TIME celebrity

This Is Why Kim Kardashian Never Smiles

Kim Kardashian West at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in Cannes, France on June 24, 2015.
Richard Bord—Getty Images Kim Kardashian West at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in Cannes, France on June 24, 2015.

The reality star says the first pregnancy 'changed my personality'

Kim Kardashian West has perfected the pouty look, but why so serious? The star says there’s a reason why she doesn’t show off her pearly whites.

Kardashian West tells C Magazine in a new interview that her reluctance to smile stems from her first pregnancy in 2013 with daughter North West.

The reality star, 34, says preeclampsia caused her to bloat, and in turn set her up for harsh critique from the public.

“Last time [contributed to] not only the weight, but also the swelling that everyone would make fun of, not understanding that I had this condition,” she tells Amanda de Cadenet in the magazine’s 10th anniversary cover story.

The expecting mom calls the body-shaming the “worst.”

“I couldn’t help it, and everyone would say, ‘She can’t stop eating,’ ” she says. “I delivered at 180, and they were like, ‘She’s 210 pounds. She’s getting dumped because she’s too fat’ and all these ridiculous stories. It really took a toll after the fact, when I was losing weight. I gained 50 pounds, and it’s tough to get it off.”

Kardashian West, whose husband Kanye West is also known for his reluctance to grin, says she was “dedicated” to getting back to her pre-baby shape, but it “changed the way I viewed wanting my picture taken.”

“Before I was always smiling, and so into being out and about,” she tells the magazine. “After I had the baby, I was like, ‘These are the same people that made fun of me, and posted the stories that were so awful, calling me fat for something I couldn’t control.'”

Her solution? No more smiling.

“‘I don’t want to smile for them. I don’t want to be out,'” Kardashian West says. “Even if I was more confident, I just didn’t feel like being that girl who was going to be smiling for every photo. It changed my mood; it changed who I was; it changed my personality a lot.”

This article originally appeared on People.com

Read next: YouTube’s Founder Is Paying Big Bucks to Kim and Kanye

TIME Reproductive Health

Premature Births Linked to Certain Bacteria

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Phil Schofield—Getty Images/Photographer's Choice

One of the contributors to preterm birth may be the myriad communities of microscopic residents living in mom

We know that microbes are everywhere, coating door handles, our cell phones, even blanketing our skin. Now researchers report that some of them may provide clues about why certain babies are born prematurely.

In the most complete look yet at how the microbes that live within us—most of them the good, non-disease-causing kind—change during pregnancy, scientists report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that there may be a particular profile of bacteria residing in the vagina that is associated with a higher risk of preterm birth.

Dr. David Relman, professor of medicine at Stanford University and chief of infectious diseases at the VA Hospital in Palo Alto, and his colleagues obtained samples of microbes from 49 pregnant women from four different body sites — the vagina, the gut, the saliva and the tooth and gum line. The samples were collected weekly throughout their pregnancies, and then monthly for a year after they gave birth. The database allowed Relman and his team to look for any changes in the makeup of the bacteria that were present in these areas as the pregnancy progressed and then after delivery.

MORE: Your Diet May Be Causing Your Urinary Tract Infections

Overall, they found that pregnant women did not differ from women who weren’t pregnant in terms of the types of bacteria they harbored — most fell into one of five common profiles, four of which include high proportions of Lactobacillus, a helpful bacterium that produces vitamin K and breaks down the lactose in diary products. That was a bit of a surprise, given the dramatic hormonal and metabolic changes that occur with conception and gestation, says Relman. But he notes that while the members of the communities may be the same, what they do, and the factors they release (which he couldn’t analyze in this particular study) may change with pregnancy .

MORE: Here’s How Many Bacteria Spread Through One Kiss

But they did notice some bacterial similarities in the women who has a preterm birth. Women with this profile housed a more diverse array of bacterial species, including Gardnerella and Ureaplasma. While these don’t normally cause disease, they have been associated with conditions such as bacterial vaginosis, an infection of the vagina, and inflammation of the urethra in men.

