“Navigating Unexpected Motherhood” by Rachel Fletcher

When I got married at twenty-two, I was determined not to end up young, newly married, and pregnant. Basically, I did not want to be a Dugger. (No shade… okay, maybe a little shade). 

Now, I’m twenty-five with two kids. Oh, and their names start with the same letter. So maybe I am a Dugger. 

 

 

As a 90’s baby, I grew up in the height of the purity movement. I wore my purity ring with sheepish pride. I refused to label high school relationships as “dating” because I knew that was off limits. I had my first kiss when I was nineteen. 

While there’s a lot that I now find toxic and misguided about the purity movement, I’m thankful for the emotional heartache and confusion that I avoided because I was unavailable for sex. Navigating the biological and physiological changes that happen in adolescence while also managing a woefully underdeveloped prefrontal cortex is a recipe for disaster. Throw in the fact that I’m just naturally more ~emotional~ than most of my peers, it really was good for the entire world that I wasn’t sexually active in my teens. 

And although I plan to approach the subject of sex and purity differently with my daughter than the purity movement dictated for myself and other children of the ‘90’s, if she had the same unscathed sexual past as I did, that would not be, like, the worst.

 

 

You can see now how I could liken myself to a Duggar child. Purity ring? Check. Virgin? Check. Fortunately, I never could rock a denim skirt. 

In college, I dated a couple great guys, but always nursed a gigantic crush on my tall, gawky, Harry Potter obsessed BFF. So when we got engaged our senior year of college and planned a wedding for seven months later, I knew I didn’t want to get pregnant right away. I wanted to travel, stay up late (so like 10:00, maybe 10:30), live in a shitty apartment, have like seven okay jobs before I found a great one, and not share my hot husband with anyone until we were old. Like twenty-eight at least.  

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I wasn’t like other christian ladies. I was a cool christian lady. And that meant I was down with conventional birth control. 

I started on the pill a few months before my wedding. I was informed. I was supported. I took my pills regularly and on time. I was not getting pregnant anytime soon, thank you, science. 

Except yes, yes I was. 

 

 

Less than six months into my marriage, I started crying on the phone on my way home from my teaching job because my husband drank the last coke that I wanted to drink after a bad day of feeling pretty weird. 

That should have been my first clue. If you spend the day feeling like there’s an alien growing inside of you, there may, in fact, be an alien growing inside of you.

After hanging up on my husband because he drank my coke, I realized I was probably pregnant. I called my husband back to see if he could pick up a test on the way home. He said, I kid you not, “THE DRUGSTORE ISN’T REALLY ON MY WAY HOME.”

Wut. 

In his defense, he was a bit desensitized. He’d already bought me a half a dozen tests for other unfounded pregnancy scares. If you’d spent twenty two years not having sex, and then started having lots of sex, you’d be a bit paranoid about pregnancy too. 

Finally he realized the precarious position he’d put himself in and agreed to pick up a test. As is expected, I peed on it. I yelled through the open door, 

“It’s positive.”

“Take another one,” he said. 

It wasn’t until I went to my doctor and had a urine test confirm I was pregnant that he really believed me. The pill be damned, I was pregnant. I have hereditary super-fertility and supernatural intervention to thank for that. #godsplan #drake

 

 

Thus followed some tough days. Not bad, just tough. Grieving a future and a plan that would no longer be. Fighting fatigue, nausea, and morning sickness. Adjusting to a changing body. Living off a diet of chocolate milk, blueberry pop tarts, and BLT’s. Feeling embarrassment at being just another young, married, pregnant, christian girl. 

But I survived pregnancy. And that’s about as much as I can say. It was not my favorite time, but I survived. 

 

… 

 

I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Well, now she’s beautiful, but at the time she was hairy and red and she had no discernible neck. 

Soon after, my body broke down for a while. I had my gallbladder removed, some not so fun postpartum recovery stuff, issues with nursing, and diarrhea for like two years. (Turns out willingly taking synthetic hormones can really f some stuff up while also not successfully preventing pregnancy. Why did no one ever tell me this?!? Oh well, different story for a different day.)

Today, that little girl is sassy and loving and opinionated. She has creamy skin and bouncy curls. She demanded to be born, and we had no choice but to let it happen. 

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Not too long after, we decided to bring another baby into the mess. As I like to say, “we’d already started the party, why not invite some more guests?”

So now my girl has a little brother who she awakens with neck hugs a professional wrestler would envy and enthusiastic “hiiii buddy, I missed you!”

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… 

 

I spent so much of my first pregnancy being scared of what I’d lose with my new husband. Time, experiences, opportunities, money. But my babies have given life and a depth to my marriage that I just don’t think I would have gotten any other way. 

I could gush about all the ways God used my babies to grace my marriage with strength and just a lot of freaking fun, but instead I’ll be a jerk and tell you what to do with your life. 

Here are the eight things you can do if you find yourself in a marriage with unexpected baby(ies).

 

1. Don’t fake it; you’ll make it. 

It’s okay to feel sad about an unexpected pregnancy, just be careful how you share your grief. I needed to share my heartache with my mom, my husband, immediate family and some friends, but I was careful with sharing beyond that inner circle. Fertility is such a tough and loaded subject. I wanted to be sensitive that many women would have (or already had) given anything to be in my position.

