who we’re protecting

We hit nine weeks yesterday, and we’re thrilled to have made it past so many of the most worrisome weeks of pregnancy. These last few weeks, I have felt myself opening up, surrendering to all of the love and trust that I suspect will carry me through the rest of this process. It was difficult at first to give in to the love that I instinctively felt for this little being – there was so much fear that we would lose him or her – so it feels a little like breathing again to finally open up.

This time has made me think a lot, though, about the prevailing notion (at least in the U.S.) that expectant parents should not tell anyone (or most people) until they’re further along, say twelve weeks or so. The surface sentiment behind this is that it’s such a vulnerable time (which it is), and that if, God forbid, a woman were to miscarry, such guardedness would keep her and her partner from having to tell their wider community about a loss that is deeply personal. This makes sense and has guided our thinking thus far. J and I have been carefully selective about who to tell up to this point, choosing people we feel we would turn to if we lost the pregnancy anyway. As we’ve gotten further into the first trimester, though, I’ve begun to think that the stigma about women telling people that they’re pregnant early on (and I really think it is a stigma) serves to protect people other than expectant parents, and that, in some cases, such guardedness may not even be right for those parents at all.

Personally, I have felt all along that it would be wrong to tell other people, but I haven’t been sure where that sense comes from. Though I work hard not to be a superstitious person, I’m aware of  a creeping suspicion that to tell others too soon might jinx the pregnancy. I’m guessing I’m not alone in this. I’m guessing, too, that part of this fear comes from the stigma I’m talking about here. We (pregnant women) are pretty much told from conception forward that it would be irresponsible to be too open too soon. I’m not sure this really leaves the choice to us, at least not if we’re sensitive to public opinion.

So here’s the bottom line of what I’ve been thinking about all of this lately: It makes sense for women and their partners to choose to wait. If telling people makes them nervous, then waiting seems smart. But I don’t think women are irresponsible if they choose not to wait, and I think it’s dangerous to suggest that they are because doing so creates a false sense of responsibility if something bad happens. This stigma – ostensibly designed to protect women – also protects people around pregnant women from having to grieve alongside those whose babies don’t make it further into pregnancy. No one talks about this, but it’s true, and it seems obvious to me that this is a big part of the motivation behind telling women to wait. It saves all of us from having to take seriously a loss that we don’t know how to classify.

I’m certainly not suggesting that people should be open before they’re ready. I do think, though, that it’s important to ask questions about who we’re protecting by telling women to stay quiet, and why. We’re scared to have conversations about how valuable a pregnancy is because those conversations sound like they might threaten other conversations we have about choice. If we allow that a family can be devastated by, and can deserve our support through, a pregnancy loss, then we have to worry that we’ve implied that all pregnancies are sacred. But in a culture where we understand relativity, we should have the ability to draw distinctions between deeply wanted and unwanted pregnancies, and to support women through all pregnancy-related experiences as they manifest individually. We should know how to comfort expectant parents who lose a pregnancy at six weeks, or seven, or eight. We don’t because we make clear that we don’t want to know about those losses.

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