Exactly why or how the presence of these species, and the relative lack of Lactobacillus, are linked to the higher rate of preterm birth isn’t clear yet. But the findings confirm other studies that have linked the presence of more some species to premature birth. Gregory Buck, director of the center for the study of biological complexity at Virginia Commonwealth University and member of the Vaginal Microbiome Consortium funded by the National Institutes of Health, notes that certain racial and ethnic groups, such as African-Americans, tend to have more diverse microbiota, and that preterm births are more common in these populations than among Caucasians. But, he notes, these are only pieces of the bigger picture of how the bacteria that live within us affect our health. “We have a lot of questions, and I don’t think the answers are all there yet but we are working on it,” he says.

Relman says that the documentation of which bacteria are present throughout pregnancy is an important step toward answering those questions. “It is important to know who is there, what their names are,” he says. “But that’s only a small part of the story. We also want to know what they are doing, with whom they are doing it, and how they are doing the things they’re doing.”

MORE: Probiotics Primer: What Science Says About Using Bacteria to Treat Disease

Ultimately, the goal is to use that information to better predict which women might be at higher risk of having a preterm birth. And if the role of microbes is strong enough, it may be possible to even intervene with antibiotics or probiotics to adjust the composition of the microbial communities. “The Holy Grail is to find some kind of intervention to predict and prevent preterm birth,” says Buck. “But there is a lot of ground to cross between now and then, so it’s hard to say exactly what that intervention might be.”

Relman may have some of the tools to answer that question: from this study, his group collected more than 100,000 samples that they hope will form the basis of future studies to better understand how the invisible residents that populate the vagina, gut and oral cavities might be influencing pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes.

TIME health

Planned Parenthood Will Survive—Some Women May Not

A sign hangs in the offices of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in New York City.
Mario Tama—Getty Images A sign hangs in the offices of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in New York City.

Women will lose access to vital, sometimes life-saving, health care when states defund Planned Parenthood

Responding to five shocking videos released by the Center for Medical Progress, government officials in Louisiana, New Hampshire and Alabama have moved to defund Planned Parenthood. Now the White House has entered the fray, warning these states that defunding may break the law.

Through a network of affiliated clinics, Planned Parenthood provides health care services to millions of women across the country, especially low-income and young women who have few options for care.

The latest controversy will negatively impact these women’s access to essential services, but Planned Parenthood itself will survive the firestorm.

A political storm

The videos purport to show that Planned Parenthood profits from the unethical sale of fetal tissue. Detractors argue that the videos prove that leaders in the organization have a “cavalier” attitude toward the sale of this tissue.

Whether these videos are true – and factcheck.org raises some questions – they have tremendous political legs. Aside from state action to defund the organization, presidential candidates from Scott Walker to Hillary Clinton have weighed in on the controversy.

But, while the videos are a hot media topic, they are nothing new.

Every six months or so, for the past several years, a heavily edited video has surfaced, throwing practices at Planned Parenthood into question.

The videos always seem to shock. But, as a scholar of the social and political histories of pregnancy and birth, I can say that their presence shouldn’t surprise us.

Planned Parenthood, the organization, has long been a political lightning rod.

Controversial origins

Margaret Sanger founded what would become Planned Parenthood in 1916.

Contraceptives were then illegal nationwide, and even providing information about them could land someone in jail. Sanger spent 30 days in prison after opening a birth control clinic in Brooklyn, New York.

At that time, the idea of a “planned pregnancy” was revolutionary. Sanger and her contemporaries saw reproductive autonomy as an essential part of women’s liberation.

Detractors often point to Sanger’s ties to eugenicist movements as a way to discredit the organization, which was officially founded in 1952. This paints her politics with too broad a brush.

Sanger was, indeed, on the side of so-called “positive eugenics.” She believed that healthy, planned pregnancies would lead to healthier babies and children, and that birth control could reduce problems associated with overpopulation worldwide. She did use racializing and alienating language in her private correspondence. But, there is nothing in her record to indicate she desired, as some allege today, to use abortion as a means to genocide, or as a plot to disempower, coerce, or control poor women and women of color.

A decades-long fight

Anti-choice advocates have engaged in a decades-long fight to limit access to women’s right to abortion.

Planned Parenthood, one of the only national organizations ready to help women with that access, makes an obvious target.

But Planned Parenthood does far more than provide abortion services for women. In fact, only 3% of Planned Parenthood clients procure abortions from their clinics.

Many more women use Planned Parenthood for sexual health reasons other than abortion: for birth control, Pap smears, HIV testing, sexual health counseling and prenatal care.

The fact that abortion is what garners attention, when 97% of Planned Parenthood’s activities focus on something else, should make us ask why there is so much hysteria over Planned Parenthood’s presence in the states.

