What to say to a formerly child-free person who is now pregnant

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Pregnancy announcement card from Etsy seller JulieAnnArt
Pregnancy announcement card from Etsy seller JulieAnnArt
I am a self-professed child-free lady. A fellow child-free friend recently announced she was unexpectedly pregnant. I can tell she’s feeling pretty rattled and struggling with the sudden change in life plans.

She’s an elementary school teacher in a stable, hetero marriage with a steady double income… so naturally everyone around her is congratulating her and wanting to talk nursery decorations and baby names and daycares. The assumption is that she secretly wanted kids the whole time.

As a fellow child-freer in a similarly stable life situation, I want to empathize and be there for her and give her a break from all the squee-ing, but I don’t want to be a downer. What can I say to her? -Carlene

Here’s what I would want someone to say to me in that situation: “How are you feeling?”

Because I guarantee you, there would be a LOT of feels. Some good, some bad, some as-of-yet unnamed. That way it opens things up for your buddy to dictate where this conversation goes. If she wants to stay in the Squee Zone, she can say, “I feel great! Yay baby time!” If she wants to commiserate as a former child-free person, she can use this opportunity to open up to someone who will “get it.”

But definitely don’t join the auto-squee-crowd and don’t go full “hey, how much does this suck?” mode either. A simple “How are you feeling?” followed by “Any time you need someone to talk to about this new life change, I’m here for ya” is what I’d want.

Formerly child-free Homies and friends of the formerly child-free, how did YOU handle this situation?

Comments on What to say to a formerly child-free person who is now pregnant

  1. I’d say what I say to everyone who is expecting for the first time: “welcome to the Thunderdome.”

    But seriously though, listening is the best (and maybe even only good) thing you can do right now. Regardless of how they got there, pregnant ladies are completely inundated with people talking at them. Closing your mouth and opening your ears is the most caring thing you can do for any pregnant person.

  2. Agree with the offered info. How are you feeling? How are you dealing with the changes? Do you need a break? Shall we do something not baby related? All good questions.

    • I disagree with “how are you feeling.” I have hated that question this whole pregnancy. It is what everyone asks you as soon as you announce you are pregnant. Before I would get “How are you?” “How’s it going?” As general questions. “How are you feeling?” Is specifically related to the pregnancy and doesn’t leave room for the pregnant person to talk about other things. It’s a question asked of sick and injured people. Please stop asking pregnant people this question.

      I do understand in this article the word feeling is meant to be emotional. However, everyone else is asking the poor woman about her physical state and the likelihood she will know that you are referring to the emotional is slim. If you want to ask about the emotional kind of feeling then reframe the question.

      • I wish that more people asked me how I am feeling. It’s her choice to interpret the question as physical, emotional, or both. Personally, I think the question “How are you feeling?” is much more sincere and opens the door for a more intimate answer than “How are you?”, which I generally see as an obligatory greeting with “Fine. How are you?” as the de facto response.

  3. I wish someone would have just given me a little bit of space. I had no desire to be a parent and I had even left my husband when he kept insisting on having children. When I got pregnant, I was 9 month into being divorced from my ex, was on birth control and was meticulous in condom usage. But I got my choice taken away from me by a boyfriend who decided that no meant yes. But right after I found out, I was never given breathing room and everyone assumed that because I was 27 that it was a pleasant surprise therefore was expected to be happy about it.

    No one gave me time to be sad and mourn the loss of my life path or the fact that this child wasn’t even my decision. No one asked how was I feeling or if I was even ok. Even now, my daughter is about to turn 3, I am still finding moments where I struggle with the fact that I love my daughter but I am still not sure if this is really what I wanted to do.

    But most days it is ok.

    • OMG the feels from your comment. I felt them. I feel them hard. If I got pregnant, I know I would keep it, but I think I would feel exactly the same. Mourning my previous freedom while loving my new spawn. It’s a tough tightrope to walk. I’m glad you’re feeling good most days. I don’t know that I would be that strong.

      Good on ya – one day at a time and all that.

    • I’m very sorry that happened to you. I hope you find fulfilment in your life as it is now, and please be assured that your ambivalent feelings towards your life with your daughter are totally valid. Internet hugs if you want them.

  4. I think this advice is spot-on.
    I’d add that in this situation, their first answer may not be the whole truth. Their thoughts will probably evolve and settle in a different spot every day. Keep checking in. If you feel like your friend is holding back, maybe have a heart-to-heart evening where you just lay out that you’re wondering what kind of support is needed right now.

