At ten weeks along, I told an acquaintance at a wedding that I was pregnant. By that point, I had a hair elastic looped around the button of my pants and threaded through the opposing hole because I could no longer close them properly. We were eating Indian food and the spread was making me want to vomit. I knew I wasn’t supposed to share my pregnancy news with this person I barely knew, but I did anyway.
I told myself I did it out of self-defense: I was unapologetically hogging the naan (the only thing I could stomach), I was going to the bathroom every four minutes, I was sure someone could tell my clothes weren’t fitting me right. But really, telling him was an act of defiance. Why on earth was this a secret?
Many of us share our pregnancy news with our moms, sisters and best friends early on because a) we can’t keep a secret; b) they knew we were trying; c) we’ve suddenly stopped boozing and/or staying awake past 8pm; d) we are bulging out of our T-shirts; and/or e) we look permanently green.
But what about telling everyone else?
Like so many women, I struggled mightily through my seemingly endless first trimester and into part of my second. Like a lot of people, my “morning sickness” had me wanting to hurl 24 hours a day for 18 solid weeks. The only relief came from moaning on the couch while watching “The Good Wife.” My biggest fear was being stuck out in public without approximately one hundred snacks. (Yes, I gained 20 pounds in the first 20 weeks.)
But I’m convinced that my misery was compounded by the fact that I was struggling to keep my pregnancy a secret. It’s exhausting to be constantly lying — about why I was cancelling plans, why I wasn’t up for a drink, why I kept calling in sick, why I seemed so, well, out of it. I was supposed to be overjoyed — the pregnancy was planned. I was deeply in love and ready to be a mother. But instead I felt nothing but stress. My misery felt like mine (and occasionally my husband’s) alone.
Most of us are conditioned to conceal pregnancy the first trimester because, statistically, this is where things are mostly likely to go wrong — 1 in 5 pregnancies do, after all, end in loss. Nobody wants to have to retract good news, especially with a boss, an acquaintance, or 1,000 Facebook “friends.” Before I got pregnant, the don’t-tell-anyone-until-12-weeks rule seemed logical.
But once I was in it myself, it felt utterly absurd to be lying about this absolutely paramount, life-changing fact of my life. Why had no one told me that pregnancy would be this brutal, especially when so many women knew it to be true? And why were we all agreeing to keep this to ourselves – like we do so many damn difficult things: our periods, cramps, infertility, miscarriage, labor, recovery from birth, postpartum depression and anxiety, postpartum bleeding, breastfeeding?
When I told my friends that I was pregnant and horribly sick, I got so much advice: eat crackers when you get up to pee in the middle of the night and before you get out of bed in the morning, drink cardamom or ginger tea, wear wristbands, suck on mints. None of it ended up helping all that much, but that’s beside the point. The information felt like an army coming to my rescue. These friends were cheering me on and reassuring me that they’d been there and survived — so I knew I would, too. When a friend who was six weeks ahead of me confessed to puking out her car door the second she pulled into a friend’s driveway, I felt immediate relief. I wasn’t alone. I had nothing to be ashamed of. What I was experiencing was normal.
So then why do we all keep it a secret?
We are married to the idea that a pregnant woman should glow, that making a baby is beautiful and natural. But this is a wildly incomplete narrative. And this narrative is served by concealing (at least) an entire third of the pregnancy. In doing so, whose anxiety are we trying to protect?
Each woman needs to decide what is best for her — to share or not to share. Losses of course happen. People do not know how to react and often say the most heartless things. But I do wonder what would happen if women started announcing their pregnancies immediately, rather than waiting until the supposed “safe” zone.
We’d then be forced to face the fact that a pregnancy is truly awesome and terrifying and precarious and unknown, that anything can and does happen, and that women deserve all the love and support and understanding that comes with the act of trying to make another human being.