What NOT to Say
According to the CDC’s most recent research, 45% of pregnancies in the US are unplanned. If a son, daughter, sister, brother, cousin, friend, co-worker, etc came to you with his or her news, how would you respond? Their world has taken a turn, and your conversation could be a pivotal moment. Here are some thoughts and common responses to avoid in order to be as helpful and speak truth to those you love.
- “Gosh, I’m so sorry.”
Saying you're sorry assumes some things about pregnancy, children, and your relative or friend that aren't the most truthful or loving start to your conversation. Instead, start by asking, “How do you feel?” Rather than projecting how you think they might feel, ask good questions and help them process the truth with their feelings. He or she either trusted you enough to share this with you or is lonely with few others to turn to, and you have the privilege of lovingly speaking truth and comforting them as they begin the journey of being a mother or father.
2. “How did this happen?”
You want to be a good listener and ask good questions, but this isn’t one of them. This question is often asked because there’s either an expectation that the woman or man was not having sex until marriage, or that they know how to prevent pregnancy and failed to do so. Regardless of why the question is asked, this isn’t the best way to ask this question, and it’s probably not the right time for it either. Help him or her focus on what’s ahead, and how you can support them moving forward. Down the road you might ask, “What would you do differently in the future?” because how this happened does matter. The details of having premarital sex and his or her thoughts about sex matter, but in this moment, it’s not the most constructive question.
3. “What?! I don’t believe it. You’re joking!”
A knee-jerk response in the moment of disbelief or shock may be an authentic response, but this would be a weird joke for someone to play. If you’re prone to blurt your disbelief or shock, recognize that and rein in that reflex. A great first response is, “Thank you for sharing this and coming to me with it...” Disbelief or shock tend to lead to deeper pain and shame. Your friend is pregnant, and she’s probably spent a good deal of time working through her own disbelief before coming to you. Again, ask helpful questions and be an active listener without assuming she was irresponsible, flippant, or otherwise.
4. “Who’s the Father?” or “I knew he was bad for you!”
If she doesn’t know who the dad is, there are deeper issues at play with this unexpected pregnancy. Assuming she does know, “Who is the Father?” is not the most productive question for the conversation. Most men are even less informed about pregnancy than women, and often feel helpless since they have no rights until the child is born. A productive question is, “How does the father feel?” or “What does he think?” This helps establish if he’s coercing her to have an abortion, place for adoption, feeling uncertain, or wanting to parent with her. Unless you are aware of an abusive history in their relationship, and really even with that knowledge, expressing negative opinions will likely create more conflict than support. It’s possible she wants to raise her baby with him, so placing blame isn’t worthwhile. Although the information is new to you, think about practical steps forward.
5. “Are you going to get Married?”
To piggyback off of the last topic, marriage may be a step to explore, but it’s not the most immediate one. While children develop best in two-parent homes where dad and mom are married and committed to one another, a marriage built on an unexpected pregnancy with unresolved conflict may be a recipe for disaster even if the woman and man think it makes sense. Be discerning and encourage her to do likewise. If she and the father are considering marriage, great! Help them consider marriage without insisting it’s a necessary, immediate next step. Refer them to Merge and the Conflict Field Guide, but help her process and be a good sounding board for concerns. Chances are she hasn’t made her mind up on a whole lot of things (like marriage, finding out the gender, if she wants to tell the whole world on social media, etc).Be present with truth and love, and remind her she is not alone.
6. “There’s always adoption.”
Adoption could be a great option, but biblically-speaking, we want to encourage parents to parent their children because despite the beauty of adoption every adoption begins with loss. So unless you are well-informed with profound insights regarding adoption, you might avoid the topic or just reserve yourself to asking, “Have you considered adoption?” in the event she is considering abortion or expresses a deep concern for how she will provide for her child. We never want to coerce a woman towards adoption and simply want to make her aware of the options before her. She most likely has not decided a lot of things at this point, so telling her she can place her child for adoption in 40 weeks really doesn’t help her process in the moment. Utilize Watermark’s Family Restoration ministry to help her process adoption or find a reputable agency to work with if needed.
7. “Let me know if I can help.”
While this might come with good intentions, it’s way too vague to be helpful. She came to you which means she wants your help. She may not know what help she wants or needs yet, but you’re it! People in tough situations normally don’t have a clear view over all the moving parts surrounding them, so asking her for specifics on what she might need just adds extra pressure on her. In most cases, she’d probably never tell you anything, even though there are 100 different ways you could help. We rarely want to look or feel “needy”. We know you want to help so think of specific needs you would have in her situation. Going with her to doctor appointments, hosting a baby shower, shopping for maternity clothes, preparing the nursery... By coming up with practical ways to help, you’re taking the burden off her and identifying yourself as someone she can count on.
8. “We will support whatever choice you make…”
Many fathers, families, and friends feel this is a loving way to say, “We know this is hard, but if you decide to get an abortion, we won’t judge you for it.” This can also come with a sigh of relief from this group because it means they don’t have to be responsible for the child with her. This isn’t always the case, but it can be. In reality, the message being heard is, “We know this is hard, but you have to make the decision on your own.” The mother didn’t get pregnant on her own, and she rarely makes this level of life-changing decision on her own, so be a “fork in the road” for her. Be kind but direct by asking, “Are you considering abortion?” If she is, don’t recoil in disgust. Be gentle as you share truth, and simply ask more good questions like, “How do you feel about getting an abortion?” As you talk, it may become apparent she doesn’t realize or want to acknowledge that abortion ends the life of another human being and there are implications in making that choice for her. Be respectful while recognizing love without truth is not loving. You might say, “I need you to understand that abortion ends the life of another human being, and I can’t support you if you make that decision. That doesn’t mean I can’t care for you afterwards though.” Then be willing to walk alongside them faithfully up to that point, and then help them heal.
Every woman and man experiencing unexpected pregnancy feels like they’re alone and the only ones struggling even if they know they’re not. Stand firm in the gap with them and help them realize “the sky is not falling.”The “right” thing to say requires discernment, and while your words matter, your presence and tone is as important as what you say. If a friend or family member comes to you, chances are you will know how to love and support her in the moment. Let her talk and share as much or as little as she desires. Be there in the moment, and in the months and years to come. Let her know she is loved and not alone.
If you or someone you know is facing an unexpected pregnancy, we would love to walk with you through the ups and downs that may come along the way. Please reach out to us at email@example.com.