    • Totally agree with this comment. I was ambivalently childfree, and then got pregnant (and now cooking baby #2) and the emotions fluctuate all over the place. I am happy to have friends who allow space for there to be conflicting feelings all at one time. I was excited to be pregnant, but totally freaked out and felt like my life was being ruined. I still feel like that sometimes, even now 4 years later. I mourn my childfree days, while also fiercely loving my son. While it’s fun to squee, it can truncate any nuances and fluctuations in all the thoughts/feelings a pregnant person can be having at any given moment.

  5. This is awesome advice. I’m in the boat of not knowing what I want to do but realizing biologically it’s more and more important to make a decision, but I’d definitely appreciate some understanding, and maybe even a little “Wow, this is a big life change, what can I do to support/be there for you?” (especially from a close friend). She may not have an immediate answer to that question, but I’ve always appreciated having people I could lean on when I needed to. Even someone excited about a pregnancy is going through a huge life change and is likely to have some new needs in the friendship/relationship.

    I also think it’s important to show her that you still like her regardless of her child-status. She may be worried that her community of child-free people will shun her because she’s no longer part of “the group”. It would truly suck to find out that you’re unexpectedly pregnant and then lose a core part of your friend group at the same time.

  6. What everyone else has said is spot on. I’d also suggest that you keep doing what ever it is you guys did before the pregnancy. With both my pregnancies all anyone wanted to do was talk baby (names, nursery, morning sickness, advice, etc). And all I wanted to talk about was last nights Game of Thrones, or this weekends hiking trip, or my new bike. Help her feel like she still has an identity outside of pregnancy and motherhood.

  7. Oh. My. Goddess. This is tough to read. I am child-free and happily so, but I think if I were ever to fall preggers, I would likely keep it. Call it a hardcore Christian upbringing, call it a perverse kind of masochism. Whatevs. However, I would probably have to deal with the gloats of the people who always told me, “oh, you’ll change your mind.” or “I didn’t want kids, but after I had them, I couldn’t imagine going back to my (insert something condescending about my current/their past life).” Which I would probably find more infuriating than anything else. Like, go-get-a-hoover-vacuum-and-suck-my-spawn-out-just-to-shut-them-up infuriating. Asking if they’re ok is a great start, helping her to avoid the people who are smug about her previous life choices is another good one.

    All joking aside, it’s hard for any pregnant woman, to have an added layer of I-told-you-so as a previously child-free person is probably the icing on the cake. She may be very happy (internally or eventually or both); and you can probably assume she is, or she would have taken steps to get rid of it and not shared her pregnancy with her friends/family. She’s likely conflicted, but erring on the side of keeping it and dealing with that as it comes. Take it from my personal experience congratulating someone who ‘lost’ their baby who was previously child-free – she called me an @sshole and we were never friends after that.

  8. As a former child- not for me person, I can tell you the other thing from how do you feel that made a difference was just the reaching out and letting me know you were still part of my world and you would remain so.

    I know without a shade of doubt having my girls was the right thing for me when I was in a stable time of my life… but I miss so much. Childfree friends are my downtime still.

  9. I never intended to be child free forever. Children were always somewhere on my scope of wishes. But when I got pregnant, the timing was awful. I found out I was pregnant the week after my dad died. My husband and I were both unemployed and in a different state from our home, because we had left home in order to help take care of my dad in his final months. Our money was gone, and it was pretty much just the worst possible time to be pregnant.

    The first friend I told was somebody I thought would be able to sympathize with the fact that I was feeling bad about this. Instead, she went full on lecture mode about how I should have been using birth control and that I had made bad choices. It made me feel really bad. So, definitely steer clear of any sort of advice that might have been helpful prior to the pregnancy.

    I think, somebody saying “How do you feel” would have been the best thing. It would have allowed me to vent, all of my feelings. My frustration at being pregnant at that moment. My excitement at having a child with my husband. My fears for the future and my anger at myself for not being more careful. And then, once I had embraced my pregnancy, once I was ready to accept it, personally, I would have been able to tell you how I was nervous and excited and planning. And I would have loved to have had somebody excited and celebrating with me at that time.

    So yeah, “How do you feel,” or “Do you wanna talk?” And maybe she doesn’t want to talk about it. Maybe she can tell you that the last thing she wants to do is think about it right now, and she’d love for you guys to go and hang out and do baby-free things while she has a good chance.

