When folks hear the word “surprise,” parties are what often come to mind — but pregnancies can be surprising, too.
“A very, very, very high percentage of pregnancies are unexpected,” says Felice Gersh, MD, author of “PCOS SOS: A Gynecologist’s Lifeline to Naturally Restore Your Rhythms, Hormones, and Happiness.”
If you’re reading this, and you or your partner(s) are unexpectedly pregnant, know that many people have found themselves in this same boat.
Different people make different decisions when they find out they’re pregnant unexpectedly. What you do after a positive pregnancy test is a very personal decision.
In this article, learn about all your options and potential next steps.
No doubt, a positive pregnancy test result can lead to feelings of shock and surprise.
But a surprise pregnancy can also lead to any other combination of emotions — all of which are natural.
Stressed? Natural. Overjoyed? Natural. Freaked out? Natural. Suspicious? Natural. Calm? Natural.
Odds are you’re going back and forth between all sorts of emotions as you process the news, plan for the future, and plot your next steps.
“Receiving a positive pregnancy test when you weren’t expecting one can create any kind of emotional experience, just like any new news can,” says Gersh. “It’s going to take time to adjust to.”
Your move: Be kind to yourself as you ride that wave of emotions. Try not to judge yourself for any positive, negative, or neutral emotions you’re feeling.
Instead, take note of them and allow yourself to continue feeling whatever it is you’re feeling.
You probably have all sorts of questions about how far along your pregnancy is, what your options are, and what your next steps should be.
A healthcare professional should be able to answer all of your questions — plus the questions you may not have even thought to ask.
If you already have a primary care doctor or OB-GYN you visit annually, call them and make an appointment — assuming your last visit was pleasant.
If you don’t have a doctor or aren’t the biggest fan of yours, no worries! There are plenty of other ways for you to connect with a healthcare professional.
“You can call a friend, local hospital, or local clinic for a recommendation,” says Gersh. You can also reach out to your county health department or local women’s health clinic.
Pro tip: Call immediately. “It typically takes a while to get an appointment,” says Gersh. “So, the sooner you get the appointment arranged, the better.”
What to expect
The first visit is needed to confirm your pregnancy and take inventory of your general health.
“It will include a basic physical exam where the doctor will listen to your heart, check your lungs, do a pelvic exam, and ask you all sorts of questions,” says Gersh.
These questions are designed to gather info about your last period, personal and family health history, previous pregnancies (if relevant), and current and recent health conditions and prescriptions.
The answers to these questions will give you the information you need about your options, as well as the timeline surrounding those options.
It will also give your doctor the intel they need to make recommendations about exercise, supplements, sleep, rest, and more.
- pee in a cup to confirm pregnancy
- get blood work checked
- undergo screening for sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- receive a pelvic exam, ultrasound, or both
- answer questions about your health history
- chat about what medications, supplements, and herbs you take
- describe any symptoms you’re experiencing
Questions to ask
Your clinician will have questions for you. But you can also have questions for them. In fact, there are probably things you want to ask.
- How far along is the pregnancy?
- Are the symptoms I’m experiencing typical?
- Are there changes I need to make to my exercise, eating, sleep, travel, or social routine?
- Can I continue taking the medications and supplements I’m currently taking?
- What are some symptoms I should be concerned about? When should I call you?
- What options do I have for ending the pregnancy?
- Do you have any pamphlets or information about adoption you can share with me?
- How long do I have to decide whether I want to continue the pregnancy?
The recent news cycle might make you feel like you don’t have options, but you do. Allow us to repeat: You DO have options.
The extent of your options and what those options look like will vary based on where you live, how far along the pregnancy is, and your preferences.
Parenting or co-parenting
“A high percentage of pregnancies that begin as unplanned pregnancies become wanted pregnancies once the parent(s) have time to process the information,” says Gersh.
After processing the information, you may make the intentional decision to continue the pregnancy and become a parent after, she says.
If you’re pregnant and know you don’t want to be a parent, you can either end the pregnancy (abortion) or carry the pregnancy to term and then allow someone else to be the parent (adoption).
