Monday, February 2, 2009


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.


  1. I don't know you, but I wish I could hug you for this post! I'm a biglaw associate and recently had a miscarriage at 12 weeks. I have been following your story and have thought many of the same thoughts, but you put them so eloquently. I would love for you to write a book. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences.

  2. First of all, congratulations! And I will keep you in my positive thoughts.

    Although I respect your decision to be open about your pregnancies at an early stage, I disagree with the tenor of what you are saying, namely, that women who do not choose to share their pregnancy early on do so out of shame.

    I have gone through miscarriages as well, and know the pain. Unlike you and perhaps many others, I don't choose to discuss a pregnancy early on. Not out of shame, but out of personal privacy. I am very private about many things, and that is one of them. The early joy and fear is for me and my family to share an experience - after that, good or bad, I will share it with the world. And I have share both the positive outcome, and the pain.

    At the end of the day, each woman is different. In my opinion, it does not make sense (or do justice) to make these big generalizations about women, and their decisions to share the news or not share the news.

  3. "I usually ask straight out, "Are you pregnant?" "

    Why? Does she not have the same right you do to set her own time table for telling people? Why force her to make a choice between lying to you and making her announcement on her own time? This just seems odd given the rest of your post. Indeed, blog.

    BTW, found you through ATL. You are a hero to law associates everywhere. =)

  4. I'm so with you on this one. I think I told people when I was like 2 weeks preggo with the first. Privacy, to me, is overrated. Let's CONNECT peopole. Anyway, as I commented before, i'll be praying for a safe and healthy pregnancy!

  5. Hi, Anonymous at 10:19, I am so sorry to hear about your recent miscarriage. But I am glad that we share some of the thoughts. Thanks for the encouragement. And I wish you the best in your next attempts!

    Anonymous at 10:28, thanks for your comment. I don't purport to speak on behalf of all women - or to have explanations for everything or anything. I tried to qualify my post with "maybe" and "some", so I hope you'll read it with that in mind. All of us have our own ways of dealing and seeing things, and I certainly didn't mean to diminish that. I am sorry to hear about your miscarriages and the pain. I hope you find yourself in a happier place. Best wishes to you.

  6. Hi, Anonymous at 10:36,

    Maybe I think of my friendships a differently than you. I value honesty a lot. And I guess I assume, whether wrongly or correctly, that my friends would share and that I'm not necessarily pigeon holing them by asking.

    I guess I find this "delicacy" around pregnancy a little confounding. I would be curious to hear your views on why it's treated as such a delicate issue.

  7. Boundaries are very personal things. It's hard to understand why someone else feels the need to not share when you would be quick to share the same thing with someone. I agree with Mary about wanting to connect with people, and stop all this "I'm a private person" stuff, but I've learned that such a perspective/attitude is not fair, because you don't know what happened in that person's life, you don't know what their buttons are, their personal history of pain or fear, etc. It's not something I can control, even though I want to sometimes. I have to let people set their own boundaries. It's just not my choice, I can't make them feel comfortable enough to share through sheer force of will. This is something I still struggle with, but I think I understand it better the older I get. People are just different. It's important to respect that, or else the very thing you describe is likely to happen wherein a friend is forced to lie to your face because they are put in the uncomfortable position of having to defend their boundaries, and now the friendship is strained. We can't set other people's boundaries for them. We just can't.

  8. Anonymous @ 10:53 AM:

    Well said.

  9. Anonymous at 10:53,

    I hear what you are saying and I generally agree with your thoughts. My thing about miscarriages and pregnancies, though, is that social convention seems to be skewed toward silencing women (and issues particular to women) and I wonder if that does not have unfortunate consequences that really harm women in the long run (i.e., whether it's dealing with miscarriage alone or feeling like an anomaly). If the social rules were not skewed this way, I think it's an entirely different issue. But I guess I wonder if we have as much personal choice as you describe - or whether the social influences are greater that we recognize (on this miscarriage/pregnancy issue).

