The 12-week rule: Why must we endure the scariest weeks of pregnancy alone?

Posted in Stages of Pregnancy.

The 12-week rule is mainstream. It’s constantly on social media; parents posting joyful, clever, pregnancy announcements … but only after the first trimester is done and dusted.

Questioning the guideline will lead people to explain that there is a higher risk of miscarriage within the first 12 weeks. This answer always bothers me because it implies miscarriages should be kept secret too. What about women who prefer to have social support through such a difficult time?

Speaking of support, the first trimester is when some of the worst physical symptoms (like fatigue and morning sickness) present themselves. It’s when women make diet and lifestyle changes which can lead to some serious fibbing. How many times can you claim food-poisoning or dodge a delicious chardonnay?

My argument is that such a personal revelation should be left up to the parents, not some societal standard, especially when people are known to judge when you choose not to follow the guide.

Couple holding ultrasound of baby - feature

Let’s stop making mothers do the hardest weeks alone (unless they choose to)

I genuinely want to understand the reasons why people adhere to the 12-week rule. This is what I’ve found after speaking to friends, my OB and Google but if you have a different point of view – please leave a comment.

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Reasons people stick to the 12-week rule

1. Most miscarriages occur in the first trimester

The risk reduces to 0.5% at week nine – so why don’t we spill the beans at ten weeks? 

My thoughts: A miscarriage occurs in one out of every 4 or 5 pregnancies (depending on what stats you read). Miscarriages can happen well after 12 weeks. Is a pregnancy ever really ‘safe’? Of course not. So how long do we wait to celebrate?

2. The pain of telling people about a miscarriage

Yes, this would suck but isn’t pain part of the grieving process? Should we really expect women to grieve alone?

My thoughts: The realist in me says that open honest discussion around the frequency of miscarriage would lead to better expectation management.

“Are we ‘allowed’ to have it qualify as a grief? Are we expected to suffer in silence if it’s such a common experience?” Bee Rowlatt


3. Workplace discrimination

It is illegal to fire a woman for being pregnant but it happens. 

My thoughts: This is a societal problem.

4. Fear of the unknown

Some women may experience an unplanned pregnancy and need to process the information slowly.

My thoughts: Understandable however will they magically feel ready to speak up at 12 weeks? Not necessarily. Let her speak when she’s ready.

5. Subsequent miscarriage or infertility

This can be a long, emotional process for couples who have trouble conceiving. They may want to keep their journey private and that comes down to personal choice.

My thoughts: This is a personal and individual decision.

6. Superstition

In my opinion, this is the most intangible reason for secrecy because it implies blame. 

My thoughts: A woman can no sooner ‘jinx’ her pregnancy than she can control it.

Where did the 12-week rule come from?

Historically, women would share news of their pregnancy during ‘the quickening’ which is when they first felt foetal movements and after several missed periods.

Ultrasounds were developed to detect chromosomal abnormalities in the 1970’s and couples could decide whether or not to terminate based on the results. Perhaps this is the seed that started the whole societal standard? Could this rule have its roots in shame? The shame of not wanting to care for an ‘imperfect’ child? Has it now morphed into something even bigger with more superstitions, taboos and restrictions?

I used to silently judge people who shared the news ‘too early.’ Why would I default to that type of thinking rather than support? Probably because I had no reason (nor the guts) to question the 12-week rule.

So if I can’t really find out where the rule came from, maybe it’s time to break it.

Reasons to break the 12-week rule

1. Society does not have the right to dictate something so personal

The decision to announce a pregnancy should be left to the parents based on their level of comfort and desire for privacy. There should be no societal standard, end of story. 

“For those who want to let people know their news, we should join them in celebrating their news and offering our support not our judgment.” Steph


2. Miscarriage should not be shrouded in secrecy

For such a universal, human experience, we don’t share about it enough. Some parents may move on quickly, sure, but some will experience a lifetime of grief. We have rituals and protocol for death but none for miscarriage.

3. You won’t have to lie

Most women have to change their diet and lifestyle during pregnancy. I would hold a glass of wine and steadily pour it into my husband’s glass throughout the evening (he was drinking for two and I was eating for two.) Unless you enjoy secrets, we have the opportunity to replace secrecy with empathy. 

“Staying quiet for 12 weeks while you grow a human being inside of you is nothing short of completely insane.” Wendy Zamora


4. We can support women

I have not suffered a miscarriage personally but I can relate to suffering from depression in silence. I tried my hardest to push through, cover up, act like everything was FINE. This reinforces the societal stigma and fear. We need to talk about miscarriage louder than with whispers.

5. To have boundaries

Today we live in a culture of social media where many people share ‘too much information’, where personal boundaries are often stretched to the limit and beyond. The decision of when, where, and how a pregnancy is revealed should be left to the individuals. End of story.

6. To build a village

Whether you’re having a difficult first trimester or suffer a miscarriage, it helps to speak to women who have been there, who can offer advice and support. Having a solid network in place will better prepare you for new parenthood when it happens.

Conclusion and my announcement

Let’s destroy the ‘perfect pregnancy’ myth. Are we ‘saving’ women from sharing the news of a miscarriage or are we saving our culture from the knowledge that pregnancy can end unexpectedly, that it can get ugly, that it’s not all about cute bumps and a glow.

Pregnancy is not ‘polite’ and women should not be burdened with making it appear to be.

There are women who choose to wait for 20+ weeks to share their news. To them, this post probably seems like I’m more strongly advocating for announcing early, yes, but only if and when that helps women feel more supported.

I understand there are many cases where women need and want to remain private (work-related issues, IVF, subsequent miscarriage, dislike of sympathy or attention.) No matter when you tell, it’s up to you to decide – no one else. 

Writing this today, I am seven weeks into my second pregnancy (probably 8 by the time I publish this). Part of me wanted to share immediately (I found out at exactly four weeks) but another part of me wanted to keep it close for a while because I share a lot of myself online. Above all, my priority is to chip away at what I view as an oppressive taboo by setting an example.

I am telling you our news because you are my people. We connect through stories and your support means the world to me. If this pregnancy does not result in a healthy baby, I will share that too – in my own time. Meanwhile, we will celebrate this bean because he or she means so much to our family already.

This post was republished with permission from Dawn Rieniets’ blog Kangaroo Spotting, you can read the original post here, and follow Dawn on Facebook and Instagram

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