You’re pregnant! But while catching sight of those double blue lines for the first time should, in theory, kickstart one of the most exciting times in a woman’s life, for some mums-to-be, those first 12 weeks of pregnancy can in fact be fraught with fear, fatigue and feeling sick as a dog. Throw a significant threat of miscarriage into the mix and far from being a celebration, the first three months of pregnancy can in fact be a period of mass trepidation.
But don’t think you can talk about it, because the shroud of secrecy surrounding those first few months means no matter what you’re going through – the feelings, the symptoms, the worry, you’re expected to keep mum (pardon the pun) about it. Welcome to the silent trimester.
For some mums-to-be, pregnancy is a walk in the pre-natal park. They sail through the whole 40 weeks in waft of floaty dresses, pre-natal yoga and glowing skin. For others, however, the early part of expecting a baby is a pretty tricky time. Not only can you be battling uncontrollable fatigue and the urge to throw up 24 hours a day, you’re also having to cope with the fear that until you have your first scan you’re living under a cloud of uncertainty.
But at the very time when you need the support and understanding of your friends and family, societal pressure means you’re not actually ‘allowed’ to confide in them. Because since the advent of the 12-week scan, it has become customary to keep your pregnancy under wraps during those uncertain early weeks.
There’s an explanation behind this: recent research suggests that as many as one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage and the majority of these are believed to happen in the first trimester. Miscarriage rates drop dramatically after the 12 week scan, which means many women feel pressure to wait until this point before going public about their pregnancy.
But trying to conceal horrendous morning sickness or squashing fears over the threat of miscarriage means many women in the early stages of pregnancy feel forced to suffer in silence.
Just like Alison*. Just five weeks into her second pregnancy, Alison started suffering from Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), a condition that can cause severe nausea and vomiting. Feeling unable to confide in anyone other than close family, Alison was forced to hide her symptoms and try to carry on regardless. “It was a nightmare,” she explains. “I couldn’t keep anything down, even water. On more than one occasion I threw up on the school run and when the other mums asked if I was ok, I just had to lie and say I had a bug,” she continues.
“I remember sitting through parent’s evening, trying to listen to what the teacher was saying about my daughter, but actually just concentrating on trying to get through the meeting without throwing up.”
At just seven weeks Alison became so dehydrated that she was hospitalised on a drip and she recalls how isolating the experience was.
“I felt so alone, I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone why I was really in hospital, so we concocted some story about it being a virus, it was honestly one of the most difficult periods of my life.”
For other women the pressure of concealing a difficult pregnancy while trying to maintain a high-pressured job can lead to feelings of isolation, which can have some pretty serious consequences for the mental health of a mum-to-be.
Recent research by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and the Maternal Health Alliance (MMHA) has revealed that more than 80% of female respondents had experienced at least one episode of a mental health problem during or after their pregnancy.
The survey of more than 2,300 women in the UK found that low mood was experienced by over two thirds of women, anxiety by around half and depression by just over a third.
Meanwhile separate research by Premaitha has revealed that one in five British mums are often feeling ‘extremely worried’ every day across the first crucial 84 days of their pregnancy, over a third of women pregnant with their first child report they are worrying ‘multiple times a day’ with the period of concern spanning between one and five hours on a typical day. That’s a hell of a lot of time spent suffering in silence.
Commenting on the findings Alison Perry, Screening Co-ordinator at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said:
“The key advice I would give to any woman experiencing severe concerns during her first trimester, or indeed at any time, is to ensure that they have early access to a midwife or healthcare professional.”
“In my clinic, we get a lot of nervous mums who come to us early on in their pregnancy to talk about what they can expect and what options are available to support them and their baby. We can then refer them for psychological services if necessary,” she continues.
“So many mums find that just knowing that they are doing what they can for the health of their baby helps to put them at ease. Pregnant mums should focus on promoting their own health – eating a good diet, looking after themselves and taking comfort in the knowledge that they are doing everything they can for their baby.”
So is it time we lifted the lid on the silent trimester? In a world where we share everyday events like what we ate for lunch with complete strangers, is it a bit outdated to feel forced to keep such life