Systemically Unplanned

"General Systems Theory, a related modern concept [to holism], says that each variable in any system interacts with the other variables so thoroughly that cause and effect cannot be separated. A simple variable can be both cause and effect. Reality will not be still. And it cannot be taken apart! You cannot understand a cell, a rat, a brain structure, a family, a culture if you isolate it from its context. Relationship is everything." – Marilyn Ferguson

It is said that poverty is systemic. You grow up in housing projects, you learn the projects morals and values and you stay in the housing projects. You are taught welfare is an acceptable way to make a living and often taught the way to get more money is to have more babies.


I find myself wondering if unplanned pregnancy is systemic. 

Two of my first mom friends now have pregnant teenage daughters. My grandmother was pregnant out of wedlock with my father in 1940. My older sister and I both became pregnant outside of marriage.  My aunt was pregnant and sent away (but escaped and the father married her). Adoptees seemed to be overrepresented to me in the maternity home I lived in. Presumably they were adopted because of their own mothers unplanned pregnancy and then they also become pregnant and place their child for adoption.

What is going on here?

Can it be prevented?

Should it be?

I can tell you first  hand that I was responsible for my pregnancy. I lied to my daughters father and told him I was on the pill. Truth is I HAD been on the pill, but for that particular night of sexual activity, um, no.  I took a chance. WHY did I take that chance?

Because I loved him and I was afraid if I did not have sex with him he would leave me. (I realize this speaks to a host of teenage and feminist issues but that is not the point of this post).  There is more to the story than that but the gist of it is he asked me if I was "safe". I rolled the dice and decided to say "yes".

My personal belief, in my case, is that my pregnancy happened due to poor self esteem and lack of feeling loved by my family. My daughters father showed me love and respect that I had never felt in my seventeen years of life and I was not willing to risk losing it.

But what of all these other girls I know?  Is there a larger system or force at work here? What can we do to prevent these unplanned pregnancies? Can we? Why do they seem to repeat themselves in families even in face of the very obvious damage done  by earlier familial unplanned pregnancy?

I am parenting two sons.  I have had discussions with my eleven year old son about sex, unprotected sex, abortion, adoption, pregnancy.  He has lived the loss of his sister in his life. He has seen the damage adoption did to his mother and his family (since my adoption trauma contributed significantly to my marriage and divorce).  Is this enough to teach him to as he says "wrap the pickle?"

Recently, after ending a phone call with a reunited adoptee that had called me for support, my son asked who I was talking to. I told him and we launched into adoption again and the damage it does to people. I told him AGAIN that if he ever got a girlfriend pregnant…and then he stopped me.

"I know Mom. We will take care of her. We will do what she wants. We will not allow what happened to you to happen to her".

I smiled.  He is getting it.

I then continued "BUT, that does not mean you have permission to go ot and get someone pregnant simply because your mother will help."

He smirked and said "OMG, of course I know that. MOM! I am only ELEVEN!"

Is education and awareness enough?  Is there anything I can do, as a mother raising two sons, to prevent future unplanned pregnancies? Or is there a greater force at work here? Can I even control this? Can any of us if it is built into the system?

What is this pattern of generations of unplanned pregnancies in families?

And should we assume it is a bad thing?


11 Thoughts.

  1. “What is this pattern of generations of unplanned pregnancies in families?”
    I think this is present in all families, it’s the way they are handled that is at issue. Some families freak out and push for adoption, or even abortion. Others accept it and welcome the child into the family. I think that is the system at play here – how each family system views an unplanned pregnancy.
    Especially when you consider the abortion stats (something like 40% of women have an abortion at some point). Not to say that some of the 40% are not due to medical reasons, I’m sure that’s a factor as well. But I believe unplanned pregnancies are far more common than society wants to admit.

  2. “My personal belief, in my case, is that my pregnancy happened due to poor self esteem and lack of feeling loved by my family. My daughters father showed me love and respect that I had never felt in my seventeen years of life and I was not willing to risk losing it.”
    …and so it was in my case and now in my daughters. Lack of self-esteem, (and I truly tried hard to instill it) has put her right where I was so many years ago. I can think why, I can try to figure out what I did or didn’t do, but what difference would it make now? I can only give her what I didn’t have, family support to ensure another child isn’t lost to adoption. I hope this is enough, to appease whatever I was lacking as a parent in instilling the very esteem that possibly could have prevented this from happening. Who knows.
    Miss you bunches.

  3. Kristy – I am not sure you could have or should have prevented it. It is what I was getting at in my last statement.
    Society has taught us that unplanned, young, single pregnancy is a bad thing as opposed to teaching us that the conception and birth of a child is a wonderful thing. Why do we take the negative view? I wanted so badly from someone to rejoice in the pregnancy of my daughter, in her birth, in her life, in our connection.
    No one did. All doomed us and shunned us. Why? What did we do so wrong? What is so wrong wtih a life being brought into the world? Why do we focus so much on the circumstances and so little on the beautiful mother and child?
    Rambling. I should start another post that explains this better.

  4. Kristy – I also commmend you and our other mutual friend for doing what you are – giving your daughter and your first born grandchild the support you never received. We can stop the patterning. I have to believe that. We can undo – to some small degree – what was done to us by stopping the bleeding from happening to others.

