I thought about following social convention and keeping the news to myself until it is "safe" to announce the pregnancy. In some ways, keeping the pregnancy secret until the second trimester makes sense. A new birth is supposed to be the one of the happiest of occasions, and who wants to taint it with the risk of miscarriage? It is a bit awkward (as I have found out) to announce in one big blur, "So... I'm pregnant, but we just don't know what will happen and miscarriages are so common and I have about a 30% chance of another one so let's just see what happens and please keep your fingers crossed for us." And what if you do miscarry? Wouldn't it be awkward to have to go back and un-announce your pregnancy? In the days following my miscarriages, I found myself emailing friends instead of calling them because I found it difficult to talk about it without breaking down.
I've never been good at lying though. I give myself away. And when you've already had two miscarriages and all your friends know you're trying again, it's difficult to dodge the question, "Are you pregnant?" My friends ask me that question as soon as I decline a glass of wine. Instead of hemming and hawing, I find it easier to answer truthfully. Sometimes, the answer is, "Nope, but we're trying." Other times, it's, "We are!" followed by a series of disclaimers.
Even the first time around, I found it necessary to talk about my pregnancy early on, especially with other women who had gone through pregnancies. I had a lot of questions. First, I needed recommendations on the books I should read. Then, I wanted to discuss the advice in the books. (Do you think I really can't have prosciutto for nine months? I keep reading conflicting advice about air travel. What did you do?) Then I had questions about whether we should opt for CVS or amnio, where I should buy maternity clothes, when I should start looking into the maternity leave policy, etc., etc., etc.
But talking comes with a price, as I found out. Last time, when I told someone I miscarried, he responded, "You shouldn't have announced the pregnancy so early." I felt rebuked for a second, and then that sense of shame quickly turned to indignation. I thought, do you really think this is about your discomfort? Another time, I felt pretty small when a friend made a point to tell me that his wife kept her pregnancy secret until her fifth month. Is it a matter of my character? Am I the loud mouth who lacks the patience and the discipline to keep it to myself for just a few months?
Maybe it's that of kind attitude that drives women to hide their pregnancies in the first trimester. I've been in situations where women lie about their pregnancy, even as they are suddenly declining food they seemed to relish before. The red flag is a "no thanks" to wine and then another "no thanks" when I offer them a taste of my tuna tartar or caesar salad. Or suddenly requesting decaffeinated coffee after grilling the barrista about the de-caffeinating process. I usually ask straight out, "Are you pregnant?" And some women mouth, "Oh, no," even as they avert my eyes, their cheeks flush, and we quickly change the conversation to the latest news topic or gossip as we both feel embarrassed to be caught in a charade. Surely enough, the "announcement" comes a few weeks later. I feel a little taken aback, and a part of me feels as if something has been betrayed between us.
I can't help but wonder if silence during early pregnancy is a residue of the days (or maybe we're still mired in it) when a woman's social value is derived from her fertility. Maybe some women who miscarry see the miscarriage as failures on their parts - even among women who have degrees and work experience to attest to their ambitions, who see themselves as independent and progressive, who don't bank their identities solely on motherhood. I've seen these women whisper about their miscarriages and then ask me not to mention it to anyone else. It is enshrouded in a quiet shame, a stigma best kept secret.
I wonder if this secrecy doesn't cheat us. It feels like wearing a burka, hiding from society an ambiguous and complicated issue - like female sexuality - that should be socially addressed. In the case of pregnancy and miscarriage, many women seem to have tacitly agreed that these issues do not deserve room for discussion in the social arena. The truth is, life is ambiguous. Every pregnancy comes with the possibility of miscarriage, still birth, complications during delivery, or post-partum problems. Instead of acknowledging these openly, we seem to prefer to pretend that the baby does not exist until the second trimester and then suddenly all is well once we pass the CVS mark. And when the miscarriage occurs or we find ourselves facing a still birth or a death during delivery, we find ourselves alone, feeling like a social anomaly and a failure. I would prefer not to find myself in that kind of a hole if something goes awry again.
The strange thing is that we have come from a time when it was common for both the woman and the baby to die during childbirth to a time when it is almost completely safe. Maybe the denial of death and ambiguity is a safeguard against the fears that permeate in the face of possible risks. If I could help it, I would create a little space for some ambiguity. For society to understand that when a woman announces her pregnancy, that is not the outcome. It is the beginning of nine months of waiting, hoping, and safeguarding. And that the body is complicated and still mysterious in many ways, with no promise of certainty. That even if this fetus is not visible on the surface and may never see the light of day, it still exists inside me. And that is a miracle.