Finding out that your girlfriend is pregnant when it was not planned can be shocking, to say the least. She’s young, you’re young, and neither of you planned on having a baby this early in life. Perhaps you haven’t even been dating for that long. But now, there’s a lot more to consider. As the news sinks in, there are three main topics you’ll want to consider:
- What decision you and she will make for the pregnancy & developing baby (parenting, adoption, abortion)
- Your relationship with your girlfriend
- Your future
In this post, we’ll talk about how to respond after she tells you the news (or you find out together), how to approach decision-making, the details behind each decision, how to handle a pregnant girlfriend, what this might mean for your future, and how to talk to her parents. If your girlfriend is still in her teens, it may be helpful for her to read our teen pregnancy articles: teen pregnancy, healthy teen pregnancy, and challenges of teen pregnancy.
Making a Decision for the Pregnancy
Hopefully, if you and your girlfriend are sexually active, you’ve already had the conversation about what you would do if there was an unintended pregnancy. (If you’re reading this and you haven’t, you might want to put it on your list.) If not, here are a couple frequently asked questions to consider below.
As the boyfriend, do I have any say?
In this situation, ultimately the choice is up to your girlfriend as to what she chooses for the pregnancy. You can, of course, express your opinions and beliefs about the pregnancy and how you would or would not like to be involved, but you can NOT force her into any decision. If her parents are in the picture (especially if she’s under 18 years of age), they also cannot force her to make a specific decision. It is important to remember that if you decide you do not want to be involved, but she decides to parent the baby, you will likely be required to pay child support. This would be up to her to decide if she feels she needs financial help to raise the child.
What if we disagree?
This is bound to happen for some couples and seems to be more likely if (1) the relationship is fairly new, (2) one of you desires to have kids one day and the other adamantly does not, and/or (3) you have different moral beliefs about parenting, adoption, or abortion (i.e. one of you thinks adoption is “weird,” or one of you is pro-life and the other is pro-choice). There might also be disagreements over how the relationship will end up depending on the choice you make: if you choose to parent, does one of you believe that marriage needs to come next? or if she has an abortion, will the relationship be okay and continue on (if you disagree)? The important thing is that both of you are able to express your opinions calmly and clearly to each other. It might be helpful to have an unbiased mediator (a counselor, mentor, pregnancy educator at a center, etc.) sit with you while you have the discussion. Write down your thoughts and things you want to say beforehand so to ensure you are able to clearly express yourself.
Here’s one example of a situation where the two parties disagreed:
The couple has only been officially together for a few months, but is really excited about and invested in the relationship; then they find out that she’s pregnant. The girlfriend does not agree with abortion and believes that if she had one, she would regret it and have a hard time coping emotionally. She wants kids someday but does not feel that they are ready to parent (she’s still in school, he is trying to focus on his career and is not financially stable), and has considered adoption. He wants kids someday but feels that right now is a bad time for them to start a family. He believes that abortion is the right choice for them. He has considered adoption but thinks that it would be odd having someone else raise their child and also does not think that she could emotionally handle adoption. She feels she would resent him if they decided for her to go through with an abortion and feels that she would not mentally recover well. He feels like he would resent her if she decided to have and parent the child. She doesn’t know if the relationship could stand an abortion, and he doesn’t feel their relationship could continue with parenting. However, they both really desire to continue their relationship and see a future with each other. For the relationship to continue, it looks like they should look into the option of adoption. This is the type of thinking and consideration that must go into a decision. Their next step would be to (1) confirm the pregnancy with an ultrasound if they have not already done so, and then (2) visit one or more adoption agencies or adoption professionals and ask questions/find a good fit. (3)If both agree, they will move forward with the process, and if they do not agree, then they must go back to the drawing board, figure out a way to reconcile their differences, or to part ways and make their own decisions about the pregnancy. Below we explore the three pregnancy choices: parenting, adoption, and abortion. While reading through, think about what might be best for (1) the developing baby, (2) your relationship with your girlfriend, (3) your girlfriend and her life plans, and (4) you and your life plans.
Your Three Options
The three options for any pregnancy are parenting adoption or abortion. Before you make a decision for the pregnancy, have you confirmed the pregnancy with a lab-grade test and ultrasound? An ultrasound will determine if the pregnancy is viable (able to continue) and the age of the growing fetus. Contact a local pregnancy center for a free test, confidential counseling about your decision, and the option for a free ultrasound.
More than likely, you were not planning on being a parent right at this moment. Parenting can be an immensely difficult but amazingly rewarding experience that will definitely change your life. If your girlfriend still lives with her parents and/or is financially dependent, you’ll need to have a conversation with her parents (and yours!) about how parenting would work. What would they expect, can she stay home, would they financially support her, etc. Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you’re considering your options:
- Did I want to have children (think in the future)? Do I like children? (Caveat: many parents say that they didn’t like kids, but they LOVE their own children and have grown in that area.)
