The 12-week rule is mainstream. Every day parents post joyful, clever, pregnancy announcements on social media…but only after the first trimester is done and dusted.
Questioning this socially-accepted timeline will usually garner a stock-standard reply: there is a higher risk of miscarriage within the first 12 weeks. This answer bothers me because it implies miscarriages should be kept secret too. What about women who prefer to have social support through such a difficult time?
Speaking of support, the first trimester is when some of the worst physical symptoms (like fatigue and morning sickness) present themselves. It’s when women make diet and lifestyle changes which can lead to some serious fibbing if people notice (and they will). How many times can you claim food-poisoning or dodge a delicious Chardonnay?
My argument is that such a personal revelation should be left to the parents, not some societal standard- especially when people judge when you choose not to follow the guide. When we told friends about our first pregnancy at 8-10 weeks there were lots of big eyes, gasps, and comments like, “Wow, it’s early!”
Let’s stop making Mothers do the hardest weeks alone
I genuinely want to understand the reasons why people adhere to the 12-week rule. This is what I’ve found after speaking to friends, my Obstetrician, and Google but if you have a different point of view- please leave a comment. I’d love to hear it.
Reasons People Stick to the 12-week Rule
1. Most miscarriages occur in the first trimester. The risk reduces to 0.5% at week nine (Source) so why don’t we spill the beans at ten weeks if it’s really about miscarriage risk?
My thoughts: A miscarriage occurs in one out of every 4 or 5 pregnancies (depending on what stats you read). Miscarriages can happen well after 12 weeks. Stillbirths happen. Is a pregnancy ever really ‘safe’? Of course not. So how long do we wait to celebrate or prepare?
2. The Pain of telling people about a miscarriage. Yes, it would royally suck ‘un-telling’ people about a pregnancy but isn’t pain part of the grieving process? Should we really expect women to grieve alone?
My thoughts: The realist in me says that open honest discussion around the frequency of miscarriage would lead to better expectation management in early pregnancy.
“Are we ‘allowed’ to have it qualify as a grief? Are we expected to suffer in silence if it’s such a common experience?” Bee Rowlatt
3. Workplace Discrimination. It is illegal to fire a woman for being pregnant but it happens.
My thoughts: This is a societal problem. It should be addressed. Talking about it more might help.
4. Fear of the Unknown. Some women may experience an unplanned pregnancy and need to process the information slowly.
My thoughts: Understandable however will they magically feel ready to speak up at 12 weeks? Not necessarily. I say, let her speak when she’s ready to.
5. Subsequent Miscarriage or infertility. This can be a long, emotional process for couples who have trouble conceiving. They may want to keep their journey private and that comes down to personal choice.
My thoughts: This is a personal and individual decision and your medical journey should be a private one if that’s easier for you.
6. Superstition. In my opinion, this is the most intangible reason for secrecy because it implies the Mother is to blame.
My thoughts: A women can no sooner ‘jynx’ her pregnancy than she can control it.
Where Did The 12-week Rule Come From?
Historically women would share news of their pregnancy during ‘the quickening’ which is when they first felt fetal movements and after several missed periods. This is usually after 20 weeks or the fourth month.
Ultrasounds were developed to detect chromosomal abnormalities in the 1970’s and couples could decide whether or not to terminate based on the results (Source.) Perhaps this is the seed that started the whole 12-week-rule societal standard. So maybe waiting 12 weeks comes from the shame of not wanting to care for an ‘imperfect’ child.
Has it now morphed into something even bigger with more superstitions, taboos, and restrictions?
I used to silently judge people who shared the news ‘too early.’ As a woman, why would I default to that type of thinking rather than support? Seems rather passive of me not to question why.
So if I can’t pinpoint the origins of the 12-week rule, maybe it’s time to break it.
6 Reasons to Break the 12-week Rule
1. Society does not have the right to dictate something so personal. The decision to announce a pregnancy should be left to the parents based on their level of comfort and desire for privacy. There should be no societal standard, end of story.
“For those who want to let people know their news, we should join them in celebrating their news and offering our support not our judgment.” Steph, Writer
2. Miscarriage should not be shrouded in secrecy. For such a universal, human experience, we don’t share about it enough. Some parents may move on quickly, sure, but some will experience a lifetime of grief. We have rituals and protocol for death but none for miscarriage.
3. You won’t have to lie. Most women have to change their diet and lifestyle during pregnancy. I would hold a glass of wine and steadily pour it into my husband’s glass throughout the evening (he was drinking for two and I was eating for two.) Unless you enjoy secrets, we have the opportunity to replace secrecy with empathy.
“Staying quiet for 12 weeks while you grow a human being inside of you is nothing short of completely insane.” Wendy Zamora
4. We can support women. I have not suffered a miscarriage personally but I can relate to suffering from depression in silence. I tried my hardest to push through, cover up, act like everything was FINE. This reinforces the societal stigma and fear of the disease and I fear the same happens with miscarriage. Let’s talk about it, above a whisper.
5. To have boundaries. Today we live in a culture of social media where many people share ‘too much information’ where personal boundaries are often stretched to the limit and beyond. The decision of when, where, and how a pregnancy is revealed should be left to the individuals. End of story.
6. To build a village. Whether you’re having a difficult first trimester or suffer a miscarriage, it helps to speak to women who have been there, who can offer advice and support. Having a solid network in place will better prepare you for new parenthood when it happens.
“Let us destroy the ‘perfect pregnancy’ myth. Are we ‘saving’ women from sharing the news of a miscarriage or are we saving our culture from the knowledge that pregnancy can end unexpectedly, that it can get ugly, that it’s not all about cute bumps and a glow.”
Conclusion and My Announcement
Let us destroy the ‘perfect pregnancy’ myth. Are we ‘saving’ women from sharing the news of a miscarriage or are we saving our culture from the knowledge that pregnancy can end unexpectedly, that it can get ugly, that it’s not all about cute bumps and a glow.
Pregnancy is not ‘polite’ and women should not be burdened with making it appear to be.
Writing this today, I am seven weeks into my second pregnancy (probably 8 by the time I publish this). Part of me wanted to share immediately (I found out at exactly four weeks) but another part of me wanted to keep it close for a while because I share a lot of myself online.
I am telling you our news because you are my people. We connect through stories and your support means the world to me. If this pregnancy does not result in a healthy baby, I will share that too- in my own time. Meanwhile, we will celebrate this bean because he or she means so much to our family already.
Editors note: I’ve gotten some feedback from women who choose to wait 20+ weeks to share their news. To them, this post probably seems like I’m more strongly advocating for announcing early but only when that helps the woman feel more supported. Wait if you want to wait, tell if you want to tell. Let’s embrace the news no matter what. And let’s better support women who experience miscarriage.