The Unplanned Pregnancy Action Plan
Here’s my full guide for making it through.
Preface: because of the choice I made, I write from a perspective of You can do this. I want you or any friend you know who finds themselves in these shoes to hear what my friend told me that Wednesday morning: “You can do this.” It is not an easy journey, I’ll tell it to you straight, but it has been the most rewarding journey of my life. It’s been a journey of forgiveness (of myself and others), empowerment, understanding, growth, and strength. It has made up every fiber of who I am today. All of this said, I would never judge another woman for making a different choice than mine nor do I ever intend to make a woman feel that my choice was braver or stronger than the one she made or chooses to make in her future. I have close friends who came to me with their stories of abortion after I found out I was pregnant. When they shared their experiences with me, I didn’t look at them through a shame-filled lens; I knew exactly where they’d been and knew I could have just easily made the same decision. I know the pain, the darkness, the indescribable fear that takes over. I know, with tears in my eyes, the unbearable hurt, loneliness and lack of control that a woman feels in this moment. The single most important motivation for all of this story-telling comes from empathy and wanting to share a simple message: you are not alone.
So many Fridays ago, my doctor looked at me eagerly saying, "Reach down and grab her!" and I wrapped my hands around Renley's tiny tummy and pulled her face to meet mine. At that moment, time stopped. My heart leapt from my chest in joy as our eyes met for the first time. It was love instantly.
When Renley was only a newborn, I began writing her a lullaby as I rocked her to sleep each night. With every goodnight, a new iteration of the lullaby surfaced until it became something fully true to me. Now, it’s a song I sing to her every night. In the second verse, I sing,
“In the midst of my desert, you sprung like new spring. You bloomed like a wildflower that healed my heart strings. Your petals filled space where unseen gaps once lived. You taught me that true love, that God does exist.”
Sometimes when I sing these two lines to her, I weep. Every syllable still feels so raw and true to my experience of giving birth and being healed in some incomprehensible way. I think about certain holes in my heart that once existed, that ached with loneliness and a longing to be needed. Sure, there are new hurts and new hurdles I’ve had to overcome (and still battle on a daily basis), but somehow, giving birth to a daughter filled a part of me I never knew was hollow. She gifted me an understanding of something I didn’t know existed. She is my greatest source of joy and has been since our eyes met that first time. But even with this newfound joy, I had (and still have) a long journey of healing and acceptance ahead. Every day I discover new flaws, recognize new limitations and face difficult demons to become a better mother.
When I was seventeen, my high school boyfriend dumped me. I was heartbroken and had no idea how to move forward so I did what any normal 17-year-old would do: I wrote a how-to guide for getting over a break up and distributed it to all of my other broken-hearted high school friends. While this self-deprecating tale is laughable, it perfectly encompasses the way I process grief and try my best turn paralyzing heartbreak into healing. This is my start on creating some semblance of a guide for women facing this challenge or other challenges in their lives. It will grow and build overtime and I’m sure the way I approach difficulty will also evolve but here are a few things I’ve learned thus far on this journey of change. I might mention that these were not clear in the thick of it; there is always more clarity in retrospect:
I HAD TO GET STABLE, EMOTIONALLY & ASK FOR HELP
I went through a painful process of accepting my new life during pregnancy and my new limitations post-baby. I opened up to family more, I relied on regular check-ins with friends, I found a phenomenal therapist, I journaled, and what I finally realized was happening was that I was experiencing grief.
I HAD TO BE FINANCIALLY INDEPENDENT
From day one, I sat down with my online banking and I devised a budget. I broke out all my expenses, calculated my income and figured out how to come up with $8,000 by the time Renley arrived. I was determined to do this almost completely on my own.
As soon as this journey began, I knew I needed to take a hard look at my finances and find a way to save for the new baby. I’m extremely independent. Again, sometimes to a fault. I’m afraid to ask for help because I don’t want to be seen as weak, needy or incapable. In this vein, I thought seriously about trying to do this on my own and staying in LA (I think I could have done it but it would have been the harder path) and I did plan for how I could go this route financially. Evidently, I knew it wasn’t smart to forego the support from my family when I was fortunate enough to have that option. That said, I never wanted to rely on them financially. From day one, I sat down with my online banking and I devised a budget. I broke out all my expenses, calculated my income (and the supplementary income I could bring in) and figured out how much I needed to cut back in order to save. I lived on a very tight budget for 10 months - allowing me to save $8,000 by the time Renley arrived, and paying off $1000 in credit card debt along the way. I calculated how far $8,000 would get me post-baby and that’s how I figured how long I had to find a job. With free rent for 10 months (two months pre-baby and eight months post-baby), that $8K got me really far, including all my expenses (other than rent), non-insurance covered pediatrician appointments, immunizations, unexpected costs and basic supplies for Renley. I break down my budgeting here.
