other 3resources you may need (see Heartbeat International's website for a center near you). For immediate help, call 1-800-395-HELP.
A note of caution for women: If difficulties in your marriage arise, don't immediately give up on your marriage—men often take longer than women to adjust to the news of a new child. But never compromise the safety of yourself and your baby.
I have neither time nor space to tell of the great love that's come to women who once glared at positive pregnancy tests. Yes, the pregnancy will feel long. And I cannot guarantee all your fears will disappear. But remember this essential fact: This baby isn't yours, but God's. "I knew you before I formed you in your mother's womb," God said to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5)—and to each of us. Though you didn't plan this child, God did, down to the last detail.
Finally, remember who's coming: someone who already knows the timbre of your voices, the sway of mommy's gait, the schedule of your days and nights. And this baby will be born already loving you. You've only to love back. Your lullabies will return. And when your cup's empty, hold it up to the lover and maker of this child, and he will fill it full.
Leslie Leyland Fields is a writer, speaker, commercial fisher, and mother of 6 children. She lives in Kodiak, Alaska.
Copyright © 2011 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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