Last week and this I recorded a three-part interview with I Choose Life radio (Right to Life of Northeast Indiana) on the topic of miscarriage and stillbirth as it fits into the prolife stance. These interviews will air on three consecutive weeks beginning in August. Further details are not available right now but I will post when they are. Follow the links above to learn more. As part of this I searched for a post I thought I had written on waiting to announce a pregnancy until after 12 weeks, but I was unable to find one. Since I may have imagined it, I am rectifying the situation by writing a post now.
It’s standard practice in the United States (I can’t speak for other countries, but I assume most of the West is similar) to wait to announce a pregnancy until you have reached 12-13 weeks, i.e. the end of the first trimester. This is so ubiquitous that it’s rarely questioned. Since a startling number of pregnancies are miscarried in the first trimester this means many people are losing the baby before they’ve told many or even any people. This alone can account for the fact that miscarriage is rarely discussed even today and most people have no idea of its prevalence.
Because this is the “rule”, even advice given out by doctors and pregnancy websites, it’s barely questioned. However, given that one result of this practice is to leave many women and couples to grieve alone there seems to be more harm than good in it. As I will show you, this is not the only harmful result.
Let’s begin by looking directly into the face of this practice and asking “why?” Why is it so common? If you ask anyone they will tell you that they are “waiting until the danger period is over” or “holding back in case ‘something happens’.” Plainly speaking, they’re waiting until they think any chance of miscarriage is past before telling people. Let me be the first to tell you that there is no time in a pregnancy when the risk is over. While a relatively small percentage of babies are lost in the second and third trimesters, I personally have a friend who lost her baby literally as the baby was in the middle of being delivered. I lost Innocent and Andrew at approximately 13 weeks. I’m just trying to point out that there is a false sense of security in doing this.
We need to follow this to its logical conclusion. So let’s say you’re planning to announce at 13 weeks. At 11 weeks you find out the baby has died. Now you can do one of two things: tell people, “I’m pregnant but I miscarried,” or just not tell them. The vast majority of people will choose the latter because the former is hard and awkward to say. So in choosing to keep it secret they are now grieving alone while having to pretend everything is fine and forcing themselves to continue their normal activities. This is one example of disenfranchised grief: grief that is not acknowledged or validated by society. And one of the worst things to a grieving parent is feeling like you can’t grieve. Grief doesn’t magically disappear just because it isn’t convenient, and is either delayed and complicated, and/or manifests in physical ways or self-destructive behaviors.
Telling your family and friends that you’re pregnant early on ensures that if you do lose the baby you have a support system. They can rejoice with you but then grieve with you. One priest I know strongly advises his parishioners to announce as soon as possible because “the sooner we know, the sooner we can pray for you!” I can speak from experience here too that it is a frustrating and helpless feeling to find out after the fact that someone you know was pregnant for weeks and weeks, and then miscarried, and you could have been praying for them all along had you only known.
Now let’s look at the implications of delaying pregnancy announcements for wider society. I’ve already mentioned that this creates a bizarre situation in which a common experience (estimates say 20-25 of all pregnancies are lost) is virtually unknown and not discussed. But looking a little deeper, there is another, very important result: babies in the first trimester are invisible, dehumanized, and devalued.
What is one thing you hear said to parents who have lost a first trimester baby, especially earlier than eight weeks? “It wasn’t really a baby anyway.” What do doctors usually tell their patients in this situation? “It’s just like a bad period.” [This is a lie, by the way.] And now, what do people defending abortion say about first trimester babies? “It’s only blood, tissue, and clots, not a baby,” and “Those plastic models you see are fakes; it’s not really human.” Can’t you see that a failure to acknowledge babies in the first 12-13 weeks contributes to the devaluing of their lives?
So one by one, let’s stop this practice of either waiting to announce pregnancies ourselves or advising others to do so. Because I don’t think this is the message we’re really intending to convey.
For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.