Unexpected Pregnancy

By OBOS Pregnancy & Birth Contributors |
UPDATED: Sep 17, 2014

Are you worried that you might be pregnant? You’re not alone. Almost half of all U.S. women become pregnant without planning to at some point in their lives.

Any woman who has begun her periods, has not experienced menopause, and has vaginal intercourse with a man can become pregnant. Most unexpected pregnancies occur when the couple is not using birth control or is using birth control inconsistently or incorrectly. However, birth control methods can occasionally fail, even when used correctly.

If you think you are pregnant, you may feel joyful and excited about the possibility of becoming a mother. You may also feel shocked, terrified, ashamed, or simply not ready to be a parent.

The first thing to do is to confirm whether you are pregnant. The earlier you know, the more time you’ll have to plan. If you are nervous about the results, try to find someone who will provide support when you take the test and as you make your way through the process of finding out about and deciding among your options. You have the right to whatever support and advice you want, as well as the right to make your own decisions.

If you are pregnant, you might know what you want to do immediately, or you might find the decision agonizing. Many of us change our minds once we are faced with the reality of being pregnant, even if we always thought we knew what we would do. Be gentle with yourself. Remember that there is help to guide you through this time, regardless of your circumstances.

Finding Out

There are two different kinds of tests you can take to find out if you are pregnant.

  • Home pregnancy tests: These generally test for human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), a pregnancy-related hormone that can be found in urine. These tests are very accurate and can be used starting about the time when you would have gotten your period.Most home pregnancy tests work similarly: You either put a test stick into your urine stream while urinating, or you collect urine in a cup and then put the test stick into the cup. After you wait a certain number of minutes, the results window on the stick will show either a line (bold or faint) or no line. A line is a positive test, which means you are pregnant. If the test is negative and it is less than one week past the time when you would have gotten your period, you should take the test again in several days.You can buy home pregnancy tests at most grocery stores and drugstores. They usually cost between $5 and $15. You don’t need to be over a certain age and you don’t need a prescription to buy them.
  • Blood test: Done at a doctor’s office or at a health clinic, a blood test identifies if there is hCG in your blood. It can tell if you are pregnant about a week before you would expect to get your period.

Signs of Pregnancy

Early signs of pregnancy vary from woman to woman and even from one pregnancy to the next. Here are some signs many women experience:

  • A missed, lighter, or shorter-than-usual menstrual period
  • Breast tenderness or enlargement
  • Nipple sensitivity
  • Frequent urination
  • Feeling unusually tired
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Feeling bloated
  • Cramps
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Feeling more emotional than usual

Other causes besides pregnancy can produce these symptoms. Do not assume that you are pregnant until a test confirms it. If you are hoping you’re not pregnant and you’re sexually active, continue using birth control until you take the test in case it was a false scare.

Is It Possible to Become Pregnant Without Having Intercourse?

It is possible, though very rare, for you to become pregnant without intercourse. Pregnancy is possible if sperm is on a hand that is then put into your vagina; if sperm lands in your vulva, right near the entrance of your vagina; or if clothing or material that is completely saturated with semen is in direct contact with your vagina. However, because sperm ejaculated outside the body survive only minutes to a few hours, getting pregnant without intercourse is highly unlikely.

Finding Honest Information

If your home pregnancy test is positive, you can visit a family planning clinic, a women’s health center, or your health care provider to confirm the pregnancy and to find out more about your options. The Planned Parenthood website enables you to search by zip code or state for a clinic near you. You can also visit the National Abortion Federation (NAF) website or call the NAF Hotline at 1-800-772-9100. NAF provides unbiased information on all options, seeking to help women make choices that are right for them.

When looking for a clinic or provider, avoid “crisis pregnancy centers,” often listed online as “abortion alternatives.” These centers often draw women in by offering free pregnancy testing or ultrasounds. They are run by people who are against abortion and often don’t tell women about all the options or try to scare women into not having abortions.

Deciding What to Do

Once you learn that you are pregnant, you will need time to adjust to the news and the vast range of emotions that follow. Even if you are thrilled, you and/or your partner may feel emotionally, physically, spiritually, or economically unprepared to become parents now.

Your next step is to decide whether to continue the pregnancy or to have an abortion. If you decide to carry the pregnancy to term, you may choose to raise the child yourself or have the child raised through closed or open adoption or foster care.

Many of us feel emotionally torn for a long time before we choose the next step. Your body will be going through hormonal changes that affect emotions and feelings. Quiet reflection and talking with close friends or family may help you think through the possibilities.

Yet it is important to make a decision while it is still early in the pregnancy, so that you can either get prenatal care or have an abortion before the twelfth week of pregnancy, the easiest and safest time to have an abortion. Not making a decision will limit your choices.

Trust yourself; you can determine what is best. It is a highly responsible and moral act to clarify the right choice for you.