Getting Surprised by Pregnancy
A fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of sex and the function of birth control appears to underlie the country’s remarkable rate of unwanted pregnancies.
Thirty-seven percent of babies born in the U.S. are the result of unplanned pregnancies. The National Survey of Family Growth, released this week by the CDC and the National Center for Health Statistics, suggests a number of possibilities for why this is, all of which merit further attention. But the leading reason that women eschewed birth control? They “did not think they would get pregnant.”
Because the survey looks only at unintended births — and not unintended pregnancies that ended in miscarriage or abortion — this means that there are 290,000 babies born each year to mothers who believed their coming into existence was a statistical improbability. Other data has indicated that 60 percent of women who gave birth to unplanned babies had not used contraception when they became pregnant; the survey indicates that a majority of them must misunderstand either the connection between sex and childbirth or how strongly correlated the two actually are, seeing pregnancy instead as an “it can’t happen to me” scenario.
In addition to looking at motivation, the survey also used alternative measures that sought to quantify women’s emotional responses to becoming pregnant. Predictably, the results show a more or less steady decline in happiness over the news of a pregnancy when compared to how planned it was.
Right around the point where women “seriously” mistimed their pregnancy (meaning that they wanted to have a baby eventually, but not within two years of when it ended up happening), their self-reported ratings of “trying” and “wanting” to avoid pregnancy intersect and diverge. This demonstrates a clear case of wanting one thing while practicing another, of these women not having the insight or the resources to act in accordance with their desires.
Of course it does require two people to get pregnant, and 18.3 percent of the women whose pregnancies fell under the categories of “unwanted” and “unprotected” reported that they chose not to use any form of birth control because their partners didn’t want them to. Whether or not a woman thought the baby’s father wanted the pregnancy also had a huge impact on how much she reported wanting the pregnancy: 7.9/10 if the father was on board, 2.7/10 if he was believed not to be.