The stealth pregnancy of our times was revealed on Sunday after Kylie Jenner, 20, announced the birth of her daughter with boyfriend Travis Scott, 25, on Instagram. The message was followed by an 11-minute YouTube video that acted, essentially as a "Previously on..." to catch fans up on the entire pregnancy, including every element we'd be waiting to see: sonograms, bump pictures, the baby shower, family messages to the unborn child, and a double-reveal conclusion that included shots of the new mom and baby, and a first peek at Kim Kardashian West's third child, Chicago. The video is remarkable for condensing, essentially, ten ~juicy~ months of celebrity pregnancy fodder into short and moving montage, leading fans to wonder: why? Why keep it a secret? As a young mother myself, I know exactly why Kylie Jenner didn't announce her pregnancy.
A few minutes into the video, Kylie's best friend Jordyn Woods talks about what it's like to be 20 in a message intended for the baby:
"When you're 20, you're just figuring out your life. You don't know what you want, you're an indecisive teen and just becoming an adult. [But] there was one thing that your mom knew for sure — and that was you."
Pregnancy is celebrated... when it is socially acceptable.
At 20, Kylie Jenner is a "young mother," and will be treated as such. And she evidently chose to keep that toxic feedback from impacting her pregnancy by keeping the whole thing private. In her Instagram birth announcement, Kylie Jenner wrote:
I understand you’re used to me bringing you along on all my journeys. my pregnancy was one I chose not to do in front of the world. I knew for myself i needed to prepare for this role of a lifetime in the most positive, stress free, and healthy way i knew how. there was no gotcha moment, no big paid reveal i had planned. I knew my baby would feel every stress and every emotion so I chose to do it this way for my little life and our happiness.
The general public shames young women for having children, especially those in the limelight, from Jamie Lynn Spears to Bristol Palin. In a society that is committed to regulating our ovaries, and believes in turning abortions into adoptions, it is hypocritical to shun the women who choose to deliver the very babies that politicians are trying to "save."
When I was 26 and pregnant, I avoided sharing the news broadly for as long as possible to avoid what I felt would be inevitable judgement. I made it to about five months, when my bump started to visibly show, and then made my own somewhat-less-gushing but nonetheless celebratory Instagram post.
Pregnancy is celebrated... when it is socially acceptable. If you’re married and old enough to be whatever your personal and professional network determines is a "normal" age for procreating, having a baby is beautiful. If you’re unwed and/or considered too young, the silent judgement can feel isolating and unhealthy. I was celebrated by close friends and family, but internally I felt like The Scarlet Letter's Hester Prynne in an industry where the mothers were senior and the married middle managers were childless. I wondered what I was doing and how I could excel in a career that required logging long hours without having the support that more senior mothers had "earned," like working from home some days.
And the stress — whether in the form of public judgement or a lack of privacy — can take a toll. Stress during pregnancy has been linked with low birth weights and premature deliveries, according to the March of Dimes. Further, research has shown that when a laboring woman does not feel safe or protected, her catecholamine levels can rise, slowing her labor, according to the Journal of Perinatal Education.
We as a society do not value motherhood as a deliberate choice, ahead of other goals.
Back in 2010, there was controversy when the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said that the ideal age for motherhood is anywhere from 20 to 35, noting lower risks across the board and an easier time getting pregnant. The idea that we should encourage women to have children younger was deemed shocking and outdated.
Indeed, though, young mothers have a lower incidence of c-sections than older mothers in low-risk pregnancies, per a study published by the National Institutes of Health in the U.K. This is to say that our ideas about the "right" time to have a baby have changed over time.
And Kylie's suspicion that she would be judged for having a baby at 20 years old confirms another truth that young mothers know: we as a society do not value motherhood as a deliberate choice, ahead of other goals. It's a thing we expect women to do once they've "sorted out" their careers — and even then, there's judgement that impacts our promotion potential.
I could only imagine how a young businesswoman — whose company, Kylie Cosmetics, is projected to increase its value to $1 billion by 2022 — felt after finding that, yes, she and Travis Scott were expecting. In a business sense, it is a daring move. In a human sense, it is as understandable as falling in love.
And heaven forbid you didn't plan the pregnancy.
Why are we pro-life but anti-young mothers? Unintended pregnancies transcend age, race and income, and apparently, so does judgement of young mothers,
If there’s one thing that young moms get, it’s a bad reputation, rife with assumptions of promiscuity and poor planning. Kylie was clearly elated for her pregnancy, but that didn't stop the articles accusing her of glamorizing teen pregnancy, noting that if it was planned she was clearly influenced, or those flat out assuming her pregnancy was unplanned.
I had a hunch that acquaintances might have thought the latter of me, and maybe my worst critic was myself — like Jenner's family, my core group of people were over the moon when I delivered the news that I was expecting. But the reality is, young mothers are judged. Every so often I still receive subtle reminders.
While discussing this year’s March for Life, an acquaintance talked about how high school girls who became pregnant were sent to a special school for mothers and their families. And while providing a place for girls who have babies to learn is great, it’s also widely ridiculed by the girls' peers who remain in their schools and go on to live typical teenage lives. Why are we pro-life but anti-young mothers?
Unintended pregnancies transcend age, race and income, and apparently, so does judgement of young mothers, given the negative comments about Jenner, a woman with incredible resources available to provide for her growing family. No wonder she kept it private for so long.
From one young mother to another, I know what it feels like to want to embrace a beautifully confusing milestone in a private manner. But, as many mothers will agree, it will be tough, beautiful, rewarding and demanding experience, and no matter the age, you’re never truly prepared.
Though I'll give you, Kylie was as prepared as you could be.
In the birth announcement video, "To My Daughter," another friend tells the camera, "I knew this is what she wanted ever since she turned 15."
You’ve got this Kylie — congrats.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.