When I was about six weeks pregnant, I threw up lavishly and horizontally on the front wheel of someone’s car. To my horror, when I’d finished and stood up, I discovered I was eye-to-eye with the driver, sitting aghast at the steering wheel, watching me wipe my mouth. He’d seen the whole thing. I had been caught, green-faced. In a fumble of panic, shame, and guilt, I pulled out the Baby on Board badge my boyfriend had recently sent away for, held it to the car window, and shouted: “I’M–SORRY.”
I thought about this story last month, as a pregnant friend at a party asked, kindly and sensitively, how things were going with my womb. “I’m in my fertile window this week,” I yelled over the sound of Burna Boy. “So I’ll let you know how things go.” I wasn’t even pregnant, and I was already telling people. How different all this is to my first experience, during which I carried my early pregnancy around like a piece of ice for 12 weeks: too fragile, too precious, and too uncomfortable to share with anyone. I was so nervous of people finding out I was pregnant that I wouldn’t even wear the badge. Not until I was at least 12 weeks in.
The 12-week convention is tricky. Partly it’s a reflection of the way we monitor and manage pregnancy in this UK. Ordinarily, at about 12 weeks, you would have what the NHS calls a dating scan, during which a sonographer will estimate when you’re due, check the physical development of your fetus, and screen for possible conditions. You will almost certainly know someone who has gone for a dating scan and discovered that their baby has no heartbeat, that it has stopped growing, or that their pregnancy is no longer viable for one of a myriad of reasons. They might not have told you about it (yet), but it will have happened. According to the charity Tommy’s, one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage and most miscarriages happen in the first 12 weeks. So chances are, if you know people who have been pregnant, you know people who have lost pregnancies, too.
But—and it is a question that I’ve really only started to think about recently—why does that mean we don’t tell people that we’re pregnant earlier? After all, during the first trimester of pregnancy, pregnant people need support: physical, emotional, psychological, and social. Typically, this is the time when pregnancy sickness is at its worst; you are increasing your volume of blood by 50%, which, let me tell you, is a tiring business; you are likely to be getting aversions and cravings when it comes to food; your sense of smell takes on a supernatural strength; your hormones are kicking off; and you are living in a state of constant, genuine uncertainty. If these things were happening for any other medical reason—dare I say it, if these things were happening to a cisgendered man—people would talk about it. They might even ask for certain adaptations to be made at work, to their shift pattern, to their commute, to their social plans. If we don’t feel that pregnancy is a legitimate reason to ask for support, or fear that being pregnant will impact our job prospects, then that tells us something quite damning about workplace culture.