- How will parenting work? Will my girlfriend and I stay together, get married, or go separate ways?
- Do I have a job that can pay to support my child either through direct parenting or child support?
- Where will my child grow up/where will he or she live?
- Will my parents or my girlfriend’s parents help us through the transition to parenthood?
- (If you are still in school) How will my girlfriend and I finish high school/college?
- Who will care for my child (childcare) and am I able to pay for it?
- Does my girlfriend have a job that can help support us and the baby?
- What influences do I want and NOT want for a child to be around? Would my lifestyle/girlfriend’s lifestyle/her parent’s or my parent’s lifestyle fit these desires?
- Consider the type of punishment (spanking versus words), religious influence, drugs/alcohol, education opportunities, food/nutrition, foul language, etc. that you want for your child.
Here are some additional pages on the subject of parenting:
Resources to help you
Think you or your girlfriend are not prepared to be parents? Don’t worry, a lot of people feel that way (even people who planned to have a child!). Talk to your parents, hers, or other parents in your life that you trust for advice, the hardest parts and the most rewarding parts of parenting. Also, a lot of local community centers and pregnancy centers (places of worship as well, like churches) offer free parenting, pregnancy, and childbirth classes that can help prepare you. There are also a lot of places that offer material assistance for new parents, such as pregnancy centers, places of worship, food banks, and other donation centers. You don’t have to go through it all alone! If you need, there are also a lot of government programs designed to help families in times of crisis to stay on their feet. Programs like Medicaid (for pregnancy & infants), Women Infants and Children (WIC), Food Stamps, Temporary [Financial] Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and more. A local pregnancy center can help you collect resource information:
Adoption can be a great middle-of-the-road option for many young couples. This allows you to continue your normal life after 9 months, to have the medical care and other expenses paid for, to avoid the option of abortion if you disagree with the choice, and to give the gift of life to a couple who may not be able to have a baby on their own. Many young couples choose the option of adoption because they don’t feel they could give a child the life they’d desire for him or her, but they still want the child to be able to have a good life. You’ll have a lot more choices through adoption than many people think. These days there exists many options:
- If you’d like, you get to choose the parents. This could mean sorting through adoptive parent applications or meeting possible parents in person.
- You get to choose if you see the baby after birth, or if the birth will be the last contact with the baby.
- You get to choose how involved (if at all) you are with the child and his/her adoptive family:
- Closed Adoption: Neither you nor the adoptive parents and child will receive any identifying information about the other. Check out our pros and cons lists.
- Semi-open Adoption: You will each know some identifying information about the other. Interactions between yourself and the child either remain through letters or chaperoned visits. Check out our pros and cons lists.
- Open Adoption: Each of you will know to identify information about the other. Interactions may be in person. The specifics of each open adoption will be discussed by the birth and adoptive parents. Check out our pros and cons lists.
For more information on what the adoption process looks like for birth parents, please visit our Adoption Process page, or call a local or national adoption agency for free information. (American Adoptions is available to answer questions at 1-800-236-7846, or feel free to call our helpline at 1-800-672-2296 to discuss your pregnancy options with a Pregnancy Educator.)
Abortion is another option for an unplanned pregnancy. This means the termination of a pregnancy by choice. Most states in the USA have legalized abortion up to 20 weeks, or a bit further to the point of viability. The point of viability will be determined by a doctor, may differ among pregnancies, and is usually between 24-28 weeks. This means that is when a baby could survive (with assistance) outside the womb. There are two types of abortion and depend on the age of the fetus: medical and surgical. Many women or couples who choose abortion do so because they do not feel like there is any other option for the pregnancy. We encourage you & your girlfriend to never make a decision out of fear, or because you feel forced to because of your situation or people around you! Before you choose, learn more about the options and resources that are available. For more information on abortion and the different procedures and the associated risks, check out these different topics about abortion:
- different abortion procedures
- follow-up care after an abortion
- possible physical side effects
- possible emotional side effects
- And more here.
Remember that if your girlfriend is a minor (under 18), she may need her parents to sign off on an abortion procedure. Contact a teen pregnancy center in your area to find out more about the laws in your state. You’ll also need to have an ultrasound performed to find out how far along she is, as this determines the type of abortion procedure available to you.