The answer might be that 3% of clients receiving abortion services is still too many for pro-life activists to accept. The fact is that this 3% makes Planned Parenthood the single largest provider of abortion in the United States.

But defunding Planned Parenthood also limits women’s access to birth control – access that actually reduces rates of abortion.

If you want fewer abortions, keeping Planned Parenthood open would be a better strategy.

So why might politicians want to restrict access to safe, effective birth control? Being able to plan and avoid pregnancies by using birth control empowers women to enjoy their sexuality. And why might politicians want to dissuade women from that?

A fiery defense

In a fiery speech on the Senate floor in defense of Planned Parenthood, Elizabeth Warren argued that opposition to women’s reproductive freedom is old-fashioned and regressive.

As Rickie Solinger, historian of women’s sexuality and the politics of birth control in the United States, has argued, when women’s independence is facilitated by their ability to time pregnancy and childbirth, that independence is seen as “fearsome.” It is seen as a rejection of motherhood as the pinnacle of women’s lives, Solinger persuasively argues.

By providing women access to safe and affordable birth control and abortion, Planned Parenthood enables women to be fearsomely free in determining the trajectory of their lives. Being able to plan and avoid and terminate pregnancies allows women to work for pay outside the home when they need or want to. It allows women to leave bad relationships and stay in good ones. It allows women access to education and promotions and other opportunities that, in 2015, are still constrained when women reproduce.

When legislators in Alabama, New Hampshire and Louisiana vote to defund Planned Parenthood, they are participating in a politics that would ask us to return to second-class citizenship. They are parroting a rhetoric that expresses fear of women’s sexuality. And they are engaging in actions that will deny women access to vital health care, reduce rates of abortion and improve maternal lives.

Moves to defund Planned Parenthood are disturbing for how regressive they are, and for how much they harken back to times when women had far fewer rights.

But, the organization has weathered many storms. And, ironically, these shock videos tend to motivate women (and the men who support and love them) to defend their doctors and their decisions.

Donations up

Donations to Planned Parenthood, for example, have increased since these videos were released. Some donations were even made in honor of anti-choice politicians.

But the fact is that women – especially poor women, young women and women of color – will lose access to vital, sometimes life-saving, health care when states defund Planned Parenthood.

The organization will live on. Some women may not.

This article originally appeared on The ConversationThe Conversation

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Parental Happiness Predicts If You’ll Have Another Kid

Shadow of mother lifting baby
Chev Wilkinson / Getty Images The happier a parent is after their firstborn, the more likely the child will have a sibling.

A study notes that baby number one affects parental satisfaction and, in turn, affects whether baby number two is in the horizon

It’s often said that happiness often dips for parents after the birth of a first child. The diaper changes, the middle-of-the-night wailing, the exhaustion—all this and more make for a not-so-blissful experience. Couple a crying infant with job stress and hormones, and you’ve got one crabby new parent.

And that crabbiness might mean baby won’t get a brother or a sister: New research from the Journal of Demography shows that how happy a brand-new parent acts as a pretty solid predictor of whether a couple decides to get pregnant again.

Mikko Myrskyla at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, and his colleague, Rachel Marolis at the University of Western Ontario’s Department of Sociology, collected data from Germany’s Socio-Economic Panel Study, which included the former East and West Germanys (East Germany was added in 1991), foreigners, and immigrants between 1984 and 2010. From the survey, 2,016 people who had had first births were interviewed about their levels of life satisfaction—beyond the happiness of being a parent, Myrskala told TIME.

“We don’t ask parents about happiness with relationship to parenthood, because there is a strong implicit pressure to be happy,” Myrskala says. “If I go and ask a new parent these kinds of questions, they feel a pressure to put a positive picture of what a new parent is ‘supposed’ to feel.”

Having the first kid, the authors write, is a crash course in childrearing; having a second one, then, becomes a more informed decision. This can play out in a number of ways. Consider, for instance, the parents of a fuss-free newborn. The circumstance is likely to be seen as positive experience, making the new mom and dad more likely to have more kids. About 58% of parents who reported at least a three-point loss in happiness had a second child within 10 years of the first. But that shot up to 66% of parents who did not experience a dip in happiness.

