I just found out my daughter is pregnant!

This week, we are continuing our series on facing tough parenting challenges. What happens when you find out that your teenage daughter is pregnant?

Positive pregnancy test
Pregnant by Janine is licensed by CC BY 2.0.

Many emotional reactions would be totally normal and very justified: shock, disappointment, anger. Keep in mind, though, that the person who is probably most shocked (and maybe even disappointed and angry) is your daughter. (And if you are thinking that “she knew what she was doing and what the risks were,” that may not be the case. Research on the teen brain gives her at least a small reason to feel shocked.)

Calm down. Count to ten…slowly…before saying anything that you may regret. If she came out and told you directly, and you need to respond, try “Thank you for telling me. That must have been hard for you.” If she told you in writing, or you found out some other way when she is not around, use that breathing room to your advantage. If she told you directly and you have already reacted in a way that you now regret, it is never too late for an apology and to ask for a “do-over.” My guess is that both of you will have a lot to work through in the coming weeks and months, and there will likely be a lot to forgive on both sides.

Facing an unplanned pregnancy, particularly when someone is young and unmarried, is (for most of us at least) terrifying. Your daughter needs you now more than ever. And while everything in you might be aching to point out how irresponsible and stupid her decisions were, she’s been saying that to herself ever since she read that positive pregnancy test. There will be time for reflection later — for the “what have we learned from this” discussion and the “what does this make you want to do differently” discussion. Right now, getting to have those discussions will depend on your response and support during the crisis stage. Try some of these approaches:

  • Ask who else knows. Give her space to share what has happened up to this point of telling you.
  • Ask about the father. Who is he? Does he know? If he does, what was his reaction? Do his parents know? Gather as much information as you can. Try not criminalize the father, as this could cause a deep rift between you and your daughter.
  • Ask what her thoughts about the future are. What are her plans now that she has discovered that she is pregnant? Try not to interject your own thoughts about what she should do.
  • Ask what she needs or wants most right now: information, help with researching her options, a doctor’s appointment.
  • Love her. If parental love is truly unconditional, it should overflow even now, regardless of her actions. Loving her right now is not “rewarding bad behavior.” And by love her, I mean show it. Take her out for ice cream, just to say “You’re still my daughter and I love you.”
  • If (when) you need to vent, pick a safe friend who can keep a confidence and talk over your feelings. Avoid speaking to people who have a close relationship with your daughter unless your daughter is okay with it. While you have every right to need to discuss what you are going through, it is best to avoid overly exposing your daughter.

As you process your new reality, your daughter may find it beneficial to talk to a professional. Avenue Women’s Center is a local organization with experience in non-judgmental counseling for pregnant teens (and they offer services for parents, too). It is also important that your daughter see a doctor. After all, she is a growing child herself! The doctor will give your daughter a full examination and give much needed instruction about nutrition and prenatal care.

Your daughter’s life as well as your own is about to change. In several months, you may hold a grandchild in your arms. While your family may no longer look the way you imagined, start imagining your new family. Where do you want to be in a year, or five? How can you support your daughter in order to get there?

My Daughter’s Friend Had an Abortion

While many of the topics discussed on this blog are more theoretical in nature — focusing on research studies and circumstances we as parents would like to prevent — sometimes we face very personal parenting challenges. Over the next few weeks, we’d like to address some of the tough situations that parents face, or that they may need to help their children face.

As a parent of a teen, it is likely that even if your own child dodges the worst case scenarios, his or her friends won’t all be so lucky. And if they have been lucky and safe so far, statistically, it is only a matter of time before your child will know someone who has gotten pregnant, or had an abortion, or been abused, or tried drugs, or, or, or. So this week, let’s consider what happens if your child’s friend has an abortion, and either the friend feels safe telling you directly or your child comes to you for advice on how to help her friend.

While the moral and political beliefs surrounding abortion vary widely, it is fairly safe to say that no one plans on having an abortion. The young woman who has experienced an abortion has gone through a crisis in her life — a sudden change in plans that for many people elicits surprising emotional responses. It is likely that you or your child, upon hearing about the abortion, may also experience an emotional response that you did not expect, particularly if someone in your family has strong convictions about abortion or has personally experienced an abortion. I would caution you to deal with these emotions separately from helping your child’s friend. Then, when you or your child are in a position to reach out to the young woman who had an abortion, keep the following in mind:

First, it is important to understand what emotions a teenager might be experiencing after having an abortion. Many teens can experience conflicting, confusing, and painful emotions during this time. She may feel relief: relief that the crisis is over and she can move on without any big changes to her lifestyle. Sadly, the relief she feels can be short-lived and can turn into many other emotions such as denial, depression, and anger.

Denial can come in the form of refusing to believe the pregnancy and abortion even happened. This is one way her mind can try to block out the painful experience. After the denial passes, depression or regret can cause her to feel sad and have crying episodes. Many post-abortive teens have found it difficult to be around pregnant women and babies because it acts as a reminder of the baby she aborted.  Alongside depression can surface anger. Anger can occur when she feels upset at herself for going through with the abortion, even if it was her choice all along. Also, she may feel anger towards the baby’s father and others who may have encouraged her to abort, or who didn’t provide her with the support she wanted during the pregnancy. With all of these feelings surfacing, it may be compounded by the fact that she feels very alone. She may feel (justifiably) uneasy talking to others because they may judge her or openly tell others about it.

Restore After AbortionWhat can you (or your child) do to help? You can offer her emotional support so she knows there are people who care about her. Be understanding and tell her you will be there for her while she is working through all the emotions. Tell her it is common to experience these emotions and give her hope it will get better.  Also, it is important to direct her to post-abortion support services. Locally, Avenue Women’s Center offers a program called Restore, which offers a safe, confidential, and nonjudgmental environment for teenagers to talk to professional staff and other post-abortive teenagers about their abortion experiences. This can reassure her she is not alone and help her get to the point of acceptance and healing in her life.