In any relationship, there are defining moments where each person makes a choice of whether they wish to continue with the other person or part ways. An unplanned pregnancy can definitely be one of those moments. The things that usually split couples up is when their decision for the pregnancy does not match, or one person realizes they would be excited to have a child, while the other realizes they don’t want to have children. The strength of your relationship will definitely be tested; but, like all relationships, it takes work to maintain. If you wish to continue the relationship with your girlfriend, you’ll have to come to an agreement in regards to the pregnancy that both of you can morally and emotionally deal with. That means neither person can force the other to make a specific decision because this puts tension on a relationship. It is, of course, easier to find a choice you both agree on if you have similar morals to which you hold (which is important for a relationship in general!). This is a big part of why we suggest that couples who are sexually active have a conversation about what the plan would be if there were an unplanned pregnancy. Would you choose adoption? Would you be willing to raise a child together, or get married? Would you seek an abortion (and if so, do you know what that looks like)? As the relationship continues, make sure to reevaluate your choice. Dating at 3 months versus 2 years can mean very different desires for unintended pregnancy.
Talking to Her Parents (and Yours)
We’re not going to lie to you, these conversations are not going to be easy, especially if you’re still living with your parents and/or are financially dependent on them. Come up with some type of plan before you tell them. Have you both reached a decision on the pregnancy? There are more questions to ask yourself and plans to set in place after you choose which way you will go.
Here are some of the many questions to consider:
- Where will you live? Will you live together?
- What will your relationship look like: do you plan to get married? end the romantic relationship but both parent?
- How will you pay bills?
- What insurance will she be on for the pregnancy?
- Will you both have jobs/how will you provide?
- What would childcare look like?
- Would you both finish/continue your education?
Here are some questions to ask yourselves:
- What adoption agency do you wish to use?
- How do they pay for medical care?
- How will you choose the parents?
- What type of adoption do you want: closed, semi-open, or open?
- Why are you choosing adoption? (Your parents will want to know)
- How much school or class would she miss (if still in school)?
Here are some important things to think about:
- How far along is she?
- What type of procedure would be available?
- What are the reasons you are choosing abortion? (Your parents will want to know)
- Are you aware of the risks and the actual procedure involved?
- How are you going to pay for the abortion?
- Where do you plan to get the abortion performed?
- Does abortion agree with your parents (and your) morals/beliefs?
After you have an idea of a plan for the pregnancy, you will be more prepared to have this conversation. If you have a plan, at least you will be acting responsibly in a not-so-perfect situation. Another thing to remember is that it will likely be quite a shock to her parents and your parents. They may react with a lot of anger, disappointment, or be ashamed. The important thing is to try to act calmly, humbly, and to NOT be defensive. You both did something to cause this pregnancy, and so it is best to own up and not try to blame anyone but yourselves. If you are angry and yell back at your parents or her parents, it is just going to escalate the situation and make things more tense and worse at the end.
Living Life with a Pregnant Girlfriend
Whether you choose adoption or parenting, these 9 months are going to bring a lot of changes. Your relationship may be tested, but remember that it is a complex and beautiful process going on inside your girlfriend’s belly! This might mean passing on a blessing to another family or bringing home a little bundle of joy. Hang on to that end goal, and don’t forget that your girlfriend is giving a lot of her body to make this happen. Have fun with each other – take her on dates, make sure that bump on her belly hasn’t changed how you feel about her (unless it has for the better!). A lot of your world right now might revolve around the pregnancy and preparation, but don’t forget that your girlfriend is still there and needs love and support, too. If you and your girlfriend do not plan to continue the relationship, or if tensions are high, figure out ways that you can support and help her from a distance.
Emotional and Physical Changes
Here are some things that might affect how your girlfriend acts or feels and that you’ll want to prepare for:
- Mood swings – her hormones may be bouncing all over the place and making it hard to make her happy. Try to roll with the punches and find ways you can talk and connect with her that help her stay calm and steady.
- Nausea, vomiting (maybe), and food aversions – going out for a “quick bite” might not be so easy. Pizza and burgers may give her heartburn, or the smell of your tuna-salad sandwich might send her gagging to the bathroom. Make a list for yourself of what she can eat or drink. If she’s nauseated, have some dry crackers, ginger cookies, or lemon drops on hand to help ease nausea. If even the thought of tacos makes her gag, don’t suggest them.
- Headaches, backaches, and cramping – her hormones may cause some of these symptoms, along with the gained weight from the baby. Sometimes early in pregnancy, mothers will stop drinking caffeine (for pregnancy health) and may experience some withdrawal headaches.
- Growing belly & breasts – obviously, pregnancy will mean weight gain and often includes breast tissue growth. She’s going to look different, but don’t forget that a lot of women struggle with body image during pregnancy. Encourage her!
- Fatigue – many women deal with a lack of energy and a heightened desire to sleep during pregnancy. This might mean date nights are cut short or that you see her less often because she needs to rest. Fatigue is normal during pregnancy!
- Ante- and Postpartum depression – not all women will deal with this, but some women will have symptoms of depression during or after a pregnancy. This can be a serious problem, and if you have any concerns, the Maternal Mental Health program offers a free, 24-hour helpline for information & services at 1-800-662-HELP (2457), or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). It is important to let her doctor know about your concerns.
