The Pregnancy Panic Companion: When a Period Isn't Late or Missed

A virtual doula to get you through this hot mess with a cool head

This is part of our Pregnancy Panic Companion. Click here to go back to the beginning.

You said you are scared about a pregnancy, and your menstrual period (or your partner's) is not yet due, late or missed.

Has it been less than 120 hours since your risk? If you would like to reduce your risk, a method of emergency contraception (EC) can reduce the risk of pregnancy by as much as 95% with oral medications designed as EC, and as much as 98% using a copper IUD. EC is most effective when used within 24 hours, so if you want to use it, get a move on. For information on emergency contraception, click here. To find the kinds of EC available in your area, or which kinds of oral contraceptives can be used as emergency contraception, and how, click here

Unless you, or your partner, choose to use emergency contraception, there's little you can do right now but wait until a menstrual period shows up, or until it is late. It is too early for you or your partner to take a pregnancy test and be sure to get accurate results yet. You'll need to wait a little longer to do that.

In the meantime, here are some things you can do to help yourself: 

Take a break from sex until you're on the other side of your scare: If you continue to do things that are freaking you out, that present risks you're not okay with taking, or that you can't yet do in a way that you're comfortable with, then even if and when a period does arrive, you'll probably have a whole new cycle of worry start right up again.

If this scare is from something you made your own choices with (and not about a sexual assault), then also you're probably going to have to do at least something differently next time so you don't wind up in a nonstop scare cycle. To do that, you have to figure out what those changes or adjustments you need to make are, and then you've got to do whatever you need to -- like having a big talk with a partner or starting a birth control method -- to make those changes.  That often takes time and also requires some breathing room.

Need help figuring out what limits you want or need? You can take stock withYes, No, Maybe So: A Sexual Inventory Stocklist.  Need help communicating that to a partner? Have a look at Be a Blabbermouth! The Whats, Whys and Hows of Talking About Sex With a Partner or Whoa, There! How to Slow Down When You're Moving Too Fast.  10 of the Best Things You Can Do for Your Sexual Self (at Any Age)Safer Sex...for Your Heart, and Be Your Own Superhero: Learning How and When to Stand Up for Ourselves may also come in handy with any of this.

Self-care: You'll manage stress and worry like this best by taking good care of yourself, doing things that help you and your body to cope and get centered and more chill, rather than things more likely to keep you stuck in or increase panic. That includes being kind to you. Beating yourself up about any choices you may have made that landed you here is the very opposite of self-care, and only increases stress, which helps you in no way whatsoever. Self-care is about being kind to yourself; about literally taking care. That kindness is also more likely to set you up to make choices you feel better about in the future than abusing yourself is. It's harder to assert ourselves and make our own best choices if we feel lousy about ourselves, and are doing things that keep us feeling crummy, or make us feel even more so. Be good to yourself.

Not sure what "self-care" even means, or need some ideas about things you can do?  Check out our big list of ways to care for yourself at Self-Care a La Carte

Re-evaluate what you're really ready for and want to deal with: When we feel afraid, it's often for a reason. Fear around sex can often be a cue that we're doing something we're either not ready for, don't really want, or are in a sexual situation or relationship that's just not right for us in some way. See if you can't get to the bottom of why you're scared. Even if it seems like, "The reason is a possible pregancy, duh!," think about what makes that so scary and what would make you feel less scared now and moving forward (besides just not being pregnant). For example, this all might be less scary if you started using a reliable method of contraception, or added a backup method, had a partner who better respects your limits and boundaries or who you feel more able to go at your pace with, had a different kind of relationship, more time to be sexual by yourself before hooking up with partners, more ease in your own body and sexuality, or help or support with getting past sexual fears instilled by your community or culture, or with managing stress or anxiety. If you want help figuring out what you really want, need and feel ready for, Yes, No, Maybe So: A Sexual Inventory StocklistReady or Not? The Scarleteen Sex Readiness Checklist and Risky Business: Learning to Consider Risk and Make Sound Sexual Choices can give you some guidance.

Lean on friends who can give you emotional support: That is, after all, one of the biggest parts of being a friend. You need that support right now, so ask a friend or two you know can and will provide it for you.  If you worry you'll be a burden, remind yourself that when they need support from you that you can give, you're going to give it to them, so this isn't going to be one-sided.  This isn't you asking anything outrageous, it's just letting your friends be your friends.

Seek out a pro: Sometimes we need expert help, from people who are educated in how to provide it well, with some parts of sex or sexuality, or with some parts of who we are, or our unique circumstances, that make sexual partnership or sexuality more challenging, like: mental health issues like depression or anxiety, sexual shame, body image  or other self-esteem problems, trouble standing up for ourselves or setting, keeping or respecting limits and boundaries, or some aspects of our our sexual or gender identities that are particularly complex, or that we don't feel solid or supported in. 

You can seek that help out from qualified mental healthcare professionals, like counselors or therapists, or from support groups and organizations that serve your specific bigger issues, like LGBTQ youth, those in abusive relationships, or people struggling with self-esteem.

