Growing up a Jewish girl in the midwest, I was taught that expecting mothers do not announce their pregnancy until the second trimester. Twelve weeks was when we would be miraculously safe from loss. Getting past that landmark felt like a guarantee for having a live baby.
Once I passed the 12th week of pregnancy with my first child, I felt like I had earned the ability to share an early ultrasound photo with my spouse and two dogs. I was eager to be inundated with support, advice and lots of diapers. I followed this unspoken rule and never once had a reason to question it, but all of that changed when I later experienced pregnancy loss.
On the day before Thanksgiving in 2021, I was told five words that no expectant parent wants to hear: “Your baby has no heartbeat.” After three excruciating ultrasounds to confirm death, I laid on the table, 8 months pregnant, unable to move or breathe.
It took all my strength to call my husband, who was at a park with my daughter enjoying an unusually warm day. He was unaware that his life, too, would now be tainted by a grief so deep and all-consuming. My OB said I could go celebrate Thanksgiving with my family and let labor start on its own, but the idea of carrying a dead baby in my body another day, let alone another second, sent me racing to Triage for an induction.
That day I learned that stillbirth moms have to deliver their sleeping babies and leave the hospital with empty arms. I would never be my son’s mother on earth. Devastating didn’t seem to quite encompass how deep the grief went.
At that time only a handful of people knew I was expecting—immediate family, close friends and my yoga students who saw me grow rounder and slower with each passing month. I had chosen not to announce that pregnancy (it’s a complex decision to announce early) because it came directly after a missed miscarriage 10 months prior.
Out of superstition and fear, I thought keeping my pregnancy to myself might protect me from the bad things that happen, but I was very wrong. Instead, it made the job of sharing my loss even harder and more shocking. The act of withholding my pregnancy announcement and loss had isolated me and further stigmatized pregnancy loss as something wrong or shameful.
I had unintentionally isolated myself at a time when I needed support the most.
I shared my story the only way I knew how—vulnerably and widely to Twitter. I posted a photo holding my son, Fox, right after delivery. My tear-soaked face and purple baby struck a chord in thousands of people that flocked towards me in support.
Related: Heartfelt quotes for grieving a stillbirth
What had been the most isolating, stigmatized topic of conversation was out in the open, and that felt like a relief. I didn’t have to be silent. I could practice conversations with safe people who had gone through the same horror. I could find organized support groups, foundations, and most importantly, I could learn how to better communicate my needs in the future.
After burying my son, slogging through each month after, shedding my past self who was afraid of what other people thought, my husband and I decided to try again for a live baby. Instead of waiting to announce we were pregnant after 12 weeks, we announced as soon as we heard a heartbeat with our own ears (and we were not alone in that decision).
Sharing a pregnancy announcement after loss
We quickly realized that pregnancy after loss isn’t hard because you simultaneously grieve your loss while also preparing for new life (spoiler: it’s almost impossible). It’s hard because of the conversations and opinions such news invites—it turned out people held beliefs on what our timeline of grief and pregnancy after loss should look like.
Our pregnancy announcement invited all sorts of responses from, “Don’t you think you should grieve your baby longer?” to “You are so brave. I could never survive a loss like that and try again” all the way to “Just stay positive. It’ll work out this time.”
Some wanted us to grieve our baby forever and others wanted to toxically cling to our good news in the hopes that it would undo or replace our tragic stillbirth.
Sharing was work. Sharing meant answering personal questions and educating others that it’s OK to embrace the nuance of holding death and growing life in the same small place. Sharing meant having to define what support looked like. Sharing meant asking for help, giving grace to those who couldn’t understand, and letting go of relationships that didn’t feel supportive.
The surprising benefit of an early pregnancy announcement
Despite all the work, announcing our pregnancy early gave us a chance to heal from the times we chose to stay silent.
At 34 weeks, I continue to have open conversations with friends, strangers, on social media. I post pictures weekly of my stretch-marked belly, bruised from daily blood thinner injections. Just being present as a pregnant loss mom creates a space for others to share their own loss journeys, wisdoms, worries. It provides families, lost at sea, a crude navigation system during anxious times.
Breaking the stigma of pregnancy loss has been empowering, even if I do not end up with a live baby (though we hope so!). Moms and birthing people don’t have to be silent just because that’s been our historic narrative.
We are slowly breaking down those walls and finally, more people than ever are realizing that our babies, in utero or out, matter. Our stories matter, so make that early announcement.