There are a lot of social norms around pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing that can seem so obvious for a first-time mom, that you don’t question them, as though the path is so well-worn, you can easily find your way by following every mother that came before you.
I learned in my first pregnancy that following advice didn’t necessarily make things easier or even better, and I became skeptical and a bit cynical about all of the advice that I’ve gotten through the years. As I’ve become more comfortable as a mother, I’ve learned to ignore advice, put aside opinions, and I don’t trust every sage mom who has come before me.
When I found out I was pregnant for a second time, I remembered that very traditional and nearly unbroken rule about not announcing the pregnancy until the second trimester or the 12-week mark. Just as I had remembered in my first pregnancy, my emotional landscape became clouded, my physical health faltered and my body began to expand and shift, while my short-term and longer-term life plans took a new and different shape. And yet, I was supposed to keep all of these huge changes a secret, for two or three more months. It occurred to me what a burden this was, not only because I tend to be an extrovert and oversharer who likes to talk about my experiences, but also because it felt like my responsibility, not to let it slip.
I began to wonder — who is it going to get hurt if this secret gets out? Why shouldn’t people know about this massive change going on in my life?
The only reason I could come up with, the one I heard over and over was, “What if you have a miscarriage?” The idea is that, because the chance of miscarriage is high through the first trimester, you will not want to have to share this devastating news or discuss your pregnancy loss. But, I still came to the same conclusion—why would I want to keep this a secret? Shouldn’t my employer fully understand the physical and emotional devastation of pregnancy loss? Shouldn’t my friends and family be there to support me and even experience this same sense of shared loss?
The more I thought about it, the more troublesome it became to me, this idea that there is something so wrong with miscarriage, so wrong with mothers who lose a baby, that we should hide it and cower in shame? In what other tragic life circumstance are we asked to deal with it so privately, so alone? Are we asked to deal with the death of a parent or spouse without support? Cancer and other illness? The death of a child? Why should miscarriage be any different?
The only conclusion I could make is that, this is another patriarchal hand-me-down that forces women to feel ashamed that their bodies couldn’t handle it, that something was “wrong” and that they should carry that shame and burden alone.
I decided to announce my pregnancy at 8 weeks, not long after I found out. I decided to loop everyone in as soon as possible, not in spite of the possibility of miscarriage but BECAUSE of it. I told my employer at 8 weeks because if I miscarried, I wanted to be able to have support, and even miss work if I had to. I told my closest friends and acquaintances, because if I miscarried, I wanted to be able to talk to them about it. I wanted them to be able to understand the full scope of the loss, which they could only really do if they were involved from the outset. I told my family, because they too would feel the loss of a miscarriage, a potential family member, and I wanted this to be shared, not something that I had to feel or struggle through alone. In the end, I knew that miscarriage wasn’t something that I should have to face without empathy and support.
I hear so many women talking about how miscarriage felt so lonely, a pain that they had to suffer with so privately. I’m not surprised that women feel alone in miscarriage, given the social norm that we hide our pregnancies and are basically told that it is shameful to miscarry. I’m not saying that it still isn’t difficult to talk about or that the extreme loss can be mitigated, but I think that by removing the shame around miscarriage, by including our families and communities from the outset (when we are ready),we will put an end to this hurtful and psychologially damaging practice. Hiding our pregnancies because of the chance of miscarriage perpetuates the shame around miscarriage and ultimately leaves all of us to feel more alone when the inevitable happens, before or after the 12-week mark.