I had to accept my current reality & Be kind to myself:
Accepting my current place was so necessary before I could build a future. All the while that I was trying to do the latter before the former, I was holding myself to a completely unfair standard and beating myself up for it. And in the process, I learned what self-care truly means.
In January (right around the time I had just started to look for a job), I started to look for apartments. In retrospect this was a crazy idea as I wasn’t even close to having a job that would afford me such an apartment, but I justified it in my mind as “getting myself motivated” and “conducting market research” (you can laugh). I remember pulling up this site for apartments (it turns out, this is now the building I live in) and I showed my dad. My excitement was met with disappointing realism, “Alexa, I think you’re putting the cart before the horse. Get the job then save then get the place.” And I remember being so mad that he responded this way. In retrospect, it was a learning moment for me. I had to accept where I was before I could move on and dream of something more. No doubt, you have to put goals in place. But what I was doing was setting my heart on something that was so unattainable at the moment and then becoming frustrating and disappointed because I couldn’t attain it fast enough. I wasn’t feeling grateful for what I had, I was continuing to look to the future to source my joy. The lesson: accept your limitations and your circumstances, keep working toward the future you want, but live in that acceptance and peace (and you will attain it). More coming on this.
Once I accepted my current place, I started to be more proactive and plan ahead.
After having leaving my job in LA and having a baby, I had to start over in Chicago. I took me five months to get a job and the key turned out to be (big surprise!): networking.
Throughout my whole “acceptance” phase, I continued chipping ahead at my job search. I perfected my resume, asked a talented friend to share their resume template in Photoshop, updated my LinkedIn and even found a small and local part time job to help pay the bills. I signed up for the paid LinkedIn plan and applied to LinkedIn job postings that I was interested in. But the biggest time investment and effort I made were setting up as many networking coffee meetings as possible. I reached out to my parents’ friends, I picked the brains of current friends, I let friends make introductions to colleagues in different industries and I followed up with every single one of them. Other than my parents and their close friends, I didn’t have a network in Chicago; I had to build one from almost scratch so I put my head down and I became determined to find a job. The job I ended up finding came a month after I reconnected with an old boss/mentor (who I hadn’t spoke to in over 5 years) for breakfast. At the time, he wasn’t looking to hire anyone but a month after we met, I was top of mind and he reached out to me to fill a need in his brand new company. There is power in relationships and in maintaining them. People want to hire people they know and trust to get the job done right. The most leads I had were generated through those networking meetings and not through the thoughtless random resume submissions. One of the meetings I had to pick someone’s brain about law school led to a part time job in their office that turned out to be a great learning experience (and some extra cash). And even if nothing “actionable" came from these meetings, I got the opportunity to pick people’s brains, learn about different industries and collect the advice they had to give. It was invaluable. For better or for worse, the saying is really true, it’s about who you know. More on my job search coming soon.
So, if you’re a single mom (or just learning that you’re pregnant), I put this together to let you know it’s possible to get through this. It is possible to make this work and to not only succeed financially, but emotionally. If you can’t afford to see a therapist, be open with a trusted friend (there are also non-profit therapy groups, see here). Get those emotions out on paper and it will help you sort them through. I’m here to share my experience and my learnings that might make you feel less alone. The most important thing I learned in therapy (and maybe I can save you a little money here) is that I had to be kind to myself. I had to forgive myself for making decisions that led me down a road of hardship (but also reward). I had to stop holding myself to a completely unfair standard and be proud of myself for getting one thing done that day instead of ten and, ultimately, for the decision I made and the courage that did lie within me. I had to actually feel the sadness when it came and ride it like a wave, rather than trying to understand, conquer and eliminate it. I had to be patient and not restless. I had to have faith and trust in God’s plan for my life. I had to lean in and lean on. That’s what I’m hoping I can do for other women here...be completely raw, open myself up as a resource and let you know you’re not alone in this. Not alone at all.
Please reach out to me with any questions about this! I am always here to offer up my own experience, be a listening ear or maybe just make you feel a little less alone and a little more human.