“There are a variety of methods you can use for arranging an adoption for the baby,” says Gersh. This includes word of mouth, parent profiles, an adoption agency, or even social media.
For what it’s worth, it’s never too late to consider adoption. Adoption is an option even after you give birth.
You may also choose to end your pregnancy. Choosing to get an abortion is a personal decision that is your and your decision alone to make.
“Your timeline is variable for each state,” says Gersh. “Some states have [restrictions] 6 weeks from your missed period, while other states have [restrictions] 15 weeks from your last period.”
Trying to make sense of the limitations in your state? Our state-by-state guide to abortion restrictions can help.
Maybe you know you want to become a parent (and do so right now!). Maybe you’re still weighing your options. Maybe you know you’re not ready to add “parent” to your list of titles.
Wherever you are in your decision making process, consider taking inventory of your lifestyle.
“Generally speaking, what is good for you is going to be good for your baby and vice versa,” says Gersh.
So, whether you want to support the health of your pregnancy, make health-forward choices while you narrow down your options, or simply want to update your own wellness routine, you can benefit from assessing (and reassessing) your current lifestyle.
“If you’re pregnant, you want to take a look at the quality of your food and make sure you’re prioritizing organic, fresh whole foods, and a variety of them,” says Gersh.
“You also want to remove all intake of alcohol and recreational drugs — including the legal ones,” she adds.
Your medications matter, too.
“You want to talk to your doctor and healthcare provider about what medications and supplements you’re taking once you find out that you’re pregnant,” says Gersh. “Many pharmaceutical and herbal medications aren’t meant to be taken during pregnancy.”
Whether you plan to transition from pregnant person to parent or not, Gersh recommends leaning on your support system.
If your support system includes the person who contributed to the pregnancy, great. But if not, that’s OK, too!
“Whether your support system is a friend group, neighbor, or family member, you want to lean on them when you find out you’re pregnant,” says Gersh. “No matter what you choose to do about the pregnancy, a number of emotions are going to pop up that your support system can help you through.”
Reading this article is a great place to start.
But you’ll probably want to gather even more information about what continuing or not continuing the pregnancy will mean for you before you make your decision and put a plan into action.
So, take care to review some or all of the following resources:
- A Guide to Making the Right Decision for You (Take note: This guide is helpful but is not queer- or trans-inclusive.)
- Pregnancy Choices: Raising the Baby, Adoption, and Abortion
- Considering Abortion
- Ending Pregnancy with Medications
- How It Feels to Place a Child for Adoption
- Preparing for Fatherhood: 16 Ways to Get Ready to Become a Dad
- Is There Any Way to Emotionally Prepare For Parenthood?
- Options Worksheet
Next, ask yourself some tough questions, such as:
- What do I want to do? Is my gut, brain, or heart giving me an answer?
- How long do I have to make a decision in my state?
- Do my current finances allow me to make the decision I want to make?
- Who will be raising this child with me, if anyone?
- What is my support system like for whatever decision I make?
- How do I feel about becoming a parent in my current circumstances?
- How might I feel about the decision in the future?
This step is totally optional. After all, your current pregnancy could have helped you realize you’re ready to grow your family, one kid at a time.
But if this surprise isn’t welcome, now is a good time to think about how you help prevent future unwanted pregnancies.
If you know for a fact that you never want to become pregnant again, you might consider a permanent pregnancy prevention option, like tubal ligation, says Gersh.
“You could also ask your partner(s) to receive a vasectomy if you’re not planning to have intercourse with anyone else,” explains Gersh.
Otherwise, you could consider a hormonal or nonhormonal birth control option, like:
This guide to different birth control methods can help you figure out which type(s) is best suited for your individual needs.
“Emergency contraception isn’t birth control,” says Gersh.
“But if somebody doesn’t use birth control — or has a birth control mishap — it can be helpful to remember that there are a variety of emergency contraceptive methods that can be an option within a set amount of time after unprotected intercourse.”
Learn about your options for emergency contraception.
If you just found out you’re pregnant and weren’t expecting it, you might be feeling a host of emotions.
As you process this new information, remember that all of these emotional reactions are natural and OK.
Further, what steps you choose to take now that you have this information are OK, too.
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.