There are some commanalities among parents who decide to go for baby number two and beyond. These individuals seem to have more life satisfaction around the time of the first child’s birth, and reported a smaller drop in happiness than parents who stuck with one kid. And there’s something about being older and wiser as a first-time parent: people who are over 30 and have a college education are more likely to be able to cope with the shock of an infant than younger, less educated couples, the study found.

While the study is focused on Germany—a country that has experienced economic and political upheaval along with a 2007 parental leave amendment that made paid leave “more Nordic”—Myrskala thinks the results are in keeping with other countries.

“What this suggests is that policymakers who are concerned about lower rates should pay attention to the wellbeing of new parents,” Myrskyla says, citing not only parental leave but also affordable kindergarten and childcare.

TIME movies

This Movie Is Changing the Way Pregnancy Is Shown on Film

Unexpected
The Film Arcade

Unexpected, out July 24, stars Cobie Smulders as a teacher coming to terms with a surprise pregnancy

It wasn’t until it came time to figure out the labor scene that Kris Swanberg realized her movie about pregnancy was unusual. After all, there are lots of movies out there about people having babies. But, when she sat down with her director of photography to look at some examples of how delivery had been handled in those forerunners, she noticed something strange: almost every on-screen birth that she watched was portrayed from the point of view of a man in the room.

“I didn’t set out and say, ‘I’m going to make a movie from the female perspective, dammit!’” Swanberg says. “But because I’m a woman and I wrote it and a lot of it was based on my own personal experience, it just sort of happened that way. Not until after the fact did I realize that it’s actually very rare.”

The film, Unexpected (in theaters, on demand and on iTunes July 24), directed by Swanberg and co-written with Megan Mercier, is the story of a high-school teacher (played by How I Met Your Mother’s Cobie Smulders) facing a surprise pregnancy at the same time as one of her most promising students (impressive newcomer Gail Bean). As they both face variations on the same question—how a baby will affect their plans for the future, whether it’s a dream job or a college education—they form a friendship; unusually, it’s that relationship, rather than their romantic ones, that’s at the movie’s center. Smulders’ character’s mother is played by Elizabeth McGovern, who starred in She’s Having a Baby, which perhaps the ultimate example of a movie about pregnancy and birth seen from a man’s perspective.

The personal experience on which Unexpected is based is a combination of Swanberg’s time spent as a teacher in Chicago’s west side and her experiences juggling work and motherhood. Swanberg’s husband is the filmmaker Joe Swanberg, so they’ve been able to alternate work and primary-parenting when it comes to their son, but the question took on an extra layer of meaning around Unexpected: their second child is due right around the same time that the movie is.

“Everyone asks, without ill intentions, what I’m going to do [about working]. Everyone asks every pregnant woman that,” she tells TIME. “Everyone expects a man to go back to work.”

That conundrum had an extra layer of meaning for Smulders too, who was already pregnant when she was offered the part. (Her baby was born in January, and she jokes that the best part of the coincidence was that the Unexpected production was able to save money on belly prosthetics.) It’s important to have movies about motherhood that focus on the identity-crisis aspect of being pregnant, she notes, because those pop-culture depictions determine many people’s ideas of what that life change will be like in reality.

“It was so unknown to me [before having children]. You have a general idea of what it’s going to be and that is formed by film or commercials or people you know,” she says. “I think if I were really fully informed by the things I watched on TV I would think that kids were really quippy and had amazing comedic timing and learned life lessons so fast and so easily, just with a conversation at the end of the bed.”

So balancing out Full House and Party of 5—a major source of information about families for a younger Cobie Smulders—is a big deal. And there’s already evidence that the message is getting through.

“Showing the film, I’ve gotten a lot of people come up and say, ‘This is exactly what I went through,’” Swanberg says. “And men coming up and saying, ‘Now I really understand.’”

Read next: How an Unplanned Pregnancy Ended Up Being the Right Choice for Me

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TIME Research

5 Weird Ways Ovulation Can Affect Your Body

woman-balance-walk-fence
Getty Images

Your senses might seem heightened

Once a month, women of reproductive age go through ovulation—the process in which an egg is released from an ovary into the fallopian tubes, which can then be fertilized by sperm. At the same time, our hormones begin to fluctuate and our brain chemistry shifts, which may be an attempt to help the baby-making along. These changes are thought to increase chances of conception, with research in recent years revealing that ovulation may affect your brain, body, and behavior in surprising ways.

