11/17/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Accidential Pregnancies Not To Be Taken Lightly

Accidental Pregnancy: Some consequences

The debates brought up an important women's health concern: Accidental pregnancy and abortion. When John McCain talked about the "Health of the Mother", I thought about all the women I've worked with over the years. As a practicing women's health nurse practitioner, I've worked for over 20 years to try and prevent accidental pregnancies because I've seen first hand the effects that this has on women. An accidental pregnancy may be a source of joy for some women, and a crisis for others.

I'm late and I'm worried

"I'm late for my period and I'm worried that I might be pregnant" When I hear these words, I take a deep breath as I wait for the urine test to develop. Walking into an exam room to give the news that the test is positive is very difficult as a health care provider. I know that the words I'm about to utter will change this woman's life and the lives of many other people, including the father of the baby and both families. When the woman is a teenager, the ripple effect is larger and more dramatic.

It's hard for those of us who are past the teen years to remember, but many teens feel invincible and still have some elements of magical thinking that influence their behaviors.
Though it may not seem logical to us, deep down many teens think that they can drive fast and not get a speeding ticket, or drink at a party and not get caught by their parents, or have unprotected sex and not get pregnant or a STD.

I make certain that I clear time in my schedule to help her absorb the news and provide the support that she needs to move forward, whatever her direction and path.

Increased rates for women over 40

"I didn't think this could happen at my age."
I've seen many women of all ages go into shock and completely fall apart at the news. Their lives are changed in an instant in ways they never expected or thought could really happen to them.

The consequences

Some young women find out that they're pregnant, get prenatal care and deliver healthy babies. Yet, we've all been shocked by the stories of young women who hide their pregnancies, deliver at home or school, surprised that the pain in their stomachs are actually a growing baby, and by the stories of a few young women who were in such denial that after delivering, they've abandoned their babies.

Another sad fact that isn't publicized much, is that for women of all ages, a pregnancy increases her risk of being physically abused by a partner, and this is more pronounced if it's unplanned.

Effect on the family
I've seen marriages fall apart and people turn on each other, and others that recover from the shock and rally around, but it doesn't happen overnight. In any case, it's a turning point in many lives as people come to grips with the news. Just as every woman's situation is unique, the way that women decide how to deal with an accidental pregnancy are varied. There is no one way that works for everyone.

What does work is to provide support to the woman and her family, if they're involved, so that they can make the best decisions for their unique circumstances about what to do next.
For women who are older and have more established lives, an accidental pregnancy is just as tragic, as she navigates her way through the decision making process.

What about the health of the mother?

It's impossible to describe here in this limited space what this term means, because for each woman, this is different. I've tried over the years, to listen and reflect back to the woman and not to judge her situation, her circumstances and how she views her future, because no matter what my views are, she alone has to deal with the consequences of which ever path she decides to take.

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