  10. Just saw your previous post! I am so happy for you and sending you the best wishes. Take care and keep us posted.

  11. I'm Anonymous@10:53. A couple follow-up thoughts:

    "social convention seems to be skewed toward silencing women (and issues particular to women)" and yes.

    No when it is non-health related, such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which the New York Times described as "a law named for Ms. Ledbetter, an Alabama woman who at the end of a 19-year career as a supervisor in a tire factory complained that she had been paid less than men."

    Yes, when it is health-related, for many reasons, but what primarily jumps to my mind as to why people don't talk about female health issues is the same reason they don't talk about male health issues. How many people are truly comfortable discussing prostate cancer or breast cancer or even skin cancer? All of which are tinged with the potential for a terminal diagnosis. Death is a really big elephant in the room. And the topic of miscarriage is sitting on the elephant's back. Plus, pregnancy and miscarriage and breast cancer and prostate cancer make many people uncomfortable because they involve "private" parts of the body (or are close enough if you're the visual image sort of person) and most of us are taught from a very young age to keep such things private - don't show yours, don't touch theirs, from age 2 and older.

    So, when you couple private parts with death, well, are you truly surprised to find most people a little uptight about talking about it?

  12. I couldn't agree less with the statement "privacy is overrated" (not your statement, Shinyung). Perhaps YOUR privacy is overrated, but not necessarily someone else's.

    We, in the U.S. are reknowned for airing everything to everyone, and now to the world via blogs, etc. While some people may find that healing, or personally fulfilling, others may find that invasive.

    There are many cultures in the world that don't look favorably at such universal displays of things personal. Are they all wrong? Somehow not modern/enlightened? If so, many European countries would fall into that category (and yes, countries that are otherwise quite open about female sexuality, etc.)

    While I appreciate others' openness about reproductive progress, I may not be willing to share mine. Does that make me a "silenced woman" somehow?

    And I DO think that it is insensitive to ask other women (and I don't mean your closest friend), in general, about whether they are pregnant. Chances are, they will tell you if they want to, and they will not tell you if they don't want to share. Why be so confrontational about the choices they make with/for their bodies because you find pregnancy to be a non-private issue?

  13. Shinyung, I am so happy for you for your recent news. I have been following your story for a while since finding you through KM and have left comments here and there.

    Also, I bond with your "nyung" letter combo in your name, as my name is "Ei-Nyung", so even though our syllables break down between different letters, I'll consider you my name sister. :)

    I agree with you on the silence & miscarriages issue. It's only when I told close friend and family that we are now trying to have a family that they have come out with the information that many of them have had miscarriages and some of them have had trouble conceiving. I had no idea so many of them were affected. While I value their desire for privacy, I sense that many of them suffered in private, feeling that they had no one to share the experience with.

    My sister, for instance, had a very difficult time with her miscarriage, for all the regular reasons, plus no one else she knew at the time were parents or trying to conceive. She only found out later and shared with me that the numbers for miscarriage are higher than most of the general population know.

    My close friend and has shared with me that she's heard the same kind of stories once she started to let it be known that she was trying for a baby. People come out of the woodworks. It's been a positive experience for me, that so many people have been willing to share so that if it should happen to me, I don't feel alone in this.

    I just got my own positive pregnancy test last week, and have my hopes that things will go smoothly. Both my mom and sister have had various issues including miscarriages, so I am nervous, but excited.

    I have decided to not tell people, because if something should go awry, I don't want to deal with other people's discomfort over my news or my perception that they are pitying me.

  14. I guess this is a hot button issue. I hope I didn't make anyone feel defensive.

    Anonymous at 10:53, I think it's unfortunate that we in this culture don't know how to deal with death. For someone who has lost a loved one, it is one of the most important and sensitive periods of their lives, but many do not find the kind of support they need because people don't always know how to respond to it. I think it's often the same way for miscarriages. I believe raising it socially helps people become aware and to become more sensitive to it. I think about my PH layoff, and how the partners may have been more sensitive in handling the situation had they simply known more. And how would they know more but by hearing about it from people who've experienced it? If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't blog about it.