“Hormones affect the entire body, not just the reproductive organs, so it makes sense that our thinking, our behavior, even our appearance can change throughout our cycles,” says Carol Gnatuk, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Here are some of the more surprising, even mysterious, symptoms you may notice during your most fertile time of the month.

Your face may get (ever so slightly) redder

First, a new study published in the journal PLoS One found that women’s faces become slightly more flushed in the days leading up to and during ovulation. This makes sense, Dr. Gnatuk says, since hormones affect blood flow throughout the body. “Higher estrogen levels during ovulation can cause blood vessels to dilate, and when vessels dilate close to the skin you get more of a glow,” she says.

The study authors had assumed this affect might be noticeable to men, and might begin to solve the mystery of how and why men seem to find women who are ovulating more sexually attractive. But the slight increase in redness was only detectable via very sensitive cameras—not to the naked eye, which means the jury’s still out.

You might feel more frisky (and express it in interesting ways)

Evolutionarily, it makes sense that a woman’s libido goes up during the time of the month she’s most fertile. But ovulating women don’t just consciously think more about sex; it’s on their mind in sneakier ways as well. According to a 2010 study in the Journal of Consumer Research, during ovulation women may be more likely to unconsciously buy and wear sexier clothing.

Research has also suggested that women dream more about sex in the first half of the menstrual cycle, when the body is gearing up for ovulation, compared to the second half, when your body prepares for your period. One small study found women may even have more erotic interpretations of abstract artwork (think Georgia O’Keeffe flower paintings) when they’re ovulating versus later in their menstrual cycles.

“Libido isn’t totally driven by hormones—if it were, sex would only be about when and not where or with who,” Dr. Gnatuk says. “But certainly, estrogen and testosterone, both of which are higher during ovulation, can increase a woman’s desire.”

You may be more attracted to a certain type of guy

Not only might you feel more “in the mood” during ovulation, but you may also be more interested in some guys over others. Studies have shown that women tend to prefer men with sterotypically masculine traits and pay more attention to traditionally attractive guys during fertile times of the month, especially if their current partners lack manly facial features, like a square jaw.

“When we’re in reproductive mode, we look for traits that we associate with good health,” Dr. Gnatuk explains—and that includes healthy testosterone levels, she says, which suggest that a man is well able to produce and protect offspring.

Another 2011 study from the journal Psychological Science suggests women are better at judging men’s sexual orientation when they are ovulating, perhaps since, from an evolutionary perspective, there’s no sense in going after a guy who isn’t interested.

Your senses might seem heightened

Ovulating women seem to be better able to detect musky odors and male pheromones than those taking oral contraceptives (which prevent ovulation), according to a small 2013 study in the journal Hormones and Behavior; another study that same year found that women may have a heightened sense of smell in general during ovulation than during other times of the month.

You may even be better at detecting potential threats to yourself and your future offspring: A preliminary 2012 study by Kyoto University researchers found that women in the luteal phase of their cycles (which begins with ovulation) were better at finding snakes hidden in photographs of flowers.

You could avoid male relatives

And finally, here’s perhaps one of the most bizarre side effects of ovulation found in the research: According to a 2010 UCLA study, women avoid talking to their fathers on the phone during their most fertile times of the month. (Those who were ovulating or about to ovulate were half as likely to chat with Dad, on average.)

The researchers speculated that historically, it was in a woman’s (and her offspring’s) best interest to avoid male relatives—and potentially incestuous couplings—while they were fertile. Dr. Gnatuk has an alternate interpretation: “You might also argue that you don’t want to talk to Dad right now because he always told you you couldn’t go out with guys, and now’s the time you want to do that.”

This article originally appeared on Health.com

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TIME families

What You Really Need to Know About Egg Freezing

Some call it an "insurance policy" for modern women. But does it really work? Watch TIME's investigation of the latest fertility craze

Egg freezing has been hailed as a game-changer for women, an “insurance policy” to revitalize waning fertility, a breakthrough as revolutionary as the birth control pill. But how well does it really work?

In this week’s issue of the magazine, we took a deep dive into the promises and pitfalls of egg-freezing. If you’re reading this, you probably already know all the facts about how egg quality and quantity deteriorate with age, which is why some women consider freezing their eggs until they’re ready to use them.