After allowing myself to be super sad, I started to feel decidedly less sad. It was better to grieve in the moment and then be able to experience real joy than to ignore what I was feeling and have it come back to bite me later. 

 

2. Go on dates, for the love of God. 

When we were engaged, countless couples far wiser than we suggested we make weekly date nights a habit. When it was just us two in a house, that felt kind of silly because most of our normal meals were just us, but we did it anyway. When we had our daughter, we went on our first date when she was about two weeks old. Hashtag no regrets. I pumped a bottle, we dropped her at my in-laws, and we ate and talked and sat in silence at a restaurant about ninety seconds down the road. I was a new woman. I also leaked through my shirt. 

Date nights remind me that I’m not just here to meet needs. I’m a whole person, and I have value outside of just keeping a tiny human alive. Since our first’s infanthood, keeping up regular date nights has only become more important to my mental and marital health. 

 

3. Pizza is fun and tastes good. 

Food is medicine, right? Sometimes that means making well-balanced meals that fuel you and don’t contain any dairy, and sometimes that means pizza is basically anti-anxiety medicine. (That’s not really true, medication is important. Take it if you need it). But sometimes as a parent, you need to remember that you’re not ruining your kid, or your spouse, if you say, “Yeah. I don’t have it in me to make and or clean up from dinner tonight. We’re ordering a large pizza. We’re having it delivered to our house. We will eat leftovers for the next three meals and if you don’t use a paper plate, so help me, I will lose it.” 

4. Full beds are nice until they’re not.

I can’t function without good sleep. I don’t like to talk about my children’s sleep habits because it’s a touchy subject and let’s just say I’ve been #blessed. 

But I’ll just say this. Do what works for you. Don’t discount the life-changing power of a good night’s sleep. For you and your baby. Sleep rebuilds cells, re-powers the brain, and reinforces cognitive development that happens during the day. 

My kids are happier after they sleep well. In their own beds. Yes, duh, babies need food. Feed them when they need it. But don’t forget that our bodies crave rest. You and your baby deserve it. 

 

5. Communicate clearly, trust with reckless abandon. 

My husband is an equal partner in our parenthood journey. Sometimes I forget that. I act like I’m the only one who can get my kids ready for bed; I’m the only one who knows what to pack in the diaper bag. I’m the only one who knows what wipes we love and which cause seriously alarming rashes. 

Except I’m so not. The thing is, my husband is totally capable. So we clearly communicate our expectations of what the other will take care of. For example, he’s the bath expert. No child gets cleaned in this house unless my husband bathes them. And I’m talking head-to-toe clean. Fingernails cut and hair combed. 

Now, there was an incident once where a tiny chunk of newborn finger was lost to the nail clippers. Did I yell at my husband, convinced I’d never make such a careless mistake? No. Did I want to? Yeah, I did. But I trust my husband. Which means I treat him like my partner, not a third child. He gets to make mistakes. And baby skin is resilient; it grew back. 

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6. Go out by yourself and without guilt. 

When I’m emotionally wearing thin, I tell my husband I need a few hours to myself. I go walk the aisles at Target, or I sit in my car and listen to music, or I get coffee and leave my phone at home. 

One time, I did this in the middle of potty training our oldest. I’d been peed on one too many times, and no progress was being made. My husband was super chill about it and I came home two hours later and my kid was potty trained. Not kidding. Leave the house. The show will go on. 

 

7. Paint your nails. 

I have little things that make me feel human. Showering is one of them. Painting my nails is another. Find the thing that makes you feel human and make it a non-negotiable. 

8. Trust the author of the new plan. 

Trust that the author and creator of your baby (and you, and the grass, and your favorite flowers, and also Chick-fil-a sauce probably) has a plan for your life far beyond what you imagined. 

Having my daughter dumped me into the wackiest, funnest career ever. Without the unexpected pregnancy, I have no idea what I’d be doing for work right now. It’d probably be sad and boring.  Getting pregnant when I did allowed me to be a young, semi-fun mom. I’m super tired by nature, and the Lord probably knew I’d be sleepy and boring if I waited to have kids. Now, I get to be an empty nester at an insanely young age. I can’t wait to be like forty-five, kids out of the house, and be able to hang out with my husband all day. We’re pretty in love now; I can’t imagine how in love we’ll be when we’re old and wrinkly. Although I can imagine it a little better now, thanks to the face app. 

 

 

Despite all my carefully laid plans, the help of modern medicine, and a super detailed five-year-plan, I still ended up twenty-two and pregnant. Three years later, life is really freaking good and hard and nothing like I imagined. 

Now I don’t make long-term plans. I can barely stick to my plans for the next four hours until it’s nap-time again. 

I just snuggle my babies, give myself some grace, and await the next (sometimes unwanted or unexpected) miracle. ‘Cause ready or not, it’s coming. 

P.S. If you’re now very frightened re: your own birth control, I was on Loloestrin Fe, and it did. not. work. 

*Follow along Rachel’s journey at @rsfletch, and check out her brand, Carbon and Salt!

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