We have this weird taboo in our culture about the first trimester of pregnancy. The first rule of the first trimester is you don’t talk about the first trimester. We just don’t tell people we’re pregnant. I don’t know how it started. Before the advent of medicinal chemistry and pregnancy tests were available, I believe we were more in tune with our bodies and had other ways of knowing, so I don’t think it came from “not knowing” with a medical proof that we were pregnant. But these days, it’s like we’re going to jinx it somehow if we tell people. We have to hide it and worry about people guessing because we are no longer drinking alcohol. It’s one hell of a big taboo.
It doesn’t make any sense to me now and it didn’t make any sense to me when I was first pregnant. I wanted to tell people. Sure I didn’t tell my boss and every acquaintance, but I told my close friends and family pretty much the day I knew.
I’m really glad did because, when, after trying to get pregnant for 18 months, I found out I was finally pregnant I was overjoyed. But when I was told at the 12 weeks scan that my baby had died, nothing could have prepared me for the raw grief I experienced. I really needed my loved ones’ support. I am so very grateful for the support I received from the Miscarriage Association. When everyone else was feeding me unhelpful platitudes (“You can have another one” “It wasn’t a real baby yet” “It’s for the best, there was probably something wrong with it”), they understood my grief and provided much needed soothing words of support. My first miscarriage was and still is today one of the hardest grieving experiences of my life.
I discovered a whole new world of grief and silence after my miscarriage- when I burst into tears in a GP surgery after seeing a newborn baby-a kind receptionist accompanied me to another room, and told me she had lost twins herself. As I told my story, more and more women came forward with theirs-I was so shocked to hear how common it was (1 in 4 women people!). Yet until I spoke nobody else did. So we all suffered in silence and lack of sisterhood until we secretly admitted to being part of the club.
Then I went on to have 3 more miscarriages (with a live baby in the middle and another one at the end), I still needed support. Heck I needed a hell of the lot more support than the first time I was pregnant, when I was so blissfully unaware that my baby could die. I was so scared I would lose this baby again. I never experienced the relaxed bliss I experienced during my first pregnancy again. When I had a big bleed at 11 weeks during my last pregnancy and I was petrified with fear that my baby had died-I was extremely grateful for the support of my doula who accompanied me and my husband to the emergency scan at the hospital. Having her there made me feel safe and loved. It felt validating too.
Today, I feel very lucky to have 2 healthy children.
But do I feel that the beginning of pregnancy should be hidden? Hell no!
Let’s look at several different scenarios:
If you’re healthy and your pregnancy is progressing well and everything is as it should-you might still feel extremely tired during your first trimester. You might feel nauseous. You might be sick. You might experience dizziness and blood pressure and blood sugar drops, and just generally not feel great. But because at this time you have no visual signs of pregnancy then you get no support. No jumping queues, even if you feel faint, nobody giving you their seats in public transport, no extra rest breaks at work. No extra kindness, no sympathy. That just sucks! I had several experiences like this during my pregnancies- I felt exhausted, had mild to severe nausea at times, felt faint without warning etc. Shouldn’t we have something in place to give women the support they deserve there? Shouldn’t we be treating them like the amazing, special goddess they are? They are growing a new human being!
When I was only 7 weeks pregnant with my daughter I felt so tired and sick that I had to tell my boss because I had to go and lie down in the sick room at work for a while at lunchtime. I was shit scared to tell her (She was a childless woman and I had only been in the job for 4 months) but luckily she reacted very positively (in fact I recall being so relieved and surprised that I burst into tears!) and I was able to get my breaks without looking suspicious. Funnily enough, once I was told I could have the breaks, suddenly I found I needed them less-because the worry of what people where going to think had been lifted.
If you’re healthy but there are fears around losing your baby; you have a history of miscarriages, your baby was conceived through fertility treatment, then you need some extra emotional support around this time a lot more than you will once the first trimester has passed and once you can start feeling your baby move. If your loved ones know, then they will be able to support you more readily. Similarly, keeping it secret in a bid to protect yourself (to avoid “jinxing” it), means that you may miss out on expressing those fears and having loving people acknowledge and validate them.
If you aren’t healthy during your pregnancy-if you have a chronic illness which is exacerbated by pregnancy, or if you have hyperemesis-you are going to need some extra support too as soon as you find out you are pregnant.
I wish our culture was more supportive of expectant and new mothers in general-and I feel that we need to lift this first trimester taboo-and encourage women to ask for the support they deserve-as soon as they are pregnant.
If you work with pregnant women-please please please consider offering support during the first trimester. Please tell women that you know why they need it. That you understand. That they deserve it. Please explain to them why they might need it. That is isn’t selfish or indulgent. Please signpost women towards sources of support-from specialist groups to alternative practitioners-and if nothing can help-well just know that having our feelings heard and validated can make a huge different. Please spread the word. I am hoping that if enough of us break the silence around this, and more and more women realise that they need support during this special and vulnerable time, then this will help break the first trimester taboo.
Several women contacted me after reading this blog post, telling me they didn’t want to share their news during their first trimester. I want to say that this is totally fine. It would be just as bad to force women who wish to keep their pregnancy secret to be obliged to do so, as it is to force women who want to share not to. I just wanted to express that I wish that women would choose to keep their pregnancy to themselves do so for the right reasons for them, not because of cultural expectations.