Here are eight key takeaways from six months of reporting on whether procedure lives up to the hype:

1) Egg-freezing is taking off among professional women. Doctors say they’ve seen more interest in the procedure since Apple and Facebook announced last year they’d cover egg-freezing in their employee health plans, and younger women are beginning to ask about how they can preserve their fertility. In 2009, only about 500 women froze their eggs—in 2013, almost 5,000 did, according to data obtained from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART.) Fertility marketer EggBanxx estimates that 76,000 women will be freezing their eggs by 2018.

2) While there is no widespread published data on the live birth rate from elective egg-freezing, initial data provided exclusively for TIME by Dr. Kevin Doody, former chairman of the SART Registry, gives us the clearest picture so far. Of the 353 egg-thaw cycles in 2012, only 83 resulted in a live birth. After 414 thaws in 2013, 99 babies were born. Those are the most comprehensive live-birth rates for egg freezing, and they’re just under 24%. (It should be noted that some of these eggs may have been frozen with an older slow-freeze method, which has a much lower success rate.)

3) Elective egg-freezing gained popularity after the American Society for Reproductive Medicine removed the “experimental” label from the procedure in 2012, in part because a new quick-freeze vitrification method radically improved success rates. But in the same document, the ASRM also warned against using egg-freezing to electively delay motherhood, citing lack of data. “Marketing this technology for the purpose of deferring childbearing may give women false hope,” they wrote.

4) That marketing is happening anyway. Fertility companies and specialists are hosting egg-freezing parties and other informational gatherings to encourage women to consider freezing their eggs as an “insurance policy,” and in some cases offer Groupon-style discounts if they commit immediately. One of these fertility companies, EggBanxx, recently merged into a new company, Progyny, that’s privately held and funded in part by Merck Serono Ventures. Merck Serono Ventures is the strategic corporate-venture arm of a biopharmaceutical division of Merck KGaA, which just happens to make three major fertility drugs.

(MORE: You can read the full story here: Buying Time: More women than ever are freezing their eggs to use later– but success rates are lower than you think)

5) Freezing your eggs is expensive. The egg retrieval process can cost $10,000-15,000, and that’s not including storage fees or the cost of fertilization and embryo transfer. And it can be physically grueling as well—patients give themselves daily hormone injections for two weeks before eggs are retrieved from the ovaries. The good news is that the procedure doesn’t take very long—most patients said it was over in about 15 minutes.

6) Nobody knows how many babies have been delivered from a mother’s own frozen eggs. When you ask doctors about success rates, they tend to compare the procedure to IVF (which is done with fresh eggs) or egg donation (which often uses frozen eggs from women in their early 20s). And while anecdotal evidence suggests egg freezing is comparable to IVF because frozen eggs behave like fresh ones, IVF itself is hardly foolproof—even in women under 35, the majority of cycles don’t result in a live birth. But because IVF is such a common procedure, women are often reassured when they hear the comparison.

7) Even young women have a high percentage of eggs with chromosomal abnormalities. And while genetic testing of eggs is technically possible, it’s too expensive to become part of the regular procedure in the U.S.—so genetic testing only happens once a egg has been fertilized and grown into a blastocyst (a pre-embryonic state.) That means women don’t know if their eggs are genetically healthy until they’re thawed and fertilized, which means they could be freezing—and pinning their hopes on—bad eggs.

TIME Parenting

How an Unplanned Pregnancy Ended Up Being the Right Choice for Me

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

I’m still amazed by how something so poorly timed and so unexpected can result in a life with such significant purpose

I wasn’t ready. I did not plan to get pregnant. I was completely uncertain of everything about my future — my relationship was new, my “career path” took a temporary detour, and my finances were basically nonexistent and nowhere near in order.

Four months before I took a pregnancy test and saw two distinct lines indicating a positive result, I celebrated my 21st birthday. On the night of that celebration, I fell off of a barstool and decided to stay there, lying on the floor, laughing and staring at the ceiling. I thought about my carefree immediate future — I had just quit my job and decided not to enroll in any classes for the fall semester.

I was about to embark on a cross country road trip with a young man that I knew well enough to travel with, but not well enough to even attempt to plan a future together. I imagined crossing state line after state line before finding a waitressing or bartending job and settling in somewhere in California for awhile. I was willingly lacking direction. Flat on my back on the dirty bar floor, I was thrilled at the thought of aimless, careless travel.

