Unplanned? More Like, Unplannable.

I’m sure you’ve seen it all over the news the past week:  “Half of all pregnancies that happen in the U.S. every year are unintended.

To which I have to say:  Just half?

I have been pregnant 5 times.  I have 4 children.  My only “planned” pregnancy was the one that ended in miscarriage.

I’m a smart woman, but I was surprised to find that conception (and its prevention) is inherently dicey stuff.

I think the pundits want you to know that pregnancy is often entered into unwished-for.  But what I want you to know is that entering into pregnancy at all is essentially unplannable.  Because your control over the situation is limited.

Women need to know that it is hard to execute a pregnancy on a precise timetable.  You can dream, you can plan, you can hope, you can pray–but ultimately, you can’t make anything happen, one way or the other.

It is hard to be a woman.  It is hard to not have control over these things.  But there it is–we don’t have it.

I’m attending to the current news items with interest.  But my own experience is constantly informing the sensational news stories:  it’s really hard to precisely time a pregnancy.  For me, it’s been impossible.

As a woman, this isn’t the truth I want to hear.  But it is the truth.

And I think women should know it.

What do you think?  What’s your percentage?

Comments

  1. says

    Anne ,

    I have to agree with you
    Its difficult to plan something like pregnancy

    My percentage is 1 out of 3 which makes it what 33%
    You would think that with what we know about fertility ( a woman is fertile only 6 days in a cycle ) the rates would be lower but sigh – not so much

  2. Linda says

    I’ve had 4 pregnancies, one that ended in miscarriage. Like you Anne, the only one that was planned was the one that ended too soon. That gives me only a 25% success rate.

  3. says

    Of my 7 pregnancies, 6 were planned. The only one that was not planned was not a surpise because we engaging in “risky” NFP behavior. LOL. And that was not the one that ended in miscarriage. So I guess my odds with NFP are better than 50%; I’ve been very fortunate.

    If half the pregnancies are unplanned, doesn’t that mean that contraception doesn’t work? I’d like to know the numbers with couples properly using NFP. My record would be near perfect: none unplanned, and the others conceived within a month or two of trying. I’m leaving out the “unplanned” one because we were not using NFP properly at the time.

    • says

      After using NFP for ten years, I doubt we will ever use anything else. We took classes for 6mo. before we were married, so I had time to hone in on my system before we put things into practice. For me, it has been amazingly acurate (and I have never had regular cycles.) Two of our five pregnancies were the result of “risky” NFP behavior. (sounds so risque! LOL!)The truth is if we really needed to avoid pregnancy, we would have been more careful.

      Of those we did plan, two were conceived in the first cycle, and one in the second cycle.

      The mother who introduced me to NFP pointed out to me that couples who use it usually have larger families than average because they are MORE OPEN TO LIFE. I like the fact that when we start feeling the urge to have another one, I don’t have to go on birth-control detox for 4 months just to beging trying.

      I read Penelope Trunks article and I agree. I’m glad that I have spent the last decade having babies instead of climbing the ladder of “success”. The happiest elderly women I have known are those who spent their prime wiping lots of little bottoms! Who wants to be at the mercy of strangers in old age?

    • Anne says

      The NPR article (and most of the news coverage) says that many unintended pregnancies occur because contraception is not being used. Free birth control is being advocated to prevent unplanned pregnancies.

      But I am absolutely amazed at how many of my friends have conceived on birth control of all kinds. (And sadly, at how many friends have been trying to conceive for years, to no avail.)

      When I was a teen and early twenty-something, planning out my life, I had no idea how little control I truly had over such fundamental things as marriage and children. And I think women need to know!

    • Amber @ neuronmommy.com says

      I think it may imply that people don’t use contraception, or at least not properly (in most cases).

      • Jasi says

        I agree. Most barrier contraception is spot on when used correctly. You can’t blame the pill for not working if people forget to dose on time. =)

  4. says

    Amen! I’ve been pregnant 4 times, one ending in miscarriage. When people ask me if my pregnancies were planned {especially between my girls – only 18 months}, I laugh and say “Can you plan a pregnancy?”. And while of my four pregnancies, my second daughter was actually the only one planned {and shockingly, we got pregnant the first time}, my others were more “not preventing”.