    • OMG, this! My husband and I found out not that long ago that we were pregnant, and it was bad timing. I had JUST started a new job that I was planning on being temporary and our money situation was just shy of appalling. We were not expecting this, since I have a medical condition that makes it tough for me to become pregnant naturally, and while we were both excited and nervous about it, the one person who gave us “The Lecture” was my own mother. You would think she would be happier about it since this would be her first grandchild. And, yeah, my mom never believed nor understood my medical diagnosis, so this happening just added to her “I’m right, you were never sick, there is nothing wrong with you” mentality in regards to it.

      But once the dust settled and we were ready to twll everyone else, I really appreciated how his side of the family all asked me how I was feeling and if I needed anything from them. They were much more understanding and supportive of the fact that we were not planning to have children just yet, but, hey, we are viewing this as a miracle and it is what the Universe wants for us. I don’t think I would have survived those first few weeks if his family hadn’t been more understanding and supportive.

  10. I think the advice above is spot the-hell on, with one caveat.

    I would also throw into the conversation that you are there no matter the feels. Being child-free doesn’t mean you haven’t seen other people, even with planned pregnancies, struggle at times during carrying. Making sure that the peaks AND the valleys are totally open for unpacking would go a long long way to proving the “tell me your feels, your real ones”.

    We in the offbeat/radical honesty crowd tend to forget “how are you feeling” tends to come with some expectation to the response they’ll get. Very few people actually expect a truly honest answer. Proving that you do come into the conversation letting the winds take it where it may is so important.

  11. I love the advice given here. I think it really applies to all pregnancies. I am on the complete opposite end of the spectrum of baby wanting and struggle with fertility. I yearn to be pregnant and have a child yet I have a suspicion that I will be incredibly anxious and scared during my pregnancy. Having someone ask “how are you feeling” will probably be a better response than the “OMG aren’t you excited”.

  12. I totally agree with the advice already given, but wonder if there might also be some value to trying to tell your friend, in a low key way, how you’d be feeling if it was you. I know there is a lot of pressure for pregnant women to always be excited and that this can cause women to be afraid to say they’re not happy about a pregnancy in case it’s perceived as them saying they don’t love their child etc.

    So I guess I think “how are you feeling?” is a really great start, but if the answer you get is more positive than you’re expecting it might be worth trying to throw in something like “wow, if it was me i would be feeling really stressed/worried/shocked etc.” as a way of showing her that you think that kind of reaction would be totally normal. That way she might feel more able to open up if she’s feeling that way, and if she’s not feeling any of that she can just say that she’s feeling good or whatever she wants and you can go from there.

  13. I’m mostly curious to know what a child-free person chose to keep the pregnancy if it’s making her this “rattled and struggling”. Was the friend only casually child free before, rather than child-free-by-choice?

    • A persons decision to be child free might not necessarily align with their personal beliefs about getting rid of babies. Child free desire but against abortions combined with a pregnancy must be a hard place to be in.

      • As well as the entire family (ie my parents and grandparents) being against adoption, I felt kinda cornered into my decision. I love my child now and am glad that the pregnancy happened… maybe not the way it happened but there is always going to be feelings of what if my plans went the way they wanted to.

    • I can’t speak for the woman in question, but I was child free and then in a grief filled drunken moment of unprotected sex (the one time in our entire marriage), I got pregnant. I was rattled and shaken and becoming a mother has changed my identity. But I also have these superstitions about Fate paired with my desire to not make the choice to abort (unless I was completely 100% certain, and the ambivalence about being pregnant wasn’t enough for me) were factors.

      I think it’s interesting to say “casually child free” vs “child free by choice.” To say ‘casually’ makes it seem like she wasn’t committed to that, without taking into account some nuances about choices over a period of time, and how other beliefs could be influencing one choice or another.

      • When I said “casually child free” I meant someone who just doesn’t happen to have kids yet, but isn’t necessarily someone who’s made a conscious decision that they never want to have children.

        • What you’re calling “casually child-free” I’ve seen often just called “childless.”

          For me, childless just means you don’t have kids and who knows what will happen?

          Child-free means you’ve made the choice that you do not want children… Although again, who knows what will happen. We’re all allowed to change our minds.

  14. In a similar situation, a good friend of mine said “do I congratulate or console you?” I said “I don’t know.” He took my hand and said “well, I’m happy to listen to you until you figure it out and I’ll be here to congratulate, console, or both.”

    Best thing I could have heard at the time, and he followed through, supporting me through deciding what to do, and offering me both congratulations and condolences when I was dealing with the weird emotions regarding placing that child with an adoptive couple.

