When I found myself suddenly knocked up in the summer of 2009, my carefree life skidded to a halt. I went from being an immature, thirty three-year-old boozehound working at an alt-weekly, hitting the bars four nights a week, to a gob smacked puddle of Jell-O facing down the firmest adult-like deadline of my life. I may have been a grown woman with a job, a 401(k), and even a husband who was happy about being blindsided, but I felt about as emotionally qualified to have a baby as any cast member of 16 and Pregnant.
This was, in large part, because I was one of those people who are pretty sure they aren’t going to have any kids. As a result, I lived my life like someone who doesn’t need to ever grow up enough to take care of a baby. I avoided pregnancy talk and babies and general nurturing so successfully that I realized I had almost no common knowledge about what pregnancy even entailed, much less how to hold, talk to, or feed an infant, or explain to one what a good rock band was. Now here I was, pregnant.
Let me say this first: Though this news was unexpected, it was not unwelcome. Yes, it would change everything. But what it did not change was the fact that I had no idea what the hell I was doing.
“Surprise Pregnancy at Thirty-Five” is on approximately no one’s bucket list, but this caution-to-the-wind adventure nonetheless offers a surprising number of advantages you might not expect from anything so terrifying. Here are a few things I figured out.
1. You’ll Get Healthier, Faster
Sure, you were going to do a cleanse and start that new workout routine on Monday. Of next year. If nothing else, this pregnancy is the final uterine push you needed to cut out the fried, salty foods in tiny individually wrapped packages that you’re so obsessed with; focus on healthier stress management techniques that don’t involve your ex-boyfriend, craft beers, and 3:00 a.m.; and start eating something—anything—resembling a green vegetable. And no, I’m not talking about those snap pea crisps.
2. You’ll Get Emotionally Sorted Out
With the right outfit, being a basket case in your twenties was precious. Unforch, no maternity outfit in the world makes being a pregnantbasket case look cute. Luckily, pregnancy puts a natural, and surprisingly manageable, deadline on getting your shit together upstairs, at least enough to focus completely on another human being.
That’s good news, because your feelings about your mother, your life, and every relationship you may have ever contemplated might come rushing up faster than a bad case of heartburn after some buffalo wings. Will you actually resolve all your complicated baggage before the birth? Of course not. All the more reason to start chipping away at the heap of hassle in your life now. And seriously—put your back into it. Also, don’t forget to pair those wings with some (organic) ranch dressing.
3. You Have an Ironclad Excuse to Get Out of Things
Most people wouldn’t characterize pregnancy as convenient. It may be a tumultuous time of medically unexplainable sensations, sure, but it’s also your get-out-of-jail-free card for any person or thing you don’t feel like seeing/doing for the next nine months, give or take five years. This is great news for anyone who’s just been guilted into joining the company softball team, or anyone who has a really hard time saying no to trivia night. If you already have kids, you’re probably familiar with this excuse. It’s even stronger now that you’re pregnant again!
But even better, it’s a legit reason to stop doing a bunch of bad stuff you always meant to quit and now actually can’t do in good conscience anymore, as we discussed a couple of chapters ago.
4. You’ll Simplify Your Life
You think pregnancy just made your life infinitely more complicated, but looked at from another angle, it just became ridiculously clear what matters. Hint: Not the weekend in the mountains where you will watch your twelve closest friends engage in a competitive drunk farting match. Remember all that stuff you needed to do to become a real grown-up but were putting off because it seemed confusing or impossible? You know, like building up a real savings account, creating a will, or getting a life insurance policy. Before your every waking moment is allocated to properly sanitizing bottles, deal with that kind of shit now.
5. You’ll Figure Out Your Career
Babies kill more than slim thighs—if your job is going out all night, every night, wining and dining clients and being available at a moment’s notice, your career could be the next to go. But a baby can also bring into sharp focus what was otherwise blurry: your net worth, your career options, and your real ambitions.
If you’re lucky enough to have a good salary, this could mean taking steps to hire or share a nanny to help when you’re at work. Or maybe you’re not that happy with your job anyway, and it’s time to think about going back to school in the short term to get the training you need to start a new career. (Yes, it seems insane to enroll in a class while pregnant. Now picture doing it with an infant. Suddenly pregnant schooling seems totally manageable.) Alternately, you might want to find a way to take some time off, either as a few-month maternity leave or something more long-term.
Whatever you choose to do, it will never be clearer what you really want to do with your life. This baby is not an impediment so much as a very squirmy piece of the puzzle.
Getting pregnant made one thing crystal clear for me: Hanging out in the club getting older while everyone else stayed twenty-four was no way for a lady to live out her twilight years; plus, babies can’t do shots. I was already burned out from hitting shows and living at bars, but this was my official, unquestionable excuse to jump while I could. And jump I did. My baby was my gold-plated parachute. You might find that this pregnancy puts your future into focus, too.