For support specifically with unplanned pregnancy or pregnancy fears:

  • In the United States, here is a list of supportive hotlines
  • In the UK, the hotline for Marie Stopes is: 0845 300 8090 and for BPAS (the British Pregnancy Advisory Serviceis: 08457 30 40 30
  • In Australia, the SHine SA Sexual Healthline is: 1800 188 171) 
  • In India, Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh (JSK) and the National Population Stabilisation Fund of the health ministry operates this helpline: 1800-11-6555 or 011-6666-5555

If you need help finding support or a hotline that meets your needs or is in your area, feel free to use one of our direct services, and we'll help you get connected.

Here are some things you can avoid or limit that usually don't help:

Using the internet or technology in ways that don't serve you: Google isn't a pregnancy test: it can't tell you if you are or are not pregnant or are going to be. Same goes with crowdsourcing sites, widgets or anything else. This is one of those things where there just isn't an app for that: there can't be. Due to the way search engine optimization works, you're also more likely to run into misinformation or misunderstandings in your searches than sound, fact-checked and current information, and that will only increase your fears, rather than helping you to calm down and cope. Reading other people panicking may seem like a comfort, but what it usually only does is make us feel more panicked ourselves: it's kind of like watching a disaster movie about a plane crash while you're in an airplane. 

Even sound information, from credible sources, can be problematic. If you look at it when you're in a panic, you often won't be able to even absorb the facts you're reading, or see their bigger context, because panic makes the mind less absorbent to information that's about anything but immediate and basic survival. If you're going to be online, stick to things that you know do calm you down in general, and that aren't related to anything around this you can't do jack about right now. If you want or need health information, an in-person healthcare provider is the kind of person who has both the education and the ability to best help you with that.

Trying to get away from the way you feel instead of just being in it and listening to it: It sucks to to live with emotional discomfort and big worry. But when we feel emotionally uncomfortable with something we can't control, the only way out is usually through, not around.

See if you can't give yourself some time to just experience what you are feeling, even though it doesn't feel good. Let yourself have those feelings without trying to push them away or distract yourself from them. If you can just let them be, and really experience them, then start to hear what they might be telling you -- like that you're moving too fast for your comfort, not comfortable having some kinds of sex in your current home situation, or that you need a different or additional method of contraception you feel more comfortable with -- it gets easier to manage all of this, and you get to come out of it with things you didn't have before than can help you out in the future. If you don't do any of that, then you're more likely to keep winding up back here, because you're still doing the same things that got you here this time, and likely to continue feeling crappy, because you didn't allow yourself to just have your feelings.

Anytime we get practice at learning to deal with discomfort with self-care and self-reflection, we gain life skills that make us more able to cope with and manage all of the parts of our lives that will be difficult, particularly any that involve some kind of waiting game or things that are just outside our control. Patience isn't merely a virtue, it's an essential life skill.

Reassurance seeking: It can seem like it will help to keep asking people -- or doing internet research -- about if they think you are pregnant or not, had a risk or not, think your life is over or not, when in truth, it rarely does. Doing that more often tends to keep you from the self-reflection, self-validation and self-care that best helps you deal. Even when external reassurances do make you feel better, that feeling tends to fade mighty fast, setting you up for an endless pattern of seeking reassurance that does little except keep you in panic.

Often partners or friends will focus on just giving you reassurance about not being pregnant, or how unlikely it is, especially if that's what you're asking them for. But if you can ask them to instead just listen to how you are feeling emotionally, and give you emotional support with those feelings -- validtating those feelings, rather than trying to validate or invalidate facts -- that tends to have a more lasting and helpful impact.

Hyperobservation of your body and its processes: Just like a search engine or someone on Yahoo answers can't, your body can't tell you, in advance of a pregnancy test, if you're pregnant or not, either. You could study its every micro-movement or change like an obsessive detective, but a) that's not going to tell you anything, but that you have a body, and good gravy, when you pay atttention to all of it all the time it's overwhelming and b) is a guaranteed way for you to only feel more anxious and worried. Better at times like these to shift your focus to just doing things with your body and living your life in it as usual, saving in-depth anatomy observations for times you feel relaxed in and about your body, not stressed and scared.

Worrying about all the what-ifs: Thinking about what you'll do if and when your period is late, or if you are pregnant is probably only going to make you feel more scared. (On the other hand, some people find that planning soothes them, so this may or may not be true for you.) If and when it's time to take a pregnancy test and the results are positive, then it makes sense to start thinking about all of that, because you have to at that point. Right now, though, it may be more helpful to keep your mind on things that soothe you and help you manage your existing stress, not things that can cause more stress or increase feelings of panic.  

Focusing on the past instead of the present or future: We can't reverse-hack something that already happened. Going over that situation in our minds again and again, hyper-analyzing every part of it, staying mad at ourselves about past choices isn't only unhelpful, it's self-destructive. We can't do jack about the past, but we can do something about the present and the future.  If any of this is about you making some kind of mistake? Congratulations: you're human! We're people: we screw up sometimes, and often we learn things by messing up in some way first. All we can do after that is take responsibility, cut ourself some slack, and then move forward, using the practical and emotional information those mistakes gave us (mistakes are cool like that) to figure out and fine-tune our choices so they can become a better fit with what we do and don't want and need.