There are some extra activities you may participate in with her during the pregnancy:
- Doctor’s appointments – these may include ultrasounds, blood draws, information, gynecological exams, among other things. Support her during these times, and ask her what she wants from you during an appointment. Does she want you to let her talk? Does she want you to help remember what questions she’d like to ask?
- Frequent trips to the bathroom – pregnancy weight/direct pressure and hormones can cause a very active bladder. This might mean keeping your eye out for the closest bathroom if you’re out together.
- Baby shower – you might be asked to help with a baby shower or asked to attend.
- The birth – if you are on good terms and plan to continue the relationship past the pregnancy, this is something you should consider attending. If you’ve gone through childbirth classes with her, you’ll know that it is important to have someone to help guide and care for her during this difficult process. Hold her hand, give her ice chips, and be a good support person!
- Shopping for baby items – if you plan to parent the child, there are many items you’ll want to have ready to go before the birth. She may request your help in obtaining these items. This might include car seats, diapers, wipes, bottles, formula (if not breastfeeding), a highchair, stroller, bassinet, pack N play, crib, and much more.
Pregnancy might mean a lot of changes, but try not to let that get to you. There are new dads groups and counseling available if you are choosing adoption. There is help out there to guide you through the process so that you can support your girlfriend well!
If you find out that you aren’t actually pregnant, or want to know how to not get yourself into the same situation in the future, there are a few things you could do. The first thing to know is that the only 100% effective pregnancy prevention method is abstinence, or refraining from sexual activities. Though it is not a popular choice today, it is the only way to completely avoid STDs and unintended pregnancies. Here are some reasons that women and men choose to remain abstinent:
- He/she is not ready for a pregnancy or to be a parent
- He/she wants to avoid STDs
- He/she wants to wait to have sex until marriage
- He/she has religious reasons to avoid sexual activities
Barrier Methods, Hormonal Birth Control, & Family Planning
Since sex is for making babies, it’s important to consider why you’re having sex, and what you would do if you got an STD or had an unintended pregnancy. If you do continue to have sex, it’s important to have a conversation with each sexual partner about what would happen if there were an unplanned pregnancy. Other options you can choose if you decide to be sexually active:
- Always use condoms the entire time there is penetration (this offers partial protection against STDs and is 82% effective at preventing pregnancy)
- Use another form of a barrier method, such as a female condom, diaphragm, the sponge, or spermicide (ranging from 79 – 72% effective at preventing pregnancy)
- The withdrawal (or pull-out) method is another option, but on average is 78% effective at preventing pregnancy due to sloppy withdrawals and the presence of pre-cum (pre-ejaculate fluid)
- Look into different hormonal birth control methods for the woman:
- The pill* – 28 pills of which 21 or 24 pills are active/hormonal and 4 or 7 pills are placebo pills (average use: 91% effective at preventing pregnancy)
- The patch* – a hormonal patch usually changed once per week (average use: 91% effective at preventing pregnancy)
- Vaginal ring* – a hormonal ring that is placed near the cervix and is changed once a month (average use: 91% effective at preventing pregnancy)
- Injections* – an injectable dose of hormones every 3 months (average use: 94% effective at preventing pregnancy)
- Intrauterine device (IUD)* – a T-shaped hormonal structure that is placed by a doctor in your uterus and is effective for 3-5 years (over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy)
- Implant* – a matchstick-shaped hormonal structure that is placed under the skin (arm) by your doctor and is effective for ~5 years (over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy)
- If you do not wish to have more/any children, you may consider male or female sterilization – having the “tubes” in the male or female reproductive system to prevent eggs or sperm from being released (over 99% effective, but tubes can regrow in some cases)
- The Fertility Awareness/Family Planning method involves tracking when you are most likely to become pregnant and not having sex during that time; some people also pair condoms with this method of tracking
Ethical Considerations of hormonal birth control
*These hormonal birth control methods have 3 methods of action: (1) preventing or delaying ovulation, (2) thickening cervical mucus to prevent the movement of sperm toward an egg, and (3) preventing implantation of an already fertilized egg by thinning the lining of the uterus. Many people find an ethical issue with the third method, as it could end a pregnancy that has already begun. This is something to consider as you make your choice for yourself and as your partner decides.
More Helpful Articles:
- Am I Pregnant, or is it Something Else?
- Pregnancy Symptoms – Early Signs of Pregnancy
- Medicaid for Pregnant Women
- Benefits of Adoption
Compiled using information from the following sources:
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: The Effectiveness of Contraceptive Methods.
2. National Child and Maternal Health Education Program: Mom’s Mental Health Matters.