By the time we reached Tennessee I felt like something was a little “off,” but I assumed it was due to the constant travel and inconsistent sleep. We ran out of money as we approached the middle of Arkansas, so we decided to settle in Louisiana for awhile and find jobs and work our tails off to make money to stash away for the rest of the trip. I woke up one afternoon after working the graveyard shift as a cocktail waitress on a casino boat and went out and bought the pregnancy test.

The two lines appeared within less than a minute. I didn’t expect this to happen to me. Back then, I still blindly believed that odds would always be in my favor and that because I was “smart,” something so life-altering could never happen. I almost cried, but disbelief and shock kept me from sadness.

I assessed my options and I spoke to my sister, my mom, and a close friend. And then I sat in the sparse, humid living room of our temporary rental and made my decision.

I want to tell you about that child. That unintended child. That child that I carried in the midst of uncertainty and instability. The child that many might say it was not the “right time” for. A child that many might say I wasn’t equipped or prepared for or mature enough to raise.

The first sight of him on a pixelated ultrasound screen at a clinic in Shreveport, Louisiana poured a confusing mix of hope and anxiety into my heart. For the first time in my 21 years, I was brimming with both awe and fear. It seemed that these two feelings alternated every other minute. I had no idea how I was going to do this — how I was going to handle being a mother.

I could not picture my future with a baby in my arms whose life would become my main responsibility. I wanted to believe that “everything happens for a reason” but the truth was that the only reason that I was pregnant was because I chose to be careless and irresponsible. My youthful ignorance that conned me into believing I was exempt from life-altering consequences died swiftly when saw evidence of his life.

The monthly, then bi-monthly, then eventual weekly trips to the clinic to confirm his health and growth seared the reality of impending overwhelming responsibility into my mind.

Watching the days (actually the minutes) tick by as his due date approached, then passed put me in a state of complete confusion. Which did I want more: for things to stay exactly the same or for my world to change forever upon his arrival? His birth occurred about a month before my 22nd birthday.

I spent most of my first year of legal drinking age pregnant and diligent about what I did/didn’t put into my body. Had another choice been made, I’d have been living it up, out til the wee hours of the morning, coming and going as I so pleased, and focused on my appropriately self-centered future.

With this baby’s arrival came absolute bewilderment. I didn’t know that the word “love” was so weak and wrong and overused until I spent my first few hours with him alone in my hospital room. I used the word “love” all my life to describe strong feelings of adoration, fondness, and attachment to others, but this feeling I had while holding this tiny boy, would make any other feeling of love I thought I had seem so insignificant compared to what took up permanent residence in my heart that day.

The English language failed to produce a word that can describe the way I feel about this child. Merely proclaiming “love” does not do justice to the way it feels when every section of your heart feels like it’s bursting with every possible wonderful feeling: elation, happiness, contentment, exuberance, delight, excitement, suspense, and hope.

The word “love” does not begin to cover the feelings of protectiveness, devotion, and loyalty. And if “love” indicates adoration, what I felt for that fragile little baby (and still feel for that boy who is now almost a man) made that word seem trivial and soft. Whenever I saw him or thought of him, my world seemed to spin more smoothly.

My feet felt more firmly planted on the ground, yet at the same time, my heart and mind soared with joy and promise at an unbelievable speed. No one told me this could happen — that a brand new helpless baby, who can’t even speak or reciprocate affection, could sweep you off your feet and make you walk with certainty and deliberate purpose.

As this unintended baby grew, the mix of all of these feelings did too. Sometimes, I wished that someone warned and prepared me for this before he was born. And at other times, I’d feel grateful that I was surprised. Being stilled with awe from unrelenting delight and devotion is indescribable. When his first brother, then his second brother arrived, this love only multiplied.

The sweet alliance these sons of mine formed as they grew together made me wonder if indeed, everything happens for a reason. I could never imagine these brothers without my first son for a single second. Their identities were carved from his precedence. Their personalities molded by his example. The bond between the three brothers is so sacred that I will dare to say it may be as sacred as the bond they each have with me.

My unintended son graduates from high school this year. He will start college in the fall. He has friends, old and new, and a girlfriend that adores him. He is full of creativity, passion, integrity, and grace. Whatever path he chooses, and through all of his mistakes and victories, he will exude these things.

In subtle and incredible ways, he will continue to cause others to be grateful and appreciative of his presence. He loves, has been loved, and will be loved by countless others as he navigates through life.