    I think most healthy women have like a 20-30% chance of getting pregnant in any given month, IF, done at the right time. And the charting alone can take several months {or even up to a year} to hone in on. So, really, the odds are against us. Which is why children are even more of a blessing, because really, our chances of having them can get so slim, and most of us don’t even realize it.

  5. says

    I’ve had 5 pregnancies, 3 full term, 1 premature, and 1 miscarriage. We didn’t plan any of ours, just prayed for them. :) After many years on hormonal BC, we’re letting God have free reign again, because I don’t think we *should* have control over it. Children are blessings, not vacations. I think a lot of people (including me, in the past) are afraid of pregnancy/labor, hence the urge to control it. Isn’t how you respond when you find out you’re expecting more important than whether the child was planned or not? :D

    Blessings,
    Tori

  6. Jennifer says

    I’m currently pregnant with our first, which was… semi-planned, I suppose. We were going to start really “trying” in a few months, but got a touch careless since it was so close. Eg, what’s a few months early? Let’s face it, it might have taken a few months to happen the other way…

    I figure I’m lucky, really – we met at 16, so the fact we made it from 17 to 29 without a real “oops” is pretty good…

    • Amanda says

      That’s what happened to us, too. We were thinking of trying to become pregnant in March-August of 2011, so I went off the pill at the end of December, and we did NFP in January. However, apparently cycles aren’t completely normal right after getting off the pill, and despite checking all the important things, I was pregnant by mid-January. A friend of mine who is a nurse told me later that when you get off the pill tends to be an extremely fertile time. I don’t doubt it, and I’m glad that it worked out that way, because our little boy brings us so much joy along with the general exhaustion and worry of parenthood.

  7. Jessalyn@DesiringVirtue says

    I think that these kind of stories reveal the aversion that we (as Americans) have toward child bearing and child rearing. We are a very selfish and self-focused society and children just mess things up for us. I’m sure that many of those “unplanned pregnancies” ended in abortions (People’s plan B to getting pregnant in the first plance.

    I am so thankful for my children and love them so dearly. I can’t wait to have another and be equally as blessed by him/her. That is not saying that they are not difficult, time consuming, and stressful! But all of these things God uses to build our character and sanctify our souls! What a blessing they are in EVERY way! Many women believe that to have children will only keep them from reaching their full potential, but we were created to have children and through the process of child bearing/rearing grow in ways unimaginable.

    Thanks for the post!

  8. says

    That’s interesting — I hadn’t heard that. I’ll admit as someone who was considered infertile for 2 1/2 years and went through a lot of medical intervention to have my 1st the whole thing kind of makes me cringe. But, that’s me putting my personal experience on statistics. So, my first was very planned in one way due to the doctors and stuff, but unplanned in a another way because if things had gone the way I planned I would have been pregnant in 2006 instead of 2008. I guess you could call my second unplanned only because after the first it was too much to hope for that I could ever do something as simple as get pregnant!

  9. says

    Yep – I’m definitely 0 for 0. My husband and I have been wanting children for 6 years now – and nada. So when I had friends or colleagues talk about how they will space their children exactly 2 years apart, or they will wait until they’re 39 before having their first child….I have to laugh a bit. I have often thought it’s not just that it’s impossible to plan, but that we have no control over 99% of that process. So plan away….and then let go of it and live your life.

  10. Bobbi says

    The statistic made me chuckle. We married when I was 32 & wanted to start our family right away. We had one miscarriage, and our first child was born, 2 mos. early, in our third year of marriage. Baby #2 was born 8.5 mos. later (also premature); baby #3 10 mos. after that (also premature). Our last baby was born 3.5 years after baby #1 (also premature). Our neighbors at that time were mostly all students working on professional degrees, and the wives would plan their pregnancies so they could deliver during their husbands’ summer breaks. I was amazed — we didn’t SCHEDULE any of our pregnancies (you’d have to be crazy, right?) but 14 years down the line I feel tremendously blessed that we were able to have these children.

