Shame, embarrassment, and guilt are all-too-familiar emotions associated with a single expectant mother experiencing an unplanned pregnancy. Shame and guilt because we feel we did something wrong, and embarrassment because we feel judged by everyone around us.

Growing up in a very conservative community where it was culturally unacceptable to become pregnant out of wedlock, and being raised with values that included chastity, I felt double doses of all those emotions. Being pregnant made my mistakes a little more apparent than the mistakes of others. I felt like I had not only let my family and friends down, but also myself.

My natural instinct was to hide my pregnancy, but as with most big juicy secrets, mine didn’t last long. To say I experienced an extreme moments of panic, fear, pain, and humiliation every time someone “found out” about my pregnancy would be a massive understatement. When I was required to leave the seclusion of my apartment, I worried about who I would run into, what they would think, and who they would tell.

My shame pushed me to the point that I dropped out of college and also quit my part-time job. Staying home in a mild depression sounded like a better option than dealing with the guilt and embarrassment caused by running into family or friends. I would rather sacrifice my happiness than be forced to face these uncomfortable situations.

Remembering that my self-worth wasn’t determined by others’ judgments of me was a tough transition. I had to learn that everyone makes mistakes, even though theirs might not be as visible as mine. I also learned I had to love, respect, and accept myself, because my opinion was the only one that ultimately mattered. This process of learning to disregard others’ opinions of me was definitely the hardest part of being pregnant–but also one of the greatest blessings of this experience.

It was a process that started halfway through my pregnancy and still continues today. Three years later, there are times that I catch myself worrying about what people will think when they hear I had a child of wedlock. But then I immediately remember how sweet that little boy is and suddenly those opinions seem really insignificant. After all, how can I be ashamed or embarrassed of a beautiful child whom I had the honor of bringing into this world? It is an incredible feeling when those emotions of shame, embarrassment, and guilt are replaced with feelings of pride, gratitude and peace.