Women in the UK and further afield, whether they have had their own babies or not, will have heard that 12 weeks is when you are officially (societally anyway) “allowed to tell people” about your pregnancy. It is so ingrained! We can see this from the frequently asked questions on Google of women asking permission to share their own life changing news with loved ones. I would like to delve into why this “rule” persists so deeply.
Why 12 weeks?
Women are shamed into silence during the first trimester of pregnancy to make other people more comfortable because we live in a society that A. medicalises pregnancy and birth from conception and B. can’t talk about death.
According to Healthline the rate of miscarriage in known pregnancies is 10% – 15%. Of that 15%, 80% of those miscarriages happen in the first trimester. So the theory is that because there is a higher chance of a baby dying, the mother should keep it to herself. Who does that benefit? There are two scenarios for the first trimester, the first and most likely is that the woman goes into her second trimester with a healthy baby still growing and developing, and the second is that the baby dies. Neither of these scenarios calls for women to be silent and deal with their feelings alone.
It is no coincidence that 12 weeks is “usually” when a woman will have her first ultrasound scan. This is placed on a pedestal (or a medistal, if you will) as being the solid way to “make sure everything is okay” before you share your news with anyone. What does that say to women about their intuition? It completely undermines it. It tells women that it doesn’t matter that they feel absolutely fine, and intuitively know that their baby is well. It says the only thing that matters is what they can measure. This sets women up for their entire pregnancy and birth being medicalised. Each time she starts to trust in her intuition, she’ll be encouraged by friends, family, partner, medical staff, to go for an ultrasound “just in case she’s wrong”. If women are being told that the only way to make their pregnancy “real” is to go to that scan and get a freaky print-out so that you can tell people, then it becomes the only option.
The 12 weeks “rule” also gives the impression that if your baby dies before 12 weeks, it doesn’t really count and this is massively damaging. The idea of “at least you won’t have to tell everyone the bad news” also cuts women off from receiving love and support from those who would give it if they knew. The gestation at which a woman loses a baby doesn’t change how it feels for her.
Death is a part of life
I don’t say this flippantly. Death is hard. It’s raw, heartbreaking, jolting. Death is normal, but that doesn’t make it easy. Death is something that we all experience, in one form or another, many times in life. When a family member dies, it is socially acceptable to be openly sad and to grieve in your own time, and maybe invite others to be with you during that time in the form of a funeral or a wake. We all have ways of dealing with grief, but the most difficult thing to have to do is hide it. Miscarriage is fairly common – in fact, most of you will know someone who has had a miscarriage, but you may not be aware of it. You might have experienced one yourself, and dealt with it alone. Why are we, as a society, encouraging women to deal with this type of death behind closed doors when everyone claims to care so very much about the babies? I suppose that’s it though, isn’t it? This is about the mother, and that’s why they don’t want to hear it.
Who does it benefit when women feel like they have to keep their pregnancy (and potential loss) a secret?
If a woman loses her baby in the first trimester, who does she turn to? Those closest to her didn’t even know she was pregnant in the first place, so how can they know what support she needs? The truth is that society can’t talk about death, so they would rather not deal with it. The death of a baby is something that is used in the medicalisation of birth to scare women into agreeing to things they don’t believe are necessary. Perhaps if, as a society, we understood and talked about death more, this coercion tactic wouldn’t be so effective. When a woman is being told that she must be induced or her baby might die, medical staff are implying that THEY care more about the life of her baby than she does, but when a woman is experiencing a loss and she goes to medical staff for support – that support is non-existent. The medical system wants women to opt-in to all of the appointments, scans and tests so that they don’t get sued, and the best way to get women to engage in the system is the make them feel isolated from the moment they realise they are pregnant.
What has this got to do with medicalising pregnancy, birth and loss?
Most women will have their pregnancy confirmed by peeing on a stick – a pregnancy test. The key word here is test. If we’ve learnt anything from working with women for so long, it’s that a lot of weight is given to things you can measure. If you’ve been told that you shouldn’t tell anyone about your pregnancy until you’re 12 weeks, then the only place you can really go with your thoughts, fears and excitement is the GP and/or to an antenatal clinic, successfully initiating you into the medical system to measure your normal bodily function. There is no alternative presented at that point other than the medical system.
What are the alternatives?
There is no obligation to engage with the medical system in any way if you don’t want to. Pregnancy does not have to be marked by a series of medical appointments, scans and tests. You don’t have to keep it to yourself until you’re checked over by a medical professional. You are pregnant, not sick. You can mark your pregnancy in so many other ways, ways that strengthen your intuition instead of second-guessing, and build up your confidence instead of knocking it down. You can trust your intuition to know that you are pregnant rather than peeing on a stick, and if you’re not 100% sure then you will soon know just by doing nothing. You can tell those trusted people in your life whenever you want to. You can draw pictures of what you think your baby looks like. Your entire pregnancy can be guided by your intuition and confidence, as opposed to sitting for hours waiting for medical appointments and coming out feeling deflated and scared.
What if my baby does die?
If your baby dies, you deserve to be held, heard and loved. You will be the first to know because your intuition will be strong and you’ll be used to listening to it. Your body is wise and knows exactly what to do next. You can allow your body to work in its own time, without being rushed. You can stay home in your nest, alone if you prefer or surrounded by those that you love and feel safe with. You will know if you need medical assistance because your intuition will tell you. For women who have not told anyone they were pregnant “just in case” are left with very few options in this scenario, because the only people who do know she is pregnant are within the medical system. This often leads to women not being supported emotionally during or after a loss, but rather just treated medically. If you are hesitating on whether or not you want to tell people that you are pregnant during the first 12 weeks “just in case”, it’s worth thinking about who you would want to be there for you if your baby did die. Whether someone loses a baby before 12 weeks or 40 weeks, it is a loss, it is real and however she feels about it is valid.
We need to let women know that it’s okay to share their excitement, it’s okay to get attached to their baby, and it’s okay to grieve openly if their baby does die. If you are in your first trimester and you’d like somewhere to share all of your feelings, fears and excitement – have a look at our first trimester support plan.
If you have suffered a loss in the past, or are currently miscarrying, you can get in touch with us for support by emailing us a firstname.lastname@example.org