  11. KT says

    I’m pregnant with my first, which was planned. However as we started planning for this child and I did my research on getting pregnant I began to realize just how challenging it is, how often a couple can check all the right boxes and still God witholds the gift of a child. He didn’t for us, for which we are so grateful, but with our next child he might, or he might choose to surprise us before we get to the point where we’ve made plans again. Or this pregnancy might not make it to term. There has been nothing in my life, not even the uncertainties of walking the path from friendship to marriage, that has made me feel less in control than hoping to become a parent! And I think that’s an important thing in our modern, control-freak lives.

    • says

      KT, I know this post is old, but I was just reading through Anne’s “greatest hits” and found this topic particularly interesting. Congratulations on expecting your first little one (or you may have him/her by now)! I LOVE your thought here about how this particular, personal experience that we have as women has made you feel more out of control than anything else–and maybe that’s a good thing. I have been married just under a year now, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how crazy it is–this HUGE, life-changing experience. Anne, you’re right. No matter how we handle this, we can’t really execute our own plans. I try to remind myself when I worry about getting pregnant at the “wrong” time that it is such an honor and a blessing–no matter when it happens. It is good for us to be humbled and realize that God is in control.

  12. From the other side says

    From the “other side”: I am 34, and my plan was to have been married since age 25-26, have first kid at 27-28, second at 29-30, third at 31-33, fourth in the way now. That was the plan.

    The reality is: I am unmarried, no fiancé/boyfriend, no kids. So I must say I have -4 unplanned pregnancies (meaning, 4 planned pregnancies that never happened). Sometimes, no matter whet you try, life does not go according to plan. And yes, it took me a little time to understand that “accepting the children that God wishes to send me, while having a say on family planning” could mean “accepting that even if I do everything in my power to find a husband and start a family, I may never have neither a husband nor children”. Unplanned goes both ways.

    • Anne says

      Yes, thank you–I was trying to hit the issue from both sides. Unplanned does go both ways–maybe many ways is the better way to say it. And I think women–especially young women–would benefit from entering adulthood with their eyes open to this reality.

  13. Amber @ neuronmommy.com says

    Both of my pregnancies were planned. It took 4 months to get pregnant with Conner (which I definitely didn’t handle well at the time…I was convinced my ovaries were defunct, silly me). With Violet I got pregnant right away. I think the pregnacy issue is so complicated. Many couples try and can’t get pregnant, or it takes a long time. Other couples just look at each other and seem to get pregnant. I was on birth control for a long time before we started trying to get pregnant, so I can say, at least for me, it worked.

  14. says

    I knew I would have trouble conceiving so my husband and I started trying 6 months after we started dating. I “planned” for it to take two years at the most to get pregnant. Well, four and a half years, two miscarriages and thousands of dollars later, we still don’t have a child together. Considering all we’ve gone through, an unplanned pregnancy would be a miracle.

  15. says

    I’ve had one pregnancy. It was planned in the sense that we wanted to have a baby as soon as one came our way. It was planned in the sense that I knew I was fertile that day. But it did not fulfill my plan of producing a child 30 years younger than I am, as I am 30 years younger than my parents. I never planned to have a child born near Christmas, an inconvenient time for a birthday. Actually, although I knew it was unrealistic, I always planned on having a girl. I got a boy 31 1/2 years younger than I am, born on Christmas Eve. And I love him very much!

    I agree that our society ought to be more understanding of the unplannable nature of conception so that those of us who don’t match our plans exactly don’t feel like failures, and we’re less cavalier about pumping women (and our water supply!!) full of fake hormones.

    On the other hand, the fact that America has a higher rate of unplanned pregnancy than the worldwide average means this isn’t simply a matter of biology. It seems a lot of Americans don’t quite understand that contraceptives only work if you use them every time, or don’t understand how women’s cycles work, or something. We probably need better education. I would love to see Fertility Awareness principles (not “turn in your chart for a grade,” just learning the info) being taught to everyone in 8th grade, because thinking about these things for years before you need to use them is helpful (and some kids will need that knowledge right away, even we’d rather they didn’t), and even if you use artificial contraceptives, abstaining when you KNOW you’re fertile increases the odds of success, and being able to recognize ovulation means being able to see if hormonal contraceptives aren’t working.

