This story begins about ten years ago. I was eighteen, at university, and working in a local parish. I also liked playing the piano, playing netball, and hanging out with friends. I grew up in a supportive family and had a happy and full childhood. Despite the appearance of a full life, I was wrestling with where my life was going and who I was. I’m pretty sure I was quite normal for that age.
Like many of my generation, I was struggling to find myself amidst some very conflicting messages. Society was pushing education, boys, friends, money, booze, parties etc as truth and fulfilment. My faith taught a world of prayer and worship, helping the needy, and focusing on the tasks of one’s day-to-day vocation. I found myself caught between social norms and my life as a Christian.
At this time in my life, I had big plans. Finish study, work, travel for a year or two, marry the guy of my dreams, buy a house and eventually have children. During this time I met a boy. He was different from anyone I had ever met. He was interested in me and not what I could do or where I was going.
During this time of identity confusion, being around someone who not only saw who I really was but also liked me for it was completely revolutionary. We had so much fun together and spent most of the time laughing and joking around. We connected straight away and fell for each other quickly. We had a shared faith and became involved in the young adults’ scene at church. Nine months into our relationship we found out we were pregnant. He was 21 and I was 19.
To say this news was unexpected would be an understatement. I will never forget sitting on the floor of his bedroom and seeing the positive test. I went into shock. I started shaking violently and felt completely numb. My boyfriend cried his eyes out. To us, this was a disaster. Everything we had planned, everything we were working towards was shattered. We knew that our parents would be severely disappointed and that mine might actually disown me. We were both from Christian families and most of our friends were Christian. Who am I kidding? We were Christian. We worried that our friends would judge us or not want to be our friends anymore. I felt God hated me. I thought he must be so angry with me for getting ‘knocked up’, and that I was a hypocrite and a Pharisee. I was too full of shame or guilt to say much more to God than ‘sorry, sorry, sorry’.
We worried that our friends would judge us or not want to be our friends anymore. I felt God hated me.
We had never felt so alone. We went to a movie to try to take our minds off it, but we saw kids everywhere and had to leave. How did this happen you may ask? How could two young people from such close-knit families with such strong faiths even become sexually active let alone get pregnant? I think it was a number of factors.
Firstly, our knowledge was limited by little to no education about the complexities of the issue. We were both told not to have sex for standard reasons (pregnancy, STIs), and that sexual relationships were wrong outside of marriage. I was only told to say, ‘If you love me you wouldn’t ask’. These approaches are problematic for a few reasons. Threatening pregnancy and STIs to teenagers assumes that they have the maturity to understand that it could happen to them. Like most teenagers, pregnancies and STIs were too abstract and didn’t fit into my conceptual understanding of my world. It ‘would never happen to me’. The problem with saying it’s ‘wrong’ implies that we wouldn’t want to, and did not help us manage our desires and temptations.
Secondly, we were both naïve. We did not have a proper understanding that if we allowed ourselves to be in situations where we would be tempted to engage in sexual activity, then abstaining and making rational decisions would be much harder.
Also, despite being ‘churchy’, we were also very much subject to cultural and societal pressures. Our religious experiences forbade sex outside marriage, yet popular culture, media and peer groups portrayed sex as a recreational activity. Our background and religious upbringings labelled us a ‘sinners’, yet our immediate cultural influences declared virgins ‘freaks’. Both sides of the conflict insinuate that the situation is black and white, and do not try to understand that the issue is complex. Neither society nor religious messages, at least that I received, have the understanding that decisions and values around sex outside of marriage need to be worked through rather than dictated and propagandised. Understandably, many young people receiving polar opposite messages can be easily confused, and this can result in decision making being impaired.
However, underpinning all the above reasons was the fact that we really did love each other. And as Shakespeare was so fond of saying, ‘love is blind’.
We didn’t know what to do. We felt that keeping the baby may have meant being ostracised from friends/church community, getting kicked out of home for me, financial poverty, ruined education, no travel, career limitations, shame, public humiliation, judgement – the list goes on. Not having the baby would mean going through with a termination, but escaping all the shame with our lives trotting on as planned (or so we thought at the time).
The first week after holding that positive test was horrendous. My boyfriend panicked and said we should terminate. I was still in shock and couldn’t connect two thoughts together. Then he calmed down and said we could manage, but I had unfrozen and said that we couldn’t, and abortion was the only answer. During this time, I begged God to make it all go away. I bargained everything under the sun for the situation to end. Even though I still thought God hated me (or on good days just that he was so disappointed in me he could hardly look at me) I began to feel glimmers of God peeking through the darkness. It no longer felt like we were completely alone.