  15. Totally agree with all previous advice of asking your friend and not necessarily assuming how she might be feeling. Letting your friend know what YOU’RE up for in terms of conversation may be helpful too. I have a childfree friend who, when I was pregnant, let me know that she was not the friend to talk to about the squicky physical parts of being pregnant or childbirth, but would always love to be the person I went to when I wanted a break from talking about pregnancy or kids and wanted a connection to my pre-kids life. She made it clear that she was coming from a place of love and wanting to continue our friendship through our changing life paths, and I appreciated her honesty and offer (and still do!) so, so much.

    • That’s the friend I like to be to my friends who have children. I don’t only not want children I don’t want to be around them no matter who they belong to. I’m the friend you call when you can’t take one more night of watching “My Little Pony” and just want to get a drink, chain smoke, and talk about anything BUT your children.

  16. This is also a great way to respond to someone who’s lost a loved one, getting a divorce, or going through any other number of “deep feelings, many feelings, and kinda scary” events.

    • Yes, that’s what was ringing in my head the whole time I read this. “How do you feel” is a question that good friends should turn to often. I recently lost a loved one in a tragic accident, and one friend helped me more than anyone else by just listening. She didn’t try to distract me or cheer me up. She just talked to me about my feelings. It was such a relief from dealing with everyone who was trying so hard to make me smile. I imagine she’d be good in a surprise pregnancy situation too! 🙂

  17. I’m sorry, but I don’t understand how someone childfree cannot get an abortion. Someone childLESS? Yes. Someone who was formerly 100% committed to being childfree? I don’t understand it, sorry. I don’t judge it, but I absolutely don’t understand it.

    I got pregnant unexpectedly and it was clear to me that I wanted an abortion. Since I was traveling abroad, I had to wait a bit, but during all this time, I never imagined keeping this child. I wondered if I when the maternal instincts would start to kick in and they just… didn’t. I hated being pregnant, always feeling sick, being disgusted by random things, feeling that my body was not my own. On the plane back home, there were screaming babies and the thought of having something like that terrified me.

    After my abortion, I felt super empowered, happy and relieved. I had my body back! I had my life back! I was not a slave to my biology! I wanted to celebrate! I know women are socially expected to feel ashamed or guilty about it, but I just thought FUCK YEAH.

    Any formerly childfree people who got pregnant unintentionally and decided to keep the baby: What was your thought process? When did you decide to keep the baby and why? I am really interested to know how people come to this conclusion. It seems really alien to me and I wish to understand it better.

    • The one reason I can think of off the top of my head is that person lives somewhere that has a paucity of abortion clinics, and the person doesn’t have the means to get to a clinic.

      While there are certainly childfree people/relationships with steady incomes, I have heard from other childfree people that they struggle financially. Such financial struggles could put birth control low on the priority list if the choices for how to spend what money they do have are food and birth control. Though birth control is supposed to be covered by insurers in compliance with the ACA, it’s not always covered completely if at all.

      If a childfree couple in a place like North Dakota or Mississippi is in a financial pinch and cannot gain access to a safe abortion clinic, they might initially decide to at least carry the baby to term and then put it up for adoption.

      Though my husband and I have opted to not have children, we have also decided that in the unlikely event that we change our minds we are going to adopt/be foster parents. For all I know, we could be taking in the child of a once-childfree couple.

      (Personally, I feel that with a decision like not having kids the best way to stay on course is to be firm but not militant in the decision. I feel like even with greater acceptance of not having kids militancy has been on the rise and is prompting a backlash of sorts, but I haven’t had time to sit down and crunch some numbers to see if that’s actually the case.)

    • Whether or not you want to have children is a different decision to “how do I feel about the idea of having an abortion”

      Someone may not want children but also have moral objections to abortion and not want to get one if they found themselves pregnant. Conversely, someone who wants to have 12 kids but gets pregnant at a bad time of their life could terminate without a second thought. Humans are complex!

    • I am not planning on having children. My husband and I have talked about what we would do if we got surprised and decided that we’d do our best make damn good parents if we did. Abortion is completely off the table for us for ethical reasons that are personal to us.

      Pro-choice means we get to make a *choice* that is right for our ethics.

    • This is what I was thinking as I was reading this article and comment stream. I guess this is just me being stereotypical and too assuming, but I think of “offbeat” people as being on the opposite end of “fiercely religious” on the spectrum, and thus generally more prone to approve of abortions. Seeing so many people say they went along with a pregnancy in spite of planning not to have children and feeling that this robbed them of that life… this makes me feel a little hopeless for them.

      I would absolutely get an abortion if I got pregnant, because (at least where I live), there are enough children around whose parents don’t want them without me adding to the total. I’m sure the people commenting above do love and cherish their children, so good on all of you for making the best of it in spite of your previous plans.

