During my very first pregnancy, when I was around seven weeks, I attended a wedding. My husband and I had only told our parents our news and wanted to keep it to ourselves until we’d had the scan and knew everything was okay.
Half way through the wedding meal, I became aware that some friends were whispering behind their hands, glancing in my direction. I knew instantly that they were speculating about whether or not I was pregnant. I could just tell. I’d already been asked quite bluntly why I wasn’t drinking.
(For the record, as anyone who knows me will testify, I don’t drink at weddings. I didn’t even drink at my own wedding. The reason for this is because the very first wedding of a friend I went to, one of my uni friends when we had all not long graduated, we all got so completely wasted it completely ruined the day for me. Weddings are so much fun anyway, it’s never really been an issue for me not drinking and even if I hadn’t been pregnant, I wouldn’t have been drinking in any case.)
But anyway, I digress.
People I knew well were speculating about whether or not I was pregnant in earshot of me. I hadn’t wanted to tell them I was pregnant, but I felt I had no choice because the drunker they got, the less discreet they were. I told them I knew that they knew I was pregnant, that it was really early days, and that we didn’t want anyone else to know until we’d had our scan and we knew everything was okay.
Except everything wasn’t okay.
Five or so weeks later, we went for our first antenatal scan… and found out our baby had died at around eight weeks. I’d had a missed miscarriage, where the baby stops developing but the body continues to think it is pregnant.
I’ve written on my blog several times about how devastating the experience was. I’ve also written about how difficult I found it being pregnant subsequently, with each of my three pregnancies, because I was petrified something would go wrong again.
In all three pregnancies, we barely told a soul we were expecting again until around 15 or 16 weeks when I physically couldn’t hide it any more.
I’m sure some people had guessed, but thankfully they respected what a nervous time early pregnancy was for us and nobody asked us outright.
I’m really grateful for that.
I’ll never forget though how it felt to have people speculating about me, in front of me, at that wedding. I know they meant well and were just excited at the thought of us having a baby, and probably had no idea of how easily pregnancies can go wrong.
But I hated it because I felt I had to tell people something I wasn’t ready to tell them at a stage when I didn’t know if the pregnancy was going to be okay. The news wasn’t mine any more, and I had no idea if they would keep our secret or not.
Imagine how it feels then for Cheryl (formerly Cole, formerly Tweedy, but now known by just her first name) to have had the whole country speculating for weeks now on her apparent “pregnancy” with One Direction’s Liam Payne; online news story after online news story pointing out her “bump” in photos, describing her as “glowing” – the choice word for any pregnant lady – and as “keeping mum” about her baby news.
I remember the same happening with Kate Middleton – the speculation over her second pregnancy began pretty much as soon as George was born, with several dodgy U.S. gossip sites “revealing” the news time and again. Kate had to announce her second pregnancy publicly at just five or six weeks when hyperemesis gravidarum, severe morning sickness, left her too poorly to attend official functions. She knew the minute she cancelled, people would be second guessing her pregnancy, so she and William had no choice but to own the announcement and make it theirs.
Of course being in the public eye means you have to expect a level of scrutiny we ordinary folk could never imagine. For women in particular, clothes, hair, appearance, weight gain, weight loss, are debated and analysed, with columnists never shy of criticising or being negative. It’s a price you pay for fame, fortune and a flashy lifestyle.
But given one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, it makes me so sad that we live in a world where headlines come before a woman’s health.
Just yesterday, these same publications were full of reports that miscarriage can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder in women. One in three women interviewed in an early pregnancy unit reported PTSD symptoms. One in three. That’s a huge statistic. I can fully believe it though, because reading the accounts from brave mums sharing their stories, their feelings and experiences echoed my own.
How must it feel then to not only be coping with a miscarriage, or to be anxiously waiting for test results to see if your baby has any health issues, but to also be dealing with the world’s press jumping up and down telling everyone you are expecting a baby?
I have no idea whether Cheryl is pregnant or not. I have no idea if any of these issues affect her or not. Either way, it shouldn’t matter. It’s not my business. She should be allowed to announce any news as and when she’s ready.
She was on BBC’s The One Show last night promoting Childline, to encourage children to talk about their problems. But all certain publications and social media spoke about was her supposed pregnancy news.
Thankfully The One Show are too classy to ask her about it, but she did speak about how it feels to constantly be under scrutiny.
“There was a period of time where I was going through really really hard personal stuff, and being chased around at the same time by seven strangers and seven cars every day, relentlessly and I found that extremely difficult to deal with.
“Then you’ve got the scrutiny, the lies, all the stuff on social media. That’s how I can relate to the kids too because I’ve experienced the judgement, the bullying if you like, because to an extent it is.”
The bullying. Of women who may or may not be pregnant. Seriously, what is wrong with our culture that this is even happening?
And even if you’re not in the public eye, shouldn’t all women be given the grace not to have to reveal a pregnancy before they want to? To not feel like people are talking about them or speculating? To be able to feel secure in the pregnancy before they tell the wider world?
I have friends who have had multiple miscarriages.
I have friends who tried for years to get pregnant but didn’t.
I have friends who have gone through fertility treatment.
I have friends who wanted another baby but their partner did not and it was a really difficult time for them.
I have a friend who found out that her friends were taking bets on when she would get pregnant – having no idea she’d had two miscarriages.
I have had friends who have had a still birth.
I have friends who have had to make the difficult decision to end a pregnancy because the baby was so severely disabled or sick, he or she would either have died later in the pregnancy or shortly after birth.
Chances are, you have friends who have experienced similar. You just might not know about it.
Just think how those friends would feel to know that people are speculating on their pregnancies when they are in emotional and possibly physical turmoil.
Just think how you would feel.
And think twice before speculating on whether a woman is pregnant. Because you never know what her story is and just how much the gossiping might affect her.