Surprise pregnancy can bring unexpected joy

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Discovering an unplanned pregnancy can invoke lots of emotions, including fear, anger or dread. But getting over the shock and carrying such a pregnancy to term can also lead to pleasant surprises.

Often, a woman with an unintended pregnancy doesn’t have a realistic choice because of challenging circumstances, or because of a lack of support from those close to her, according to Chuck Donovan, president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute. The Washington-based research organization focuses on “understanding of the value of human life, motherhood, and fatherhood” in order to foster policies that will reduce and end abortion.

As social attitudes have evolved, Donovan says, “society has learned to praise the courage” of women who have the baby and raise the child, and more support systems are available.

Here’s how two Bay State natives found unexpected joy and support from unanticipated pregnancy.

Erica Wood, 34, works as a firefighter near Fredericksburg, Virginia, while completing a master’s degree in emergency management. At home, she lives with her husband, Matthew, and 3-year-old daughter, Margaret, whose nickname is Maggie.

But the Lynn, Massachusetts, native said Margaret came as a “complete shock,” as Wood had been told she couldn’t conceive a child. She learned that from doctors during a previous marriage. So she had come to accept a childless future.

One day in June 2012, Wood felt ill and a coworker joked that she looked like she was pregnant. Slightly offended, she and Matthew decided to pull a practical joke on the coworker with a pregnancy test. But the joke was on them when the results came back positive.

“Being a medic, my immediate thought was, something is wrong with me that’s giving a false positive,” Wood said in an interview. Instead, an ultrasound revealed that she was 11 weeks into her first pregnancy.

“I figured I was a little pregnant,” Wood said. “It was a full baby in there.”

At the time, Wood was completing her undergraduate education, while both she and Matthew were enrolled in a firefighters’ academy.

“We had so much going on,” she said. The question of “how are we going to make this happen,” and “what are we going to do,” repeated like a broken record in her mind. Not least among their concerns were how their relationship might change, how it would affect their jobs, the availability of support systems, whether Wood could still live in Virginia or would have to move back in with her parents.

“Our life has been very different since we’ve had Maggie,” Wood said. Finances are tight. The couple, who married in 2015, juggle time with their daughter with alternating shifts at the fire stations where they serve. All three spend time together for a total of 10 days a month.

But, Wood said, the support from her family has been “incredible” even though they are so far apart. FaceTime allows mother and daughter to talk despite long workweeks.

Maggie is “very healthy, very active, the cutest kid ever, crazy smart,” she said. “We’re extremely blessed and excited to have her.”

The future seems bright for the budding Wood family.

“I want to be a fire chief. I want to run a fire department,” Wood said. “Maggie is just a great bonus that has come along.”

For Samantha Tilden, the unanticipated new arrival has presented different challenges but the experience has been just as rewarding for the 24-year-old single mom.

During the summer of 2014, Tilden was studying at New England Institute of Technology when she stopped taking birth control pills in order to be a liver donor for a friend who needed a transplant. But when she discovered she was pregnant, it was a “huge shock.”

“I was terrified, shaking, I was so sick to my stomach,” she said in an interview. “I kept saying, ‘I need an abortion.’”

While considering what steps to take, Tilden and her mother visited Learn Your Options, a pregnancy resource center in Fall River, where Tilden said she spent hours discussing different directions and support systems. She visited repeatedly, receiving encouragement and ultrasound examinations.

Ultimately, she chose to carry the baby to term, naming him Max when he was born.

Currently working part-time, Tilden plans to return to school to pursue a nursing degree. Max, now 11 months old, has transformed her life from that of a self-described “party animal” to one of a caring mother who is “infatuated” with her son.

Despite the struggles of motherhood, she said, it is proving to be a tremendously positive experience with much joy. Every time Max reaches a new milestone, she said, “it’s like a little pat on the back to myself that I’m doing this right and it makes me feel like a good mom.”

But it hasn’t been easy, either.

“I’m in my mom’s house, and we share a bedroom; we make it work,” Tilden said. She said Max’s father sometimes takes care of him as well.

“Life doesn’t always go the way that you want,” she said. “I definitely do not ever regret keeping him. It’s the best decision I ever made.”