    Seeing all your comments makes me fret that I've been disclosing too much on my blog. But I believe many out there anonymously read and soak in other people's experiences even if they don't talk about their own. Isn't the act of reading about such things affirming that there is some value to talking about it? And I don't think this is because I value my privacy any less than many of you. But I do believe some social mores are not good for us.

    Eingy, I am so happy for you! Please keep me posted on your progress. I'll keep my fingers crossed for you. = )

  15. I've been meaning to send you a "private" congrats (haha) but since I wanted to comment on this, I may as well start with: CONGRATULATIONS!

    On a personal note, albeit different issue (my divorce), I have wondered about the hot buttons of someone else's decision to be private or not private. When I started to blog about frustrations in my marriage, I was sent a rebuking an email, disguised as concern for my wellbeing, by a reader who suggested that the least I can do is to password protect my posts. This person has never been supportive, only critical - and in retrospect, I think my gut feelings were right: people who are so concerned about others' lack of privacy usually tend to be the jealous types, ones who want to be in the spotlight themselves... and trust me, I didn't want my divorce in the spotlight, I just needed a space to process my things.

    I know that there are women who fiercely refuse the idea of sympathy, seeing it as pity. And I respect their decision to be more private. After all, it is not my call - hence privacy?

    Also, I know that there are things about which I am more private than some of my friends. Some may be out of shame, out of self-preservation, or out of habit.

    In the same breath, those women who keep trying and still want to be able to celebrate the new beginning FROM the beginning, well, all I offer are congratulations and share in the happinees of hope and possibilities.

    So I guess that was my ramble to pretty much say two things:

    I respect your decision to share, NO MATTER what the outcome.

    And I congratulate you and will keep you in my thoughts for the next 9 months! :-)

  16. Shinyung - this is Anonymous at 11:48 -- As you can see, I come out on the "leave me alone, I am private" side of the gate!

    That said, I love your blog. And I would probably like you if I were to meet you.

    YOu said that you fret that you may have said more than you should on your blog. Please don't look back on anything that you have said. YOu speak from the heart, and help so many people in doing so.

    Right now, focus on staying healthy, positive, and telling whoever you want about your pregnancy. The truth is that each moment of life should be treasured, regardless of whether w can "control" the outcome of that moment or not. What is right for you, is right for YOU. And that is to be respected. Take good care of yourself, and try to soak up every bit of happiness - this could be the start of a wonderful nine-month journey! You're in my thoughts and prayers.

  17. Wow. I am kind of shocked that anyone would ask a woman if she's pregnant, friend or not. That just seems so very inappropriate and rude to me. I suppose asking a sister might be different, but not friends or casual lunch dates.

    For the record, I'm not pregnant - I just don't drink alcohol at all, ever.

    My mom had a slew (like 6 or 7) of miscarriages when she and my dad were trying to have their first child. My father was in the army at the time and therefore sometimes not around for the miscarriages, and the way it was described to me was in a very matter of fact way. To the point that when I became an adult and starting having friends who would miscarry, it actually took me a while to pick up on the fact that it was an emotional thing for a lot of women.

    It *is* possible that it's not as huge of a deal to everyone as it is to you. I fully expect that if I ever try to get pregnant, because of my mother's medical history, I too will have to go through a few miscarriages myself and feel quite unemotional about that.

    Lastly (sorry this is such a long comment), I always thought it was simply a jewish superstition to not tell people until getting through the first trimester, just like it's superstition to not bring any baby stuff (clothing, furniture, etc.) into the house until the baby is actually born.

  18. Congratulations on your pregnancy. I'm with you on the secrecy issue. I lost my baby daughter last year after a full term pregnancy (she was born with a heart defect). Two months later I was diagnosed with cervical cancer and had a radical trachelectomy, which leaves me with only a 60% chance of carrying a pregnancy to term. My highest risk is in the second and third trimester, and there is absolutely no way that I can keep nine months of pregnancy secret and then spring a birth on my unprepared friends and colleagues.