    I think a lot of American doctors need to get out of the “planning” mindset, too. I’ve known several women who were told they COULD NOT conceive (except maybe with fertility treatments) who therefore stopped doing anything to prevent conception and had surprise pregnancies. In my own experience, I used to have very long irregular cycles, and most doctors wanted me to be “regulated” by the Pill until I was ready for a baby and then switch IMMEDIATELY to fertility drugs so they could control the whole process. I’m really glad I got away from that and started seeing a midwife who’s willing to help me work with my body instead of treating it as something to be controlled with fake hormones.

    • says

      My mother told me that there was a group that went onto third world countries many years ago to teach women how to use NFP. Since they could not keep charts and thermometers and things, they were taught a simple concept to recognize only one “symptom” of fertility- fertile mucous: “If you are wet, a baby you will get. IF you are dry, your husband’s sperm will die.” I little crass, maybe, but that is one possible reason why other countries have different statistics.

  16. says

    This is a very interesting conversation. I don’t have a whole lot new to add, much of it has already been said. I do know that childbearing is not easy. Conception is not easy. The emptiness of not conceiving is not easy. The loss when pregnancies end in miscarriages is . . . words fail me here. It was years ago, and it still hurts. We want control in our lives, yet we have to learn that we are not in control. Three beautiful boys later, I am a better person for learning that it is not only my way. My heart goes out to those of you who have said you ache for a child but your arms are still empty. Very interesting conversation.

  17. says

    Any way you have children, it’s out of your control. We have two sons born from my body, one daughter gifted to us by her birthmother through adoption, and are waiting for another daughter through adoption. None of them came on “our” timing, and it can be heartbreaking as we wait for our fourth child (we’ve been waiting for over 2 years).

    I know it’s been good for me, though painful, to have God be the only One in control of when children enter our family.

  18. says

    I have been pregnant 8 times. I started out my marriage on BC and it did not go well so we decided to stop taking it, knowing full well that it could result in pregnancy – it did in the first month, so I guess that you could say that he was sort of “planned.”
    My husband started talking about having #2 before #1 was a year old, but it took 5 mos to get pregnant that time.
    I’ve always had very irregular cycles but started developing polycystic ovarian syndrome before #3 and had to take fertility pills to get her.
    #4 was unplanned and ended in miscarriage.
    #5 was unplanned
    #6 was a big surprise and was stillborn at 4 1/2 mos. (before #5’s 1st birthday).
    I was back on BC for a year or so because I was afraid.
    I did not know if I wanted to try for another one (as if we were trying to “replace” the one we lost) or just be done. I started praying that God would either send us another child (of the opposite gender) or give me peace that my family was complete. #7 was born 1 month before #5’s 4th birthday in answer to my prayer.
    #8 was a surprise, born premature 18 mos after #7.
    I guess I am 2 out of 8.
    I agree that most people who use NFP have large families because they value children and do not see them as inconveniences, therefore they are not bothered by “unplanned” pregnancies.
    On the other hand, I have a sister, cousin and beloved friend who have all struggled with infertility so I have great compassion for those women who would LOVE to have and unplanned pregnancy.

  19. says

    My dh and I had a very unplanned pregnancy during the first cycle we were married, and were abstaining using NFP. Of course I have PCOS and we were still learning, so that was that. Then I lost the baby in a miscarriage, and it took us about one year of trying to get pregnant again. We were just beginning to think I might need fertility treatment of some kind when we conceived our daughter (who is now 7 months old), and so even though we were trying, were pleasantly surprised to be pregnant!

  20. Katie says

    I am pregnant right now with our first baby. I have to say that it was “planned.” After really learning all the things that have to work together to become pregnant and carry the baby full term I truly believe that all babies are a miracle and something that cannot really be “planned.” We are truly thankful to God for our baby girl who will, God willing, be joining us the end of October. I have seen the struggles that my sisters have had in getting pregnant and carrying the baby full term. Children are truly a gift of God and a miracle.