About ten days after the end of the world, we knew we needed some help and support. We went to a family planning clinic in the city (for anonymity), and eventually saw a nurse who confirmed that we were indeed pregnant. Straight away she drew up the abortion referrals and gave them to us to sign. There was no discussion of other alternatives. Luckily we had calmed down by then and insisted on hearing all our options. She gave us the name of a counsellor, and we left. All I can say is that thank God we didn’t see her five days earlier.
By the time the counselling session rolled around, we had made the tentative decision to continue with the pregnancy. How? We had no idea how we were going to manage. But I knew that unless I decided to stop the pregnancy, it would grow into a little baby and that a new life would result. I felt that I could not knowingly stop this little thing growing, no matter what it did to my life or my boyfriend’s. After leaving the clinic we felt relieved, but still, we had no support. It was time to tell our families.
Communicating with family and friends
Telling our families was the hardest thing I have ever done. It was such a gut-wrenching traumatic time. After telling our families, we began to tell friends. We ended up losing a lot of friends. Most tried to understand, but they were simply too young and the situation too huge. However, during this time God opened his arms and held us tight. We felt him saying that it was ok, that our lives weren’t over, to stay strong that this will pass.
God sent us help through a pregnancy support centre in our city. I was scared to ring because I thought the person at the end of the line would be all ‘save the babies’ – that they would talk to my uterus instead of me, that once we had decided to keep the baby they would be off on a holy crusade to save the next baby in-utero. Nothing could be further from the truth. The woman we spoke to, Maria, had the loving arms we needed. The first thing she said to me was ‘Congratulations!’ She also said we were brave for giving our little child life. It was so refreshing after only hearing that our lives were ruined and that this baby was a disaster.
My boyfriend and I decided to get married. It was a beautiful ceremony and we even had a rapping pastor! I truly believe God blessed us that day.
Nine months after the lives we planned ended, a new life began. Our beautiful, healthy and gorgeous daughter came into the world. She was the reason behind all the hardship. She could not have come at any other time – she had to be born, and God made sure she was.
Upon reflection, from my point of view, there are a few things that I felt really impacted my experience of unexpected pregnancy.
Firstly, we need to make sure that we promote an authentic culture of life. I believe that if we reach out and offer support, love and acceptance to women and men experiencing unexpected pregnancy, then people in that situation would feel they have real choice and hope about their futures. Women (and men!) dealing with unplanned pregnancies (even within marriage) often feel alone, isolated, overburdened, and subject to financial strain. If we truly support the parents, then they will have real choice, and not feel like abortion is the only option. However in saying this, there are women who will still go on to have an abortion, and they might need non-judgemental support and love afterwards, and this is another opportunity to be Jesus’ hands in the world.
We also need beautiful biblical teaching on what it means to be men and women, the true dignity of a person and God’s original design for human sexuality. We need resources that give a rich and deep account of the Christian perspective when it comes to love and marriage.
I would have to say, however, that the biggest influence on my decision to continue with the pregnancy was my boyfriend, Nathan. He constantly reassured me that he would be there for me and that we could do this together. It is so sad that men are socialised to stand back and go along with ‘Your body, your choice’. I would encourage men to speak out and offer women the support to have the child. In saying this, it doesn’t mean that you have to continue a romantic relationship with the mother. I just know from my experience that I don’t know what the outcome would have been if Nathan had kept quiet and not said that he would help me.
Also, I didn’t realise that ‘this too shall pass!’ Parents and friends may go nuts, but when the baby arrives they usually love it to bits.
Finally, on a practical level, offering hand-me-downs, car seats, prams, gift certificates etc can really take the financial pressure off. In addition to this, young mums usually don’t know anyone else with children. Invitations to playgroups, BBQs, or even pamphlets about events they might be interested in attending can help a young mum to feel included and less isolated. Deciding to have the baby is only the first step in the really long journey of parenthood. Continued support and love are very much needed!
I also highly recommend any young person that has experienced an unexpected pregnancy/pregnancies to seek counselling. Despite ending up with a lovely baby, the whole ordeal can be extremely traumatic. The amount of shame, guilt and judgement can be hard to process on your own. I think it is also important to tell young people (especially those from a Christian background) that God loves them, and that he is bigger than any sin. Everyone sins (welcome to the big boat of humanity!), and God gets that. I think that it is what you do after that really can lead to an amazing encounter of God’s grace and love.