    People are as cagy about discussing things like cervical cancer - as someone put it, "private parts and death". A lot of people told me their cervical cancer stories after my diagnosis, some of them in my family. If I'd known how prevalent the disease was in my family, I might have stepped up my preventative screening programme. Don't start me about the colleague who hissed in a stage whisper "Is it WOMAN trouble?".

    As uncomfortable as this may make some people, I personally don't see why I should have to keep quiet about the fact that I'm the mother of a dead baby, that I have cancer, that I'm trying to conceive and have a high risk of losing my pregnancy. Firstly (only slightly tongue in cheek), my employer needs to know why I'm not at work. Secondly, it's perfectly normal for people to seek the support and sympathy of other people when terrible things happen to them, or to seek support and shared celebration when good things (like pregnancy) happen, and it's immensely cruel to silence women because some people might be squeamish about "private parts".

    Lastly, let me assure you that the pain of losing a pregnancy or a baby is not diminished in any way by hiding it or not acknowledging it. One of the most hurtful comments I received was from a grief counsellor, who told me that my dead baby wasn't "truly mine" anyway, and in the Jewish faith (which I'm not knocking, but it's not my faith) children aren't even named for x number of days because they don't fully exist as real people yet (or something like that). She meant well, but I get my counselling elsewhere now.

  19. Congratulations!!!
    I am so excited and happy for you.

    I'll be praying too.
    God bless you both and him too.

  20. Just to be clear - there would be two categories of women who wouldn't share stories of pregnancies or miscarriages:

    (1) those who wouldn't share b/c they would be concerned about making others' uncomfortable.

    (2) those who wouldn't share b/c THEY don't want to share -- regardless of others' reactions (good or bad). I fall in this category. And I am offended that just b/c I fall in this category, I am somehow "silenced". What role does personal choice play in all this?

    Let's not confuse the two.

    Bottom line: Just as your decision to share the news - regardless of others' reactions - should be respected, SO TOO shold other women's decision to not share the news. And asking a woman if she is pregnant before she has announced anything herself is, in my opinion, disrespecting her (decision to not share, or not yet to share).

    Why the need to judge one way or the other?

  21. Hi, Anonymous at 8:20,

    I'm guessing you're an attorney from your comment because you write like an attorney.

    I guess I disagree with you on two points. You wrote that the only way to change society's perception is not one-on-on but by "addressing society directly." We are the society. I think of the scene in Milk where Harvey tells his gay community that they must come out - to their families, their friends, even at the risk of facing rejection - if they want social acceptance. Obviously, the miscarriage issue is an entirely different issue and is not as charged or as extreme as bias against gays, especially at that time in history. But I believe once something is personalized - i.e., someone sees a friend or a family have a difficult pregnancy and understands what that means - that could change perceptions. And I believe change often happens from the ground up.

    But I'm not out to change society. I just wanted to make the point that the silence we foster may feel comforting and safe in our own corners but can also harm us in the long run, especially when we find ourselves in a position of needing information and support. And that form of support may entail educating others about it before we need it. After my miscarriages, I could not find enough books on the topic. Thank god for the many blogs maintained by women who choose to speak out - not because they are exhibitionists or have big mouths, but because they see the value in discussing it and want others to learn from their experiences. I assume many of you fall into that category - reading about another's experience because it helps you somehow.

    I also disagree with your point about knowing the audience. That is what lawyers say all the time, especially litigators. Well, this isn't a case to be presented. It has to do with educating an insensitive audience (and I'm obviously not talking about you readers here), and you can't teach sensitivity by catering to other people's insensitivity. And we may all benefit from additional sensitivity on these topics, including myself. But I don't think we can get there unless we learn how to talk about it.