      This whole thing just confuses and surprises me quite a bit though. Why give up the life you wanted when you don’t have to? And as one person mentioned the cost/access issue with abortions… it’s a lot cheaper than actually having a kid is! As always on offbeat, not judging, just genuinely perplexed.

      • You really don’t have to be “fiercely religious” to not want an abortion, and you don’t have to oppose abortion in general to know that it’s not the right decision for you. It’s a bit patronizing to feel hopeless for these people, because if they’ve decided that their resolve not to have an abortion is more important to them than their resolve not to have children, more power to them for sticking to that.

      • Well, on the expense issue, one of the biggest problems with really seriously being poor is that you can’t make the little investments now that would prevent much bigger costs later. Also, it can be almost impossible to look 2 years down the road to the cost of having a 1-year-old when you are incredibly exhausted and stressed from your daily life. This gets even further exacerbated if there is no safety net. People who are low-income but who can always borrow a bit of money from a friend or from parents if they really REALLY need can honestly not comprehend how always being on the edge of financial ruin can determine how you do risk-benefit analysis. Thinking about abortion, the expense of raising a kid can seem both distant and pretty manageable on a day to day basis, compared to the immediate risk of not making rent, or not having food in the house, or having one financial setback snowball into a huge miserable mass of late payment fees and interest charges.

        Worrying about money at the subsistence level can be an extremely powerful force.

    • It could also be that said formerly childfree person, when confronted with a pregnancy, might have a different emotional reaction than they had expected they might. While it’s totally rude to say that someone will change their mind when they get pregnant, it’s entirely possible. It sounds like the person in question may be feeling ambivalently and doesn’t want to make an irreversible decision she can’t correct. Or perhaps she doesn’t believe in abortion for herself, and so wouldn’t terminate. Perhaps her childfree choice was her way of avoiding the decision, and Life found a way around it.

      I don’t know, honestly, but I’m struggling with my place on the “do I want kids and if so, how?” spectrum. I always wanted kids, but as I’m getting older, I’m questioning it more and more. People change their minds when confronted with new situations. Maybe your choice to be childfree was a firm, more fixed point in your personality.

  18. This is so great! Even though my husband and I want kids, I didn’t want to talk about my pregnancy; there’s more to life than just that. I just felt like it was a private thing and something that was between me and my better half (started out that way, ha!). Plus, I didn’t really like being pregnant.

  19. A late thought on the whole childfree / childless / no abortion decision: I have spent a lot of my life telling people I don’t want kids and my husband has generally been against kids. We’re in the process of potentially rethinking this decision and we’re hardly going to tell all our friends unless I actually end up pregnant.

    So just because you think you know what’s been happening for a given person doesn’t mean they haven’t changed their mind or been dealing with the decision on their own (although given “accidentally”, this may not pertain directly to the letter writer).

  20. We became pregnant after thinking we were infertile. We weren’t child-free in philosophy, but had basically thought,”Well, looks like we can’t have kids, guess we will make other plans” and la dee dah and a good night, I was officially knocked up. Even though we were super happy, it was also a crazy time. I wasn’t sure my partner would be happy as he had accepted our child free existence with enthusiasm. He ended up being beyond thrilled, but I felt irrationally guilty for taking away his “freedom” (never mind the fact that kids don’t automatically mean a loss of freedom, and it took two to create the life lol). I also hadn’t planned for a baby so trying to get all our ducks in a row financially and such was emotionally tolling, even during that happy time. I had switched jobs, started a Masters program, and suddenly was hit with constant nausea.

    So with that long story, I want to say that the advice given was perfect. I think even Moms and Dads who are trying end up being hit with surprising and unexpected emotions when they find out they are expecting. I was lucky to have a great group of friends who were able to both Squee and comfort without judgement.

  21. There is no such thing as “formerly childfree. ” If all it took was 1 accidental pregnancy to make you change your mind, you were never childfree. You were childless. I understand some people are against abortion for whatever reason, but no one has mentioned giving their unplanned child up for adoption. Us truly childfree people get enough flack from people saying “you’ll change your mind” that you don’t need to encourage it by saying “I was childfree but decided to have a kid.” Childfree is for life.

  22. If you are childfree, you are childfree. It’s not something that changes because you got pregnant by accident. There’s abortion, adoption, and after you avail yourself of one of these, sterilization.

    If you currently don’t have children but want them in the future, you are not childfree. Childless, sure, but not childfree.

    Childfree means you NEVER want children.

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