6. You’ll Finally Clean Your House
Literally. Hey, maybe you were already a really organized neat freak, in which case this pregnancy must really be throwing you for a loop. But if you’re more like the rest of us, you probably never did spring cleaning in the first place, aren’t technically sure what a duvet cover is, and wouldn’t know how to degrease an oven if it came with a magic wand.
Luckily, you have nine very long months to get your house in order. Yes, looong. It seems like you have to do everything right now, and you do, but trust me, in retrospect it will seem like these months were the last slow-paced, lackadaisical vacation of your life. If it’s not your first, you can finally get around to donating some of those old toys and clothes to make space for this new bundle of thing-accumulating joy. For me, getting my house in order meant cleaning up an ungodly amount of cat hair and cat crap. It meant desmokifying a house that I don’t think had ever seen twenty-four hours straight of fresh air in the four years I’d lived there. I also had to kick out some roommates.
It meant making a space outside of my uterus to welcome a baby, in a home that I could actually be proud of. Which was more than I’d ever been able to say about my uterus, or my closets. Whatever issues you have in your home, this is a good opportunity to overcome them.
7. You’ll Figure Out Your Finances
You would not believe how much money you can save—even when you work as a reporter at a tiny little alt-weekly in the South that you know for sure is underpaying you based on the national average, common sense, your eyes, gossip, and your paycheck. When you stop drinking, smoking, buying large coffees, and eating lunch and dinner out every day, you can live on practically nothing in some towns.
If you already have kids, will this one tip the scale financially—as in, will the cost of daycare outpace your income if you work outside the home? Should you consider options beyond what you currently do? Yes, sacrifice is hard, but regret is a bitter mistress. It would have been really hard to brag about how much I had my shit together if my kid had to pay for her own car seat.
8. You’ll Figure Out Your Relationship
Nothing says “Are we gonna last?” like making things real permanent with a museum-quality reproduction of you and your significant other. I won’t mince words: Having a baby on the fly can fuck your shit up faster than a failed Breathalyzer. This is where you have to get really Zen, and get out of your own head, and get really big picture about your sitch. It’s helpful to think of this as the ultimate test, because it pretty much is. You want to take this journey with someone who understands as well as you do—which is not at all yet, but with an openness to the full extent of the word—what sacrifice is going to be required.
The good news is that having a big crazy talk with yourself and your baby daddy will definitely clear a few things up. The bad news is, you may wish things had stayed foggy. But now is not the time for uncertainty. You need hard facts, firm commitments, and a partner who is ready to pull an American-hero moment with you. But not everyone takes to big platitudes. If having a kid together on the fly screws up the relationship, you must consider it a sad but positive lesson learned early. If it makes your relationship stronger— which is not unheard of—you’ve just scored yourself the unicorn of happiness, a double rainbow of a blessing. Google it. I dare you.
9. You’ll Embrace a Roll-with-It Kinda Attitude
If you are the anxious, planning type, having a baby on the fly is proof positive that things that pop up (or out, as the case may be) unexpectedly are sometimes life’s best lessons. I know, it’s so cheesy, and yet it is so true. Perhaps you can’t see it now or can only sense its presence just off in the distance, but getting your shit together at a moment’s notice for your hilarious and awesome child will no doubt remain among the top best things you ever did. If you already have a kid(s), wait till you see them with their new sibling. The magic is hard to argue with.
But if right now all this just sounds like a bunch of pep-talky silver linings in a cloud of stormy weather, take comfort from the drizzle with some science: In 1999, researchers in the stormy weather capital of Glasgow, Scotland, found that, contrary to all conventional wisdom ever, rolling with it has tangible benefits! The study, published in the British Journal of Medical Psychology, showed that unexpectedly pregnant ladies who rolled with life’s tiny little kicks and punches had vastly greater scores for “cementing relationships with their partner, family and friends, of improving their work and social life, and even of getting better housing.” Which leads me to another advantage of unexpected gestation . . .
10. You’ll Get All Focused
There’s nothing like pregnancy to make you latch on to every last resource you’ve got like it’s sliding off a cliff, or dive over that cliff in search of better ones. Your mind, though strangely foggy and muddled, will also become preternaturally attuned to free time, opportunities, and efficiency-minded solutions. What was once a blur of gotta-get-around-to will become a clear-eyed to-do list, and the weird thing is, for what might be the first time in your life, you will actually find yourself getting it done.
This post has been excerpted from Oops! How to Rock the Mother of All Surprises: A Positive Guide to Your Unexpected Pregnancy, available at Amazon and B&N. Copyright © 2013 by Tracy Moore and published by F+W Media, Inc. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
Image by Sam Woolley.