He is the beacon, the pillar, the fire and the home to my maternal heart. His arrival swung the door wide open and paved a path for his younger brothers to travel alongside of him and me, their determined young mother, holding their hands and guiding them on their journey to adulthood.

When I think about the day that I discovered that I was pregnant, I’m still amazed by how something so poorly timed and so unexpected can result in a life with such significant purpose. My unintended son is also the oldest brother, the cousin, the nephew, the grandson, and the friend that completes and comforts and delights so many people. He was never an option — he was undoubtedly meant to be.

So many memories, decisions, lessons, and plans for the future began with him. So much more lies ahead.

Every woman’s choice is hers, and hers alone. I would never imply that what I did is right for every young woman in my position. But when I look at who my choice grew to be and I watch him with awe from a distance, and when I experience his gentle and genuine kindness and witness the way his presence brings joy to others and then I try to imagine all of our lives without him, I can’t even finish the thought.

The world, as we who love him know it, would not exist without him.

Tina Plantamura wrote this article for xoJane

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Drugs

Some Antidepressants Linked to Higher Risk of Birth Defects

Drugs Prozac and Paxil are linked to certain defects in a new study

A new study finds women who used certain antidepressants could be more likely to have babies born with rare birth defects.

According to the study of 28,000 women by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), certain birth defects were more common among users of antidepressants Prozac and Paxil.

Prozac usage was linked to defects like misshapen skulls and Paxil was associated with defects such as intestines growing outside of the baby’s body and missing parts of the brain and skull. Both drugs were linked to heart defects, according to the study.

The study’s authors note that the risks are very small and that there is no proof that the drugs cause defects, but they did discover a link between using the drugs in early stages of pregnancy and some defects. Women were asked if they used certain antidepressants in the time just before they conceived and during the first three months of pregnancy.

The study, which was published Wednesday in the British Medical Journal, follows several studies that linked the entire class of antidepressants to defects. The study, however, did not find links with birth defects in antidepressants Celexa, Lexapro or Zoloft.

 

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

These Antidepressants May Be Riskier For Pregnant Women, Study Says

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Alfredo Ausina—Getty Images/age fotostock RM

Treating depression properly is important, but a new analysis found a link between certain SSRIs and birth defects

In a study published in the BMJ, researchers conducted the most thorough study to date looking at how popular SSRI antidepressants taken by pregnant women affect their unborn children.

Previous studies, most of which investigated individual medications and their potential effects on the still-developing fetus, have resulted in conflicting results; some have found associations between the antidepressants and birth defects, while others have not.

In the BMJ study, Jennita Reefhuis, team lead in the birth defects branch at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and her colleagues analyzed data from six existing studies of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, called SSRIs—a class of antidepressants—and their relationship with birth defects, as well as the National Birth Defects Prevention Study, which collected birth defect information from hospitals in 10 U.S. cities. The added data from nearly 18,000 mothers who had children with birth defects provided more power to the analysis that Reefhuis and her team performed.

MORE: Therapy and Antidepressants Work Better Together Than Just Pills Alone

Overall, they found that two SSRIs—fluoxetine (Prozac) and paroxetine (Paxil)—were linked to seven specific birth defects, including those involving heart structures, abnormal brain formation and the growth of the intestines outside of the body. The other SSRIs studied—citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), and sertraline (Zoloft)—did not show strong associations with birth defects.

The researchers don’t yet know exactly why these SSRIs were linked to birth defects, and Reefhuis stresses that the risks she uncovered are small. For example, a heart structural defect occurs normally in about 10 per 10,000 births, and for women taking paroxetine, that risk doubled to 24 per 10,000. “But two times a small number is still a small number,” she says.

MORE: Why Some Antidepressants Make You Feel Worse Before Better

Still, the results should provide better information for doctors and women who want to start families about how to balance the benefits of antidepressants like SSRIs in treating depression and the potential risks the medications can pose to the baby. “I think our data points in the direction that maybe they could choose an SSRI that has not been shown to be associated with, or has been associated with fewer, birth defects,” she says. But more studies like this are needed to confirm and expand on what we know about how specific antidepressants are linked to specific birth defects. “This information is most helpful in trying to unravel this mystery,” says Reefhuis. “I really hope it provides options for treating women who need treatment for depression during pregnancy.”

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