Life Health & Wellbeing

Tuesday 26 March 2019

'Why should you have to go through that on your own?' - Does the 12 week pregnancy 'rule' still apply in our social media world?

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

"To me it seems a really antiquated approach that you can't say anything about being pregnant until about 12 weeks.”

British comedian Chris Ramsey sparked a conversation recently, when he told how he and his wife had a miscarriage last year, and should they become pregnant again, they’ll share their news from their first pregnancy test.

He explained how, for him, the idea of waiting to share news of a pregnancy until after 12 weeks “just in case it goes t**s up” isn’t healthy.

It implies that “you just have to brush it under the carpet and carry on,” he said.

“I don't think it's healthy to bottle it up, and why should you have to go through that on your own?”

"If and when we get pregnant again, we're going to announce it from the first pregnancy test.”

In Ireland, some 14,000 women suffer a miscarriage every year. Around one in six pregnancies end in this way.

Women and couples often choose to keep their baby news confidential during the first 12 weeks because this is the period when 80pc of miscarriages occur.

For some, the decision might simply stem from a desire for privacy, for others it might be another reason, like a fear that they’d tempt fate if they shared their baby news too early. Others might have had personal experience of miscarriage and wish to keep their news to themselves until their first ultrasound.

But it’s also now common for people to share deeply personal experiences publicly on their Facebook pages, Insta stories or Snapchat. 

In the case of pregnancy and miscarriage, Chris Ramsey believes that this is a positive thing, as it helps us to understand the complexities of life and the different experiences people have. 

But in terms of the professional advice around sharing pregnancy news before 12 weeks, are there any guidelines to bear in mind?

Joan Lalor, Professor in Midwifery at Trinity College Dublin, sets out why the unwritten 12-week pregnancy rule has long been a tradition in many cultures.

It has "a physiological basis in the sense that the vast majority of miscarriages happen previous to that. Once you pass that point, the miscarriage rate drops very significantly, so it’s not unreasonable to suggest that you’re considerably less likely to lose your baby,” she says.

Liz Halliday, deputy head of midwifery at Private Midwives Ireland, said the “rule” became tradition through a combination of societal factors and personal choice.

“As a society, we don't talk about miscarriage and baby loss very openly and have become uncomfortable with pregnancy loss. As such, many women feel that it is a private event and one that it is not always acceptable to share.”

“For some women this may be protective, giving them time to adjust to pregnancy or to manage with an early loss."

However, she added: "It can also deprive them of support (both physical and emotional) and reduce their experience in both their eyes and those of their family, friends and colleagues.”

Each person experiences pregnancy and loss in their own way, she says.

“Some women might appreciate the opportunity to grieve and process a pregnancy loss without having to explain what has happened to them. For others, it can be challenging to grieve without their wider circle being aware of what has happened and therefore they might need the same level of social interaction they are used to. Ultimately, women need to make the choice which feels right for them.”

A “middle ground approach” can be a good guide, Ms Halliday says.

“I usually recommend that women consider sharing early pregnancy news with people that they feel they might need support from either with ongoing early pregnancy symptoms or in the event of loss. Many women find this middle ground approach helpful no matter the outcome.”

“It's important that women make the choice which is right for them.”

While one friend might very naturally offer support to a friend who has miscarried, another friend might not, says Roisin Venables, a specialist fertility counsellor.

She says “there’s no one size fits all” when sharing pregnancy news. 

“You might have someone who is literally texting her friend to say ‘we’re having sex tonight and hopefully we’ll be pregnant soon’, and then you might have someone who wants to keep this special joyous exciting piece of news to themselves.”

“On social media, people will post pictures of a positive pregnancy test, and early scans, way before the 12 weeks, I would have had clients and their partner has posted a six-week scan on social media when the partner hasn’t told the family yet.”

“It’s common, it’s easy to do, but it can be a huge infringement on someone’s confidentiality and safety online.”

“Also, once it’s online, it’s there forever. You can delete it but it’s never gone-gone. I would caution someone to just stop and think, ‘do I really want to post this?’.”

If you share your baby news early online, is there a possibility that keyboard warriors will be unkind? Professor Lalor asks.

“My concern about social media is the breadth of how that news travels, and how do you reach that breadth then when there’s bad news?”

“Is there any possibility that people would be unkind to the woman? If it’s face-to-face, the likelihood of that unkindness is less. But the anonymity and distance that comes with online allows people to behave differently to how they would face-to-face. If it’s (the unkindness) happening in other venues on social media, it’s not without possibility that it’ll happen on these sites that women are sharing on.”

She added: “It needs to have a kind and caring response regardless of whether you’ve experienced it or not.”

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