Because no two paths to parenthood look the same, the Cut’s How I Got This Baby invites parents to share their stories. Want to share yours? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us a bit about how you became a parent.
Stephanie knew her boyfriend wasn’t interested in trying a long-distance relationship. Still, after turning down a job offer from across the country, she grew to resent his stance a little bit — while also feeling her choice started important shifts in their relationship. She discusses having unprotected sex without talking about it afterward, crying because she thought she was pregnant, crying because she thought she wasn’t pregnant, and what she means when she says she used to think women like her always had planned pregnancies.
On making decisions with the future in mind. In the fall of 2011, I was let go. That had never happened to me before — it was a new experience. I’d been at the company for about eight years. I was already pretty unhappy and had been searching for a new job, but nothing was shaking out. I got let go before I found anything. It was a mixed bag: I was angry about how it happened, but I had a severance package, I could apply for unemployment. Getting let go gave me some time to think about what I wanted next.
When I was unemployed, I ended up connecting with a large West Coast–based company that had opened a New York office. I was really interested in the company and the job, but it turned out they were interested in having me move to the West Coast. For better or worse, I pursued it — and found out the job would come with a two-year commitment. I thought, well, I could see what it’s like to live on the West Coast. I’ve never not lived on the East Coast, and maybe going somewhere else, trying on a different life, would be my early-30s adventure.
My boyfriend and I danced around the issue while I was interviewing and even when I went out there to interview. I knew I would get it, and I did: a very solid job offer. But I worried about making friends and being so far from my family. And my boyfriend was very direct when I did get the offer: If I moved, we were done. I ended up turning it down.
After I declined the job, I kept thinking about it, wondering if maybe I should have taken it. My job search was going on and on, and I kept thinking about my relationship. I’d believed we were strong enough to handle some long-distance time, but my boyfriend wasn’t interested in that. On the one hand, I very much understood. On the other, I was pretty resentful.
On the prospect of having children. But I did notice that my relationship started to change — because I had chosen him. It seemed more serious. And, without talking about it, he initiated unprotected sex with me for the first time.
He’d been incredibly careful before. I don’t use hormonal birth control for health reasons, so we’d always used condoms, and used them very well — we would never make a mistake. I turned down the job in January of that year, and we had unprotected sex later that month. I knew what it meant: that he wanted to have a baby with me. But we didn’t talk about it.
The next day I went and got Plan B, which I did not mention to him. We moved forward, being our usual responsible selves. But I did download an app to track my cycle — I’d always had a very reliable cycle. If we had unprotected sex again, I wanted to know how dangerous it was. The next month we had unprotected sex a second time, and I took Plan B again, also without mentioning it. Even though we were very much adults, we still didn’t talk about it.
I felt ambivalent: I knew there was a possibility there would be ramifications, and I thought those consequences were in my control. I thought I had enough knowledge that I was protected. I’ve always wanted to be a parent — but if you’d asked me then, I would have told you I wasn’t ready yet. In some ways, I don’t know if I would have ever been ready to say, I’m ready. Let’s start trying. I think I would have felt ambivalent for the next few years. I think that’s true for a lot of people.
The subject of kids had come up before, early in our relationship: He didn’t want children. I think, on some level, that’s why I didn’t want to talk about it during those times of unprotected sex. I knew that he was signaling that he was evolving on the topic, and I didn’t want to articulate what was happening too much — it seemed easier to lead with action.
On a light-green-colored warning from a fertility app. In the fall, it happened again. We’d been together for years and this was just three instances of unprotected sex. The cycle-tracker app I was using was color coded: the darker the green, the more fertile you’re supposed to be. We had unprotected sex on the day of the very faintest green, and I just thought, Well, very unlikely. I didn’t use Plan B. Three weeks later, I was waiting for my period. It never came.
A week after I was supposed to get my period, I accepted the inevitable and went and bought two pregnancy tests. That night I went to my boyfriend’s house — we weren’t even living together then. He had no idea my period was late. He came home and started talking about his day. My heart was pounding. I knew that once I told him, everything would change. I burst into tears when I said I thought I was pregnant. Once I calmed down, I took both tests: Both came back positive.
The anticipation of talking to him was really scary. Once that was over, I felt okay. We were both surprised, but happy — we both wanted to have the baby. I think we felt very close that night, like we were going to go do this together. The next day I called my doctor, because I wanted to be confirmed right away. And they were like, “Oh no, we won’t see you until you’re eight weeks along.” Knowing I had to wait that long — that was hard to hear.
On shifting thoughts about parenthood. About a day later, I went to the bathroom and there was a little bit of blood in my underwear. I thought it was the beginning of a miscarriage. I came out and told my boyfriend I was miscarrying — and burst into tears, again. He didn’t really know what to do. The day before I’d been crying because I was pregnant. Now I was crying because I thought I wasn’t. We were just trying to do our best with the information we had, but everything felt unsure and scary.
We went out to dinner and drank a bottle of wine and talked. I started to feel totally fine with having a miscarriage. I’m not a religious person, but it felt like the universe had sent this to us so we’d have a conversation about what we really wanted. Then we could do it the way I’d always imagined: Move in together, get married, plan for a family. We started the conversation we probably should have had months ago. The bleeding, though, had sort of stopped. I was feeling confused: Was I pregnant or not? I laid off the wine and the sushi in case I was.
