Should We Be Mourning the Accidental Pregnancy?

Should We Be Mourning the Accidental Pregnancy?

Accidental pregnancies are often a terrible burden. For some women, however—myself included—they’re not entirely unwelcome, as it’s the only way babies are going to happen.

When you’re not sure if you want kids or not, a contraceptive like the IUD offers a level of certainty that might not match your own. Fate, chance—with a near-perfect birth control, these guys are no longer available to cut through our ambivalence. Yes, that sounds weird, and antithetical to most conversations about family planning. IUDs are good, and not having a kid until you’re 100% ready is ideal. Planned pregnancies are always better, because they come with a higher likelihood of a healthier pregnancy, with better prenatal care, financial planning, and of course, emotional preparedness.

The new IUDs (Mirena—plastic, hormones, or Paragard—copper, no hormones) and their 1 percent failure rate are a gift to women. You can change your mind and take them out whenever, sooner than the 3 to 10 years they can be kept in. It is great! But it hinges entirely on a level of sureness that many women simply don’t have. I asked a friend who recently got IUD’d whether she experienced any anxiety about the fact that it’s so definitive (fully biased by the fact that I hadn’t planned on procreating, then accidentally did and loved it).

“Nope!” she answered immediately. “It’s great; my only fear is that it will come loose.” But compare this answer with a piece at New York Magazine, where Molly Fischer contends that solid gold contraceptive like the IUD might just be “too good” for some people. Fischer dealt with some unexpected feelings of anxiety about the “cyborg status” inherent in flipping the switch of your fertility, and with it, a new, uneasy biological status quo she calls “not pregnant, not going to be.” She writes:

With an IUD, pregnancy is not something I can drift toward vaguely or expect to somehow befall me, as has traditionally been possible. Condoms break; pills get skipped; pulling out seems good in theory. An IUD fills in the gaps where chance has always leaked into reproductive life. An IUD allows me to think of having a baby the same way I might think of moving cross-country: not impossible, maybe interesting to imagine (under the right set of hypothetical circumstances), but definitely a non-obvious turn for life to take at this juncture, and one that would require significant action on my part. My IUD ambivalence is, of course, actually baby ambivalence.

Most cultural depictions tend toward the assumption that all women want kids someday. This is, of course, false, and society is inching towards the acknowledgement that plenty of women won’t ever reproduce, many because they simply don’t want to. But women who aren’t sure bring with them another precarious status—what do you do for contraception if you don’t know what you want? What if your partner doesn’t know either?

Though hard to pin down statistically, we can assume pregnancy ambivalence is common enough. An article at RH Reality Check looks into recent studies on the notion, which researchers define as “unresolved or contradictory feelings about whether one wants to have a child at a particular moment”:

About 45 percent of respondents exhibited ambivalence towards pregnancy, and men were significantly more likely than women to be ambivalent (53 percent of men compared with 36 percent of women). People who expressed ambivalence about pregnancy were more likely to have used no birth control method in the past month.

Couples using other forms of birth control can still succumb to the heat of the moment and forego it, “accidentally” getting pregnant, while the couple using the IUD could not—one possibly reason why so many people who are not dumb teens still use the pullout method.

Ann Friedman wrote about this group at The Cut in the “Pullout Generation,” where she describes a generation of folks who are still afraid to stick an IUD up there but who hate taking the pill, and have found a kind of in-between place to navigate until pregnancy happens or doesn’t. Pulling out, which turns out to be not that much riskier than condom use in terms of pregnancy, is often a go-to method for perfectly educated kale-buying urban dwellers.

By age 45, half of all women will have had an unintended pregnancy. While we should do everything in our power to reduce unwanted pregnancies for vulnerable and underage populations, we should also acknowledge the cold hard facts: lots of us are just winging it, and while it’s not ideal, it is not always tragic.

Illustration by Tara Jacoby.

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