If you're anything like me, there are so many wonderful things about telling people you're pregnant. For example, you can usually look forward to their excitement, your excitement, the anticipation of a new arrival, plus the numerous things you're bound to experience as your pregnancy progresses. However, there are also so many fears. As a result of that fear, there are at least seven people I hid my pregnancy from, and I'll tell you why.
The truth is that our society tells us pregnancy should be a happy time, a magical time, a time you can't wait to share with anyone and everyone (even strangers) about your future bundle of joy. Hell, that was my experience during my first and second pregnancies. But that's not everyone's experience. Pregnancy is fraught with anxiety, possible perinatal mood disorders, and high-risk health situations that aren't generally thought to be appropriate topics for casual conversation. Even when the stakes aren't complicated by high-risk health complications, in the U.S. we also have only about eight months to plan how we are going to withstand and survive an unpaid maternity leave or, in many cases, no maternity leave at all.
Let us not forgot the unparalleled requirement for working pregnant people to share their protected health information with their employers. Seriously, have you ever thought about how f*cked up that is? What other private health information are we required to share with our employer? Answer: none. We're even demonized depending on how and at what time we disclose. Who can blame pregnant people for wanting a little privacy to process all this heavy, life-altering changes, as well as the complex emotions that go along with them?
Making things even more complicated during my last pregnancy were the three miscarriages I'd had immediately prior. Still, people often questioned my decision not to disclose that I was expecting for so long. Though I previously felt guilt about my decisions to keep that information to myself, I now stand proud of my former self for standing up for her needs and hiding pregnancy from these seven people for these totally valid reasons:
I was about 13 weeks pregnant with baby number two when I had my second interview for a job I really wanted. I had started the interview process well before I became pregnant. I was trying to leave an incredibly stressful and toxic workplace at the time and I totally idealized this new job as my savior for that six month interview process. I was the sole income earner for my family and I could not afford for them to "go another direction" if they found out about my new pregnancy.
I was hired, by the way. The position started two months later so hiding my baby bump was no longer an option. Turns out, as will not be a surprise to any woman in the workplace, I was absolutely right to remain quiet about the bun in my oven. My new boss's reaction when she saw me said more than any "not hiring you because you're pregnant" code words could have.
At first, I hid my pregnancy from everyone. It was my little juicy secret and it felt so profoundly special to keep that secret to myself. In my first, second, and third pregnancies I was able to keep my mouth shut for a whole three days! The secret was exquisite, to be sure, but for the next three pregnancies, silence felt imperative.
After three miscarriages I was wary of sharing my pregnancy with my then 6 and 4 year olds. The miscarriages had devastated them and I could see the effect of the grief that no child should have to feel when hearing about mom's pregnancy. I wasn't really sure what I would do if this pregnancy didn't go full-term.
Obviously, they would know something was wrong if I had to get another dilation and curettage (D&C) but that was something I would worry about later. I just didn't want to subject my kids to the same anxiety I had during the first 13 weeks of my sixth pregnancy, wondering if this would be my Rainbow Baby or just a last-ditch failure.
I'd already had some experience with this workplace's feelings about pregnancy. Two of my three miscarriages were far enough along that I'd already told my bosses I was expecting, then I needed time off for the D&Cs. Not only was it humiliating to have to share personal health information with bosses, who I knew could care less about me, but I also had to choose between trying to hide my feelings behind "appropriate corporate communication" or allowing my fresh tears to flow while talking to a stone-faced shill. That kind of emotional labor required of us is misogynist AF.
One of the many reasons I became a therapist in the first place was the hope that I would not have to be fake ever again to survive. But, alas, I had ended up in a soulless environment once again. Quite frankly, dear reader, I find the double bind that child-bearing humans are forced into by employers devastating and disgusting. (Not to mention, perhaps, bordering on illegal and unethical.) No other protected health information are we expected to share with our bosses. Even though it's technically illegal for them to ask about pregnancy plans every child-bearing person, most employees are aware of the corporate code words for such things.
I double checked with human resources to make sure I was following company policy. This way, if the pregnancy ended in miscarriage I would be spared from having to share my pain with another apathetic boss. I followed the requirement to the letter and let my bosses know the week before I was required to.
I'm a social being, and I thrive in relationship with my friends. Still, I told very few of them about my sixth pregnancy before I was far enough along to show. The only ones I did tell were people that I would need to rely on for emotional support if this pregnancy ended prematurely.
This one was so hard. My mom and I have always been close. Even through our relationship struggles there is a mother-daughter bond that's hard to resist. For some reason, it felt important to hold this pregnancy quietly until I knew the baby would be held. I had a placental tear and bled throughout much of the first trimester. Sometimes, especially with health issues, my mom searches the internet and I allow her concerns to provoke my anxiety. I had enough anxiety already, so there was no way I could handle anymore.
Later, when I planned to tell her about the pregnancy, we got on the phone and she said, "You're pregnant, aren't you? I knew it the last time I saw you. But since you weren't telling me, I wanted to respect that."
There's that mother-daughter bond you can't escape.
OK, so I didn't actually hide my pregnancy from myself, but I certainly tried to disconnect from it. There is something very alien and surreal about being pregnant after multiple miscarriages. I didn't want to dissociate completely and not be able to bond with my little bean, but I also wanted to protect myself from the possible loss by not being attached to the outcome. A delicate balance, to be sure, and something that often felt like I was hiding my pregnancy from myself.
My truth is, we shouldn't force ourselves, or anyone else, to disclose pregnancy until they are ready. Even if that means never disclosing a pregnancy. I know the arguments for making people tell, especially when people have business considerations, but my admittedly radical opinion is that the only one who should get to decide who to tell and when is the pregnant person herself. Period. This includes employers, because this truth is directly tied to another value I hold dear: people over profit.
So, yeah, I hid my pregnancy from some people and I had good reasons. The only thing I'd do differently ,if I had to do it again, was be point-blank and blunt in my justification of why I waited so long to tell people. It's nobody's business but mine.