I went to the doctor mentally prepared to find out there was nothing there, no pregnancy. It feels naïve now, but at the time I just thought this would not lead to a baby. It felt like our test run. Then it happened very fast: I laid down and the doctor was like, “Oh, there it is.”
This also sounds foolish, but I just thought, Girls like me don’t have unplanned pregnancies. I’m well educated, I know exactly how biology works. I’ve done all the right things all my life. I never expected it would happen in an unplanned way. I was 34, and it was the biggest shock of my life.
On revealing the news her friends thought was a joke. Once the pregnancy was confirmed, my boyfriend and I really only considered going forward together, as a family. We focused on everything we needed to do to get ready — where we were going to live, how it was all going to work. We kept the pregnancy a secret for a while. My boyfriend wanted to tell everyone, immediately. I wanted to be more private until we were through the first trimester.
We waited to tell our families until we went home for Christmas. By then, I was 16 weeks pregnant — everyone was so, so surprised. Including the friends we told after our family. Some of them thought I was playing a practical joke or something. I guess I’d made my prior ambivalence about motherhood clear.
On feeling lucky while in an unanticipated situation. Because I was unemployed during my first pregnancy, I ended up going on Medicaid, which was something I had not ever expected to need in my life. I also had private insurance, but my COBRA was set to expire ten days before the day I actually ended up delivering. I signed up for Medicaid to be absolutely sure, and I qualified because I was unemployed. I just never expected to need that kind of social safety net. I feel very lucky it was there for me. I think that unplanned pregnancy — or planned pregnancy — is no reason to punish anyone for not having means or resources. It’s great that we have programs to help the pregnant women who need help, and I hope we keep doing that.
On the expectedness of the unexpected during birth. I thought it would be a long, slow labor. But instead, I had a super fast, intense labor. Basically, I felt my first contraction at 4:30 in the afternoon, and I called my boyfriend to tell him that it was happening, and he should come home when he could. By 7:30, I was on the floor in the bathroom, unable to stop vomiting, and we needed to go to the hospital. I needed help, I really did.
I felt bad: My midwife had been at a retirement party for a legendary New York midwife, and we called to pull her away. She showed up looking very glamorous, in full makeup. I was stuck in the waiting room for an hour: None of the beds were clean and ready for me. I was in a bad way, vomiting every three contractions. All the other women waiting were looking at me with terror on their faces. They clearly weren’t at the same level of active labor as I was. I was scaring everybody, including myself.
After an hour of waiting, they finally checked me and sent me up to a bed. I’d said I didn’t want medication, but it was just so intense in the moment. Really, it was the vomiting — I just could not stop throwing up. It was really hard. At this point I’d been throwing up for four hours; I was so exhausted and dehydrated. I was like, I need the epidural.
A guy came to give me the epidural. The medication started flowing, and I was in love with him. I could finally stop throwing up. I wanted to name the baby after him, I was so in love with him. The next time my midwife came to check me, I was fully dilated.
I knew that I wanted to push actively. I didn’t really want to just lie back and push. I wanted to be able to push any way I wanted to. It was a wonderful 20 minutes, but we turned off the epidural. I could squat, I could stand. And I could feel my contractions again. I pushed in every possible birth position for an hour and a half. But I could not get that baby out.
The problem was, the baby’s heart rate was high. They let me push for that hour and a half with my midwife, but then the OB who was on the floor came in and said, “We need to get your baby out in the next 20 minutes, or you’ll need a C-section.” That was very scary. I had never anticipated that I’d need a C-section after just an hour and a half of pushing.
My room had been me, my midwife, a nurse, my boyfriend. Suddenly it was the OB on duty, the two other residents on the floor, a pediatric nurse who would need to examine the baby immediately. My boyfriend was quite literally pushed away from my bedside and couldn’t get to me anymore. That was hard for him. I was just so overwhelmed. I wanted it to be over.
I ended up needing a vacuum delivery. It was excruciating and scary — you have to have an episiotomy. There are a lot of hands. It was very painful. But finally, it was over: The baby was out.
Getting used to life with a baby. My boyfriend and I were very onboard, very united going into parenthood together. But the adjustment was still a shock, especially for me as a new mother. People talk about becoming a mother and looking at their baby and feeling a rush of warm, fuzzy, maternal feelings. For me, though, the first few months were very hard.
I don’t feel ashamed of this in any way — I just don’t think it’s something people talk about a lot. I felt very protective of my baby, but I don’t know that I would categorize it as true love. It wasn’t until she was older and started to engage with me, when I could see the glimmer of a personality.
One of the main things I learned was how temporal everything is. In the early days, our routines changed all the time. You think each stage is going to last so much longer than it does. Like, for three weeks, my boyfriend would take a walk with the baby from 6 to 8:30 every morning. That worked for three weeks, and then we’d have to try something new — she’d want to eat at 7, instead of 8:30. She’s almost 4 now. We had another baby in the fall — a planned for, hoped for baby. She’s the sibling I knew I wanted to give my daughter.