News, Culture & Society

Should you keep pregnancy secret for 12 weeks? A new campaign seeks to overturn the convention

YES by Jenni Murray

There’s now something of a campaign to end what’s known as the ‘12-week rule’ — where a woman is expected to stay quiet about her pregnancy during the first trimester ‘in case something goes wrong’.

Jenni Murray says she wants the 12-week rule to stay as she once had an ectopic pregnancy

This week Katy Lindemann, author of a new book on baby loss, argued that the 12-week rule makes the pain of miscarriage worse as many women are left to suffer in silence. Her piece sparked responses from many women online reporting similar experiences. Campaigners say keeping silent about pregnancy heaps pressure on women and cuts them off from support if anything goes wrong.

I have much sympathy for anyone in that situation. But I must say I have no regrets about my decision to keep my first pregnancy a secret, sharing it only with my partner, David. I was 31 and trying to advance my broadcasting career. David was a naval officer and often away from home. Nevertheless, we were more than ready to start a family.

The pregnancy was confirmed using a home test, and I had just made an appointment with the GP when disaster struck. David was away for a short trip at sea. I was having dinner with friends when I doubled up in pain. I got home and, in the middle of the night, called a friend, a consultant in the NHS, who said: ‘I won’t diagnose you over the phone, but get to hospital, quick.’

He made the right judgment. My six or seven-week pregnancy was ectopic, with the foetus stuck in the fallopian tube. I had an operation, which meant removing the foetus and the tube — and was reassured by the surgeon that I would ‘fire perfectly well on one cylinder’ — with my one remaining fallopian tube.

I went back to work after a few days, greatly relieved I hadn’t had to endure any overreaction from my mother, who’d known nothing about the possibility of becoming a grandmother, or any excess of sympathy and advice from colleagues and friends, who all thought it had been merely a grumbling appendix.

FEMAIL is considering whether the 12-week rule, when women get their first scans, should stay or should be removed (stock image)

Six months later, I was very lucky to find I did ‘fire on one cylinder’ and my son, Ed, was the result. Four years later came Charlie. In both cases, I kept to the ‘12-week rule’ and felt glad that, if anything did go wrong, I wouldn’t have to open up to every acquaintance who asked.

I felt no shame or guilt at my earlier failure, but still wonder, at times, if the one I lost was the daughter I’d always longed for.

NO by Jennie Agg

Congratulations! my friend whispered, bear-hugging me. I smiled and said thank you, but then immediately added: ‘But it’s still early so, you know . . .’

Jennie Agg wants the rule to go as, after four miscarriages, it has started to feel like a cruel joke

Jennie Agg wants the rule to go as, after four miscarriages, it has started to feel like a cruel joke

I was six weeks pregnant, and convention dictates a pregnancy is not to be spoken of until the end of the first trimester, the 12-week mark when most women have their first NHS scan. It may be an unofficial rule, but there is a whiff of superstition around it, as if you’re tempting fate if you don’t keep mum.

Back then, our first pregnancy, we didn’t question the rule. Like most people, we kept it as quiet as we could because ‘what if something happens?’

Something did happen. I miscarried in hospital three days before our 12-week scan. It was bloody and frightening and utterly devastating.

Worse, almost no one knew. For weeks, most people had no idea why I was grey and subdued; monosyllabic with sadness. And I had no idea how to tell them. The internet is full of ‘cute’ pregnancy announcement ideas. It is less helpful on how to break miscarriage news.

After a miscarriage (I’ve had four now, all in the first trimester), the 12-week rule starts to feel like a cruel joke — you didn’t tell people out of some vague notion this might happen, and now it has you realise you have unwittingly cut yourself off from sympathy or understanding. It keeps you quiet; it feels a lot like shame.

After losing a baby, the 12-week rule feels like a cruel joke

Why do we accept this? It might have made sense when reliable home pregnancy tests didn’t exist and a woman had to wait until she’d missed several periods to be ‘sure’.

But, in the 21st century, it feels illogical, even dismissive, a coded message that a pregnancy isn’t ‘real’ before 12 weeks.

In an age of digital tests and private scans as early as six weeks, a pregnancy — and your relationship with the child you believe is coming — starts a long time before 12 weeks.

It’s no good grumbling that a miscarriage is ‘just a heavy period’ and that ‘women find out too early these days’ and expecting us to pack our grief neatly away.

Also, if we didn’t have this ‘rule’, it would quickly become painfully, plainly obvious how common miscarriage is. Then it might be taken more seriously. We might make more progress with research into its causes and possible treatments. Rather than brushing it under the carpet, we’d know how to comfort the people it affects: men as well as women.

Most miscarriages happen before 12 weeks. But why does that mean they should happen in silence?


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