I just found out my girlfriend’s pregnant. At first I felt shock, disbelief and fear that my future was ruined. She’s really frightened and crying all the time. She doesn’t want to tell anybody. I’m scared, too, but I’m not as upset as she is because I have faith we’ll somehow work it out together. I love her and know she loves me. I want to commit to her and take care of her no matter what, but I’m getting tired of her wanting to isolate.
We need advice, but she doesn’t want to tell her parents. They’re ultra-conservative and very religious. Although they’ve always been proud of her accomplishments, the shame of what she’s done is something she believes they’d never get over.
I want to tell my parents, but my girlfriend is adamant that I don’t. She’s worried they’ll think of her as a slut, but they’re not judgmental like that. I know my dad will initially be furious because he’s all about responsibility. He has lectured me about the use of protection, but we didn’t plan on having sex and were unprepared. In the end, both my parents will understand.
I want to do what’s best for my life — our lives — but right now I honestly don’t know what that is.
— John Doe
Dear John Doe,
I’m so very sorry both of you have to go through such a painful and fearful situation. You’re vulnerable, impressionable young adults with your whole life ahead of you. How you handle this pregnancy is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make and you shouldn’t be without support. I can’t decide who you should turn to, but let’s explore the possibilities, starting with both sets of parents.
I understand your girlfriend’s fear of shaming her parents and creating a wedge that could last a long time. Conversely, perhaps their love for her will enable them to work through their issues and come out emotionally healthier than before. If she seriously believes, though, that this disclosure will result in compromising herself in a significant way or fears they’ll be emotionally or physically abusive, I understand and respect her concern and decision.
It sounds like you want to tell your parents even if you’re worried they’ll be angry or broken hearted. I’d say tell them. It’s generally best when a family can work through problems together, and right now you need your loved ones close by.
Make a list of all the adults in your lives that both of you respect and trust. From this list, pick at least three with whom you’d feel comfortable sharing your problem and asking advice. If possible, choose individuals from diverse backgrounds such as a clergyman, a school counselor, and a friend’s mother. You may also want to talk to others who are — or have been — in the same dilemma. The more information you have, the better you’ll be able to make the right choices.
If you haven’t done so already, go with your girlfriend to see her doctor as soon as possible. You have the right to confidential health care with your privacy secured. Your physician will not only be a good sounding board for your emotions but she or he can also provide you with a wealth of information.
In addition, I recommend finding a psychotherapist who can help both of you face your true feelings about this pregnancy, support you to be in the best mental condition possible, and coach you on communicating with loved ones. Keep in mind, however, that it’s not the therapist’s role to influence your decisions but, rather, to guide you in seeking answers inside yourself and exploring all the complexities involved.
There’s no escaping there’ll be difficult times ahead. It’s an emotional subject and many people have strong opinions. No matter how you ultimately handle it, someone is going to tell you it was handled incorrectly.
Start to talk about and research all of your options together and support each other emotionally. Pull together; don’t push each other away.
While it’s easy to be nice to yourself when you’ve done something everyone is proud of, this is one of those times in your life that will test you and your girlfriend’s ability to have unconditional self-love. Please take good care and be kind to yourself. My thoughts for a wonderful and promising future will be with you.
Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website, patticarmalt-vener.com.