A honeymoon baby wasn’t the welcome-home gift they had in mind, but just two weeks after returning from an all-inclusive Mexican resort, the newlyweds discovered a baby was on the way.
Kelly,* 21, worried birth control pills would interfere with her fertility later on and ruled them out as a contraceptive option. And the couple didn’t want to use a condom for their first time, so they decided the rhythm method was their best form of birth control, not realizing how complicated natural family planning can be. Looking at the calendar, Kelly said, “I didn’t think I could get pregnant.”
The young married couple flipped a coin with fertility, and it landed – baby-side up.
But Kelly and her husband are far from the only ones playing their odds with pregnancy and unprotected (or sometimes-protected) sex.
Nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended. And a new study reveals rising rates of unintended pregnancies among low-income women while rates decline for those who are more financially secure. Other groups of women with higher rates include 18-24 year olds(that’s us, collegiettes™!), cohabitors and minorities, according to a recent study from the Guttmacher Institute.
With contraception soon to be free under women’s preventive health care, we hope to see these rates drop.
We hope increased access to contraceptive services will allow more of us to gain control over our reproductive lives and prevent pregnancy, but we have to know our options first. Increased access requires increased awareness about fertility and contraception for the new initiative to be a success.
Contraception can be confusing for women who are uneducated, unaware or misinformed about their own fertility and birth control options. A well-woman needs to be well-informed because sexual and reproductive health affects a woman’s ability to attain personal, professional and economic empowerment. And for that reason, women need access to the facts about fertility and contraception to make informed decisions about their lives.
Too often, myths and misconceptions get in the way. One now-single-mother played a game of “baby roulette” without realizing it.
Savanna,* 22, decided to switch the brand of her birth control pills. When she started her new pack, she thought she was protected. A few weeks later, Savanna and her boyfriend were in for a surprise that would lead to a baby, a breakup and a custody battle — all because she mistakenly thought she was practicing safe sex.
Now, after months of dealing with a custody case and trying to get her ex-boyfriend to pay child support, Savanna lets out a sigh and says, “I wish I didn’t have a kid.”
To be sure, she loves her daughter, but she’s a single mother, trying to earn a college degree. Savanna has to deal with a constant strain of responsibilities that most collegiettes™ couldn’t even imagine, and she has to do it alone. The whole experience has been emotionally, financially and professionally exhausting.
She took a shot at “baby roulette” and lost.
A baby changes everything, and that should not be left to chance.But according to The Fog Zone report, that is exactly what many 20-something-year-olds are doing We have young women not wanting to get pregnant but not taking all the necessary precautions to prevent it. The discrepancy between want and action is alarming, but it starts to explain why the unintended pregnancy rate sits around 50 percent.
Breaking down the cost barrier to birth control may increase accessibility, but awareness must precede and follow the new initiative if we want to see that rate drop. Correct and consistent contraceptive use can reduce the odds of having an unintended pregnancy. The challenge is getting women and men to put that into practice.
Kelly and Savanna’s stories point to a larger social trend of pregnancy ambivalence, and the resulting inconsistent, misuse or nonuse of contraceptive methods has been called “baby roulette” for a reason. But with these odds, we can’t afford to be blasé about safe sex practices, not when we are putting career goals, financial freedom and general wellbeing at risk.
Why flip a coin with fertility and hope for the best when you can put yourself in control and make a choice instead?
This post is dedicated to World Contraception Day (WCD), which takes place on September 26 every year to raise awareness of contraception and improve education about reproductive and sexual health. The day may be over, but we need the conversation to continue. Read the complete media report released on Monday for WCD.
* A version of this story appeared in the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago blog, On the Frontline.
Disparities in unintended pregnancy grow, even as national rate stagnates
Women’s Preventive Services: Required Health Plan Coverage Guidelines
Are You Playing Baby Roulette?
The Fog Zone
Ambivalence toward pregnancy undermines couples’ consistent use of contraceptives
Your Life: World Contraception Day
Clueless or clued-up: Your right to be informed about Contraception