  21. says

    I would have to say that because of our use of NFP all of our pregnancies were planned. Two of them in fact happened when we planned them. NFP worked wonderfully well for us in achieving pregnancy. Since we always wanted to to 3 or 4 children, we were not surprised when I got pregnant with my youngest. We knew the rules of NFP and knew it was possible to get pregnant when we did. While were were not trying to achieve pregnancy we were not trying to avoid it either at that time. But as my mother always said, there is no good time to get pregnant and have a baby. But anytime is a good time for a baby to be born.

  22. says

    We’ve had 11 pregnancies, 6 early less than 12 week miscarriages. Of our 5 children, the first was conceived in the month we planned -then she had a premature birth, the next was conceived when planned while 1st was at grandma’s, and the last I asked for her and conceived that night. The middle one was wanted and pleased to conceive but wasn’t planned and number 4 was a pleasant surprise. I don’t know how to figure the percentages. We used very little prevention (duh, I guess that is obvious!:)

  23. says

    This is a fascinating conversation! For my part, while I don’t like to use the word “planned,” we were actively trying to conceive both times we got pregnant.

    Anyway, I think that statistic is disturbing, because to me it suggests people are willing to be cavalier about sex and birth control because we have abortion available as a “safety net.” {Although I think there should be a distinction between “unplanned” and “unwanted”–as seen in the above comments, “unplanned” is often a happy surprise.}

  24. Lisa says

    I have two surprises. I was told I would have trouble conceiving, so we were very cavalier about BC (read-didn’t use it) for an entire year before the boy surprise. Now, the girl surprise came through ONE “carefree” night unprotected. While they were surprises, I would’ve gladly taken more surprises had my DH agreed to it. For the last, oh, six or seven years, we’ve used NFP successfully. And, fwiw, I agree with everything said here. You ladies are all just brilliant!

  25. says

    All 3 of mine were unplanned. Some more than others. My first, we had decided to starting trying in a year and found put we were pg three weeks later. Number two, we weremgoing to starting trying on three months…found out we were pg three weeks later. Ha! The one TRUE surprise was number three…conceived three years after hubby’s vasectomy!!

  26. Hannah says

    My mom had 3 kids (I’m the oldest) and each one of us was very “planned”. She was a teacher and wanted us to be born at the end of May. So, she got pregnant at the perfect time with each of us. But of course, my younger sister and I were both 3 weeks early. In fact, she was born the day before my 5th birthday! So much for having everything under control. ;)

  27. Tammy says

    My first pregnancy was “planned” for 7 years. That is to say, we went through 7 years of infertility before conceving. My second pregnancy was achieved the very first month of trying (which was a total shock to us!) and sadly ended in miscarriage. So far (1+ year later), any additional “planning” has not brought a third pregnancy.

    When people ask me if we are planning for more children, I say that it is in God’s hands. It truly is! And I can rest in that knowledge, believing that He will make our family just the way He planned it to be.

  28. says

    Im batting 0!!! All 3 of ours were surprises. Our first, we had just decided to wait one more year and then start trying. 3 weeks later we found out I was pg. second one, we decided in the summer to start trying late fall/early winter. 3 weeks later found out I was pg!! Number three was the REAL kicker….hubs had a vasectomy after #2 was born….3 years later imagine our surprise when we find out I was pg!! He had a spontaneous self reversal 3 years after the procedure!! I agree totally: unplannable!!

  29. says

    Interesting thought! Seeing as I had six babies and three miscarriages, and only 1 was conceived while we were “trying” and came to term, I guess that’s 1 out of 9! 11% – what a crazy number.

    Once we had our miscarriages, we stopped trying — in either direction. LOL

  30. Lacey says

    I know this is a super old post — I read it the first time, and now I’m reading it again because of your link. My experience is a little unlike yours. I have had no trouble falling pregnant both times (on the first month we tried). We are really blessed that that’s the case. We both come from families with high fertility rates. Our problem is more likely to be preventing pregnancy, although that hasn’t been an issue so far. My gut feeling is that we might end up with one more child than we’d planned :)

  31. Margaret says

    I tried twice, and have 2 children. No miscarriages. No extra blessings. I got pregnant within a few months each time.

  32. says

    I loved that you shared this. Even though it’s an older article, I still appreciate that it is relevant to where I am right now. I am learning this lesson, the very hard way, “you can’t make anything happen, one way or the other.” Trusting that God, being sovereign and full of wisdom, knows exactly what he’s doing in my marriage and “family planning”. Somtime I’ll share the whole story.

