Pregnancy: why the 12-week ‘rule’ matters

Since losing my 41 week old baby to stillbirth in June, understandably I’ve been a lot more conscious of debates around pregnancy and baby loss. In particular, reading Katy Lindemann’s opinion piece on the ’12 week rule’ in the Guardian in October has really stuck with me.

The 12 week rule is the convention that you don’t publicly announce your pregnancy until 3 months in, because after that time the chance of miscarriage drops significantly. The charity Tommy‘s estimates that around 1 in 4 recognised pregnancies end in loss, and around 85% of these happen within the first trimester (three months). In Lindemann’s article, she suggests that this convention has created a culture of secrecy and shame – that baby loss before 12 weeks can be perceived as a ‘lesser’ loss and that women can be alone and alienated by secret grief.

Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash
Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash

The difference between shame and privacy

Now I would not want anyone to suffer through the loss of a baby alone and in secret. A miscarriage, a stillbirth, the death of a neonate – these are all equal in my eyes, you watch your entire future disappear before your very eyes.

However, I would like to propose that for some people, the twelve week radio silence can be a very good thing. I liked the whole ‘not telling anyone’ thing so much that we didn’t tell anyone we were pregnant with Pixie until I was 20 weeks in fact!

Why the 12 week rule can be a good thing

  • Being pregnant is nobody else’s damn business. See my thoughts on being seen as public property when you are pregnant here.
  • An early scan or your medical history might give you cause for concern. If you want to share that experience with friends or family, then go ahead! A problem shared can be a problem halved. However, it might be something that you and your partner just want to work through together without lots of well meaning questions from others. There’s enough going on in your head without having to explain things to other people.
  • When you’re pregnant you get wrapped in cotton wool, and you get constantly judged. Putting that off for as long as possible is great. The best bit of being pregnant is the bit when only you know in my book! Just you and your tiny family, it’s so lovely, and you are seen as a regular human being by the outside world – hooray!
  • If you are one of the 1 in 4 affected by baby loss, you might not want to grieve publicly about it. With Pixie, I had been undeniably very pregnant, 41 weeks pregnant – so people naturally asked me about the baby the next time they saw me and I had a post-baby bump. Every time I have to explain to someone what happened to Pixie it makes me feel horrible. It also makes them feel horrible and embarrassed, even though there’s no way they could have known. So for me, I guess I would prefer to only have to talk about an early miscarriage with people I specifically choose, not with anyone who happened to remember I had been pregnant.
  • If you’re hoping for a rainbow baby (a baby after a previous loss – the rainbow after the storm) then it is 10 months of constant anxiety ahead. People are going to deal with that in different ways and sometimes dealing with it privately is going to be the best way.
  • Not telling anyone you are pregnant for the first 12 weeks doesn’t make you weak, or cowed, or a victim of the patriarchal society. It makes you a fricking goddess! The first trimester of pregnancy is chuffing horrible. Some people are throwing their guts up, others are breathless, or sweaty, or constipated – I think probably everyone is on the verge of falling asleep practically all the time. Some are fighting the urge to pee pretty much all the time. Those first 12 weeks can be insanely hard – so just remember how many women go through it all without mentioning it, in fact often trying to hide these difficulties! GODDESSES!

How to help newly pregnant women

Like all aspects of pregnancy, I know it isn’t a one size fits all situation. But personally, I want mothers in early pregnancy to feel empowered to be in charge of their pregnancy as they see fit. Saying that the concept of a 12 week rule is anachronistic isn’t helpful to those people who consciously want to be more private about their pregnancy for whatever reason.

Yes, people need to be more aware that miscarriages are frighteningly common, but you don’t have to use your own baby to fight that good fight if you don’t want to.

Don’t start a sweepstake, asshole

Not to mention how everyone can make it easier on newly pregnant women too. Stop forcing their hand! One of the craziest things I’ve experienced is how people try to second guess that you *might* be pregnant. You see their eyes continually flicking to your stomach, trying to size you up. I’ve had really, really good friends doing it. I’ve heard water-cooler conversations where people speculate about whether a colleague is pregnant or not. Don’t forget most pregnancies won’t show until 13 weeks at the very earliest, and only that early usually for a 2nd or later pregnancy. Someone may put on some weight in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, or they may just have put on some weight – either way they aren’t going to thank you for pointing that out.

If someone is pregnant and they want you to know, they’ll tell you. If they don’t want you to know just yet maybe it’s because they’d rather their mum or their sister knew before the random at the office. Maybe it’s because they are working with their partner on some difficult test results and having to make some of the most important decisions of their lives – and would rather have that straight in their own minds before they share their news with the world. Maybe if the worst happened and they did have a miscarriage, they’d just rather not talk to you about it. Perhaps you’re just not that important to them Karen.


Bestselling author and freelance drinks writer. Champion of pubs and breweries. Occasional printmaker.

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