  5. IMO, unplanned pregnancy, lost mothers and children, and even adoption are absolutely systemic. My family is proof: my grandmother walked away from nine children (the oldest 17, the youngest newborn, my mother was 6) when my grandfather died unexpectedly at age 42. At my mother’s insistence, I relinquished my son (my only child) for adoption. My son and his wife surrendered two sons (newborn and 2-1/2) when their marriage failed. My granddaughter’s mother deserted her (not once but three times). My granddaughter is at huge risk for getting pregnant young — she is so needy of love and affection, has had no stability in her life, and at 12 looks 16.
    Who knows when or how the cycle will stop?

  6. Great topic. I think of the word systemic more in terms of governments and oppression. Policies and social structures that are supposed to be assistance yet actually force people to live in ways that are substandard.
    But in the terms you speak of,i.e teen pregnancy, it’s far more personal and family related. I would call it cyclical, as in every family passes down genes and culture and traditions as well as abuse and a host of other dysfunctions. The Bible actually has a term for it and calls it bondage.It is what every person on this planet inherits from the family of origin.And unless there is positive intervention,something to change the patterns, it tends to repeat and then toss in the sociological aspects, status, station and random hardships, it gets pretty awful.
    I often wonder as a single mom on disability living in housing if I’m setting a bad example to my daughter. I worry that she will repeat the cycle. At the end of it all though, there is always that possibility that things could turn out okay. I hope what happened in my family ends with me.

  7. You make me wonder, make me think and also make me smile since I am not the only mother who makes it a point to be sure my children know and understand sex and protection and pregnancy and adoption.
    I have on more than one occasion referred to myself as the Senior Prom gift that kept on giving and have realized in a bittersweet way how my father’s action by standing up and marrying my mother kept me from becoming another child lost to the BSE as my mom was only eighteen, in a strict catholic upbringing living in a small town where the choices were marriage and a nine month premature baby or disappear like other girls she knew.
    Even on my husband’s side, the father of the son I lost to adoption, the pattern is there. His mother lost her daughter to adoption when she was seventeen.
    And so your thoughts here strike deep because I wonder the same and I think of my boys and my daughter and, like you, have the same discussions with them, making sure they know to be protected, know that I understand they will have sex and want them to be protected but if they are not I SO want them to know that no child in this family will ever be lost again. My daughter, my youngest, is eleven as well and she hears the same as your son and knows too my views on sex, protection and adoption.
    I don’t know if the theory of systemic comes into play or not but I do know I have seen many with stories that resemble yours and mine and so many others and I do think it is up to us moms who have lost to be open and honest with our children and to offer our understanding, our support and our own experiences so that, if it is true, we can be the ones to end it with us and keep our children from facing the same heartache and grief we have faced for so very long.

  8. Concerning the ‘is there anything I can do as a Mother raising two sons, …’
    I think that you as a Mom, having frank, open discussion(s) with your kids concerning sex, unplanned sex and all the ramifications that that path takes one down is in and of itself giving your kids the tools to make well informed decisions down the road.

  9. I think we also have to look at the overall alarm about “unplanned pregnancy” and whether it is founded or not:
    – Half of all women have an unplanned pregnancy by the time they reach middle age.
    – Half of all pregnancies, inside or outside of marriage, are unplanned.
    – Teen pregnancy was not an issue when teen mothers were mostly married (think circa 1900). It became an issue in the late 20th century when teens began postponing marriage at the behest of parents who wanted them to get “higher education,” when “adolescence” began being seen as something extending beyond puberty.
    So, it again comes down to the sexism-spawned devaluation of motherhood as a valuable vocation for women in and of itself and to the stigma against unwed (“un-manned”) mothers.
    In the mid-1990s, Clinton launched the “Campaign Against Teen Pregnancy,” based on skewed and rotten data and the fundamentalist bias against pre-marital sex. But what if teen pregnancy and unplanned pregnancies are actually *normal*? What if what we need to do is to provide support for these mothers, plus a gov’t-sponsored birth control plan so as to give women control over their lives (keeping in mind that no form of contraception is fool proof).
    I could say a lot more about this (example: adoptees are 14 times more likely to surrender their babies for adoption), but I don’t want to take up space on your blog. You may find this interesting tho:
    I also recommend the book “The Scapegoat Generation.”

  10. Cedar – As always thanks for the excellent info. I am shocked, yet not, that adoptees are 14 times more likely to give up their children. I have discussed this with two friend (who are adoptees and mothers who gave up their children) and find it hard to understand – yet not. It makes sense – sad sense – but sense none the less.

  11. Here is my history…
    I am an adoptee I’m 38 now.
    I am a first mother of a 20 year old son
    My first mother’s mother (so my maternal grandmother) was also a first mother, gave up a daughter in the 1940’s.
    My first mother’s sister, is also a first mother, she gave up a son exactly one month after I was given up by my first mother.
    This is a terrible family legacy.
    How did this happen? Is it passed down? Is it generation sin? (my first mother would like to believe that)
    I hope, for my children’s sake, it will stop here.

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