  22. I would also say that there is a third category of people who don't want to bring it up: people who are either fine or not fine with it, but the thing they don't want to deal with are other people's reactions to it. Whether it's a miscarriage, or the death of a parent, or illness, or whatever, sometimes it is enough to deal with things on your own terms without having to worry about dealing with assuring other people you are ok, or dealing with callous comments, or seeing them look at you with pity.

  23. C'est moi, Anonymous @ 8:20. This is the last one from me on this post, I promise.

    Eingy - you are so dead-on right about that! I LOVED your comment at 11:37am.

    Okay, Shinyung, here you go:

    First off: Let me apologize for not saying the thing I most wanted to say and first thought to say: Congratulations! And for real, I would be telling everybody, probably.

    Second: I totally agree! You can't teach sensitivity by catering to other people's insensitivity. But as far as my husband goes (not that you asked - see? here I go blah-blah-blahing about something that maybe only interests me), I can't teach sensitivity by directly confronting it, either. I love him, but he is what he is. And he's not the only hard-headed insensitive person out there (please tell me I didn't pick the ONE person on this earth with those traits, right?).

    Finally: I'm going through a midlife crisis and thinking of a career change, thinking of going into law. I've been reading blogs to find out why so many people talk about hating it and what happens after they leave it for whatever reason, to figure out if pursuing such a change would be a good idea or not. So no, I'm not an attorney. But the fact that you think that I am one based soley on my writing samples thrills me to my core. Your comment especially means a lot to me because I have immense respect for your writing and for your legal training and experience. So that is pretty cool, in an outside-looking-in kind of way. Aren't blogs awesome? I love reading them, and I very much enjoy reading yours. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

  24. Hi, 8:20,

    Your comment cracks me up! Switching to law, you say? Hmmm, feel free to email me if you want to chat about it. I'll be happy to share what I experienced, etc. I didn't hate it but didn't love it either. I'll be objective.

    As for your husband, I think you're stuck with him, and I'm sure he has other redeeming qualities. = )

  25. Wow -- thoughtful post and thoughtful comments. I'll just say that I find that women who do or don't talk about miscarriage and women who do or don't talk about infertility are very similar in my experience. I'm one of the latter group - my infertility has somewhat defined me. Now that I'm pregnant it still affects the way I feel about this pregnancy, I recognize that almost every pregnant woman has anxiety about miscarriage but I have undeniable proof that others don't have - my body fails at reproduction so why should gestation be any easier? I suppose the answer is that it isn't. Pregnancy is always full of trepidation and cautious optimism and hope and prayer and all those other things that carry us through the day. I choose to openly discuss my infertility at every opportunity because I never know who I may help. I suppose I make some uncomfortable but it is part of my journey and my life and part of the creation story of this baby I am carrying. I can no more hide it than I can hide my face. Privacy has it's benefits for sure but for me, this is not one of them.

  26. Congrats! I will think of you and your husband while I meditate this week!

  27. Congrats! I hope that this goes well for you.

    What I find weird is when people ask you about family planning. We didn't have much trouble getting (and staying) pregnant with our daughter, but we're having quite a time staying pregnant for a second child. Because we have one, everyone assumes (as, admittedly, we did for a while) that we can have and want to have a second baby. We want to, but the "can" part has been more elusive. At this point, when people ask about us having another kid, I say that we've been trying for over a year. That usually shuts them up, except for one guy, who wanted to know all of the details of what we were going through. This was in an environment where I really didn't want to share, but I figured more information would make him stop asking. Nope.

  28. Oh, my, I hope I didn't offend too many people with this post. That wasn't my intent. If I did, my apologies!

  29. Congratulations! I completely agree with you. And you expressed my thoughts a thousand times more eloquently than I could have...

    When I was pregnant in December, I wanted to wait to tell people for the "risk of miscarriage" issue. Once I had a miscarriage I regretted not sharing my news. It was awkward to tell my close friends and family that my sadness was due to a lost pregnancy they hadn't even known about.

    A pregnancy is a miracle and should be celebrated, and grieved, together.