THE DOUBLE STANDARD OF UNPLANNED PREGNANCY
If you’ve been following my posts, you probably know a little about my testicular torsion, my aversion to having children, and the turmoil of finding out that my girlfriend and I would be having a baby. What you probably don’t know is that we kept the pregnancy a secret until well into the third trimester.
I had my reservations about obfuscating with family and friends. For one, I’ve always prided myself on being incredibly open with the people in my life. But there’s also the issue of privilege. As a white man, no one has ever policed my sexual experiences or shamed me for having children. Quite the contrary; I’m often praised for loving my kids.
Let that sink in. I’m praised for loving my kids. The absurdity of that statement baffles me on the daily, but it’s a fact in our society. I get to choose whether or not I want to care for my children, and choosing to makes me a hero in many people’s eyes. Why is it that, when I found out I was having an unexpected child, my biggest fears were financial stability and making things work with my girlfriend?
Mallerie’s fears were much bigger. I don’t want to dig too far into her personal life, but she had her first and second children before she turned 18. This, her third, came at the beginning of a brand new relationship with a man (me) who was still going through a divorce. Suffice to say, she had absolutely no hope that anyone would be happy for her, or for us.
Doubt quickly became our theme song.
“I don’t want to tell anyone,” she pleaded. We were in a hotel room for her birthday weekend, but we had not been celebrating. Instead, we discussed options. We cycled through shock, fear, and defeat, then fell back to shock.
“Why?” I asked. My only experience with pregnancy had been framed as a miracle. I was married and had a house. Everyone was elated.
“Because I don’t want to listen to their judgment.” She was twenty-three, nine years younger than me, and forever labelled a teen mom. She had long ago internalized the double-standard of unplanned pregnancy.
Fathers get praise just for sticking around. Mothers collect monikers like irresponsible, man-trap, and much, much worse. Ultimately, we decided to tell our mothers, mostly because we were both afraid of being asked to move out.
Thus began our journey. We created a private Instagram account to chronicle the pregnancy for ourselves. At first, she wouldn’t even tell me how to find the account. Once I had, she tore into me for following it. She feared that others would find the account by searching my followers. Again, I was stunned by her reaction, but I trusted her and promptly unfollowed.
We went to doctor’s appointments in secret. Tracked his growth and memorized his heartbeat behind closed doors.
Even the ultrasound pictures were kept face down on the desk in her room.
Our mothers were both remarkably understanding, yet we were scared to share the news with others. Even talking to my father, who has never been anything but supportive, felt less like an announcement and more like a confession.
Eventually, I did tell him, and he was ecstatic. As the months passed, we opened up to a few of our closest friends. I realized that I had been, and still was, carrying a lot of guilt about the pregnancy. Guilt. Why would I feel guilty about having a child? In short, I had been trained to equate pregnancy with privilege.
Don’t get me wrong. The ability to create life is an enormous privilege, and one I have never taken for granted. But treating pregnancy as a privilege often devolves into shaming straight couples for feeling scared and unsure during unplanned pregnancies. Those I trusted most, whom I knew to be incredible, compassionate human beings, were also vocally disgusted with straight couples labeling pregnancies as accidents or mistakes.
I realized that I had been hesitant to share the news with one friend who was trying desperately to become a foster parent, and another who was confronting their very real desire for a child with the growing impossibility of carrying one themselves.
In fact, when I told the latter friend, their reaction was simple: Well, that can happen to straight people. And it’s true. Unplanned pregnancy can and does happen to straight people. That is a privilege. Some take it for granted, and that is worth addressing. But at what cost?
I had every intention of having a strong relationship with my unborn child, and my girlfriend considered motherhood her most important role. Yet here we were, navigating the growth of our baby as quietly as possible. Struggling as quietly as possible.
We went back and forth about abortion. We nearly broke up at least a dozen times. We faced the overwhelming reality that neither of us could afford to support our family. I already had two daughters whom I saw only half the time, and I would soon welcome a third child whom I could not afford to live with. I was forced to remain a part-time father to all of my kids when all I wanted in the world was to wake up with them each day. My girlfriend was forced to care for yet another baby without a father around every day for support.
Fast forward to the hospital, the birth, the last-minute debate over names, the announcement. Suddenly, our son had an online presence. He had a following. I had text messages streaming in from friends whose reactions ranged from incredulity to shock. My son was a week old before I truly understood.
We had robbed ourselves of a support system and of a joyful pregnancy out of fear.
Pregnancy is a privilege. But it can also be lonely and frightening, full of guilt and doubt. Unplanned pregnancy invites a litany of questions ranging from how to afford the basic necessities to how long before a father leaves.
Mothers, in particular, have internalized social stigmas well before the first ultrasound. They understand, immediately, that their uterus is a political debate, and that their grief is policed by everyone from family to total strangers.
This is a call, perhaps even a plea, to revisit our conversations of privilege, to reshape our rhetoric in ways that keep the inability to bear children visible without shaming mothers for feeling scared, or even disappointed, when the test pops positive.
Let’s allow for the full spectrum of grief and joy and trauma and miracle.
Let’s make room for life, even when it’s not ours.