  33. Sarah says

    I kind of cringe at the terms “unplanned pregnancy” or an “oops baby”. Until we started trying to get pregnant, I thought that having a baby would work kind of like correctly following a formula… If you do a+b+c, you will end up with d (a baby). After 18 months of trying and perfectly following the “formula”, we still didn’t have a baby. It was a really, really hard time for me and it was especially hard for me to hear other people complaining about the bad timing of an “unplanned pregnancy”. I learned through this experience how much is truly out of our control and how each and every life is a complete miracle. After a couple of years of “planning” a pregnancy, we were totally surprised when I finally got pregnant! It wasn’t perfect timing in many people’s eyes (we ended up postponing a move to another country and then moved there with a 3 month old), but it was very welcome to us. Our second pregnancy was also long waited for and such an amazing blessing. The only “unplanned” part of it was when our little girl came a month early and very fast, while our country was in a state of national emergency and a landslide was blocking the quickest way to the hospital! But, again, it was perfect because of the amazing blessing of our baby. After two difficult pregnancies, I would so, so gladly accept a surprise pregnancy! For all the women on here who are longing for a baby, my heart goes out to you and I hope that you will be blessed with your heart’s desire soon!

  34. says

    Well said! I’ve had 8 pregnancies resulting in 7 children. Not a single one was planned. At least, not by me. I guess that makes me a complete failure, lol! My husband likes to say,” Plan all you want, but there is always a bigger plan.” One of the great great problems with constantly pushing God out of our lives is that it tricks us into believing that we have control of things that we ultimately do not.

  35. Rosemary says

    My husband and I have two beautiful children: our son is 18 months and our daughter is 4 months…that’s right…just over a year apart. And no, we hadn’t planned to space our kids that way, but the Lord did, and everyday, we get to wake up and see two smiling faces.
    I can’t fathom going through what so many women do, struggling with infertiliy and loss. A close friend of mine suffered her 3rd miscarriage a week before we found out we were expecting our daughter (my friend had a two yr old son at this point, and desperate for a second, as she was already in her mid-30’s). I felt guilty, as if I was throwing it in her face. But God is good, and not only was she supportive of my pregnancy, she will be having a baby next month. Life happens on His timeline, and we can pray for peace for each other :)

  36. says

    The only one of ours that was “planned” was Meres. My goal was to run our half marathon and then try to get pregnant. I literally got pregnant right after. It was actually unplanned because I never expected it to happen so fast. We tried for LC for about 6 months. The boys just happened. You are absolutely right. We aren’t in control. Ever.

  37. Emily says

    We “planned” our pregnancies, 2 of them. Both due dates were early October, as I wanted. But the first was born 6 weeks early, and the second 3 weeks early. So much for planning! :)

  38. Kelty says

    Ha! I’m so relieved to know I’m not the only one. We’ve been pregnant 4 times, Have 2 running around with us in this life. None of which were “planned.” I keep saying to my husband, “Maybe someday we’ll do this on purpose?” But, God’s blessings abound to us and we are thankful for all of our “surprises.”

  39. Laurie says

    I’m pretty late to the game (just found your blog and LOVING it!) but lately i’ve been impressed with how impossible it is to plan deliveries! My friends and I are all in the child bearing business at this point in our lives and I don’t know if ONE of us planned whether we were going natural or epidural or what ever and had it happen that way! Most of the time the decision was made for us as time allowed or didn’t allow…

  40. Beth says

    After reading all of the responses I feel like I must be the only one who is 2/2 or 100%. I took BCP until my husband and I decided to start trying. I let myself go through 1 cycle without trying while not on the pill. I then counted 14 days out from the first day of my period and tried both times on that day. Worked both times. I realize that I am incredibly fortunate and for many people this will never work. I wish everyone that wants to have a child gets to have that child. But, at the same time, I don’t think that there is anything wrong with planning and having it work out for you. I used the knowledge I had to try and plan the best I could. I don’t think that is something to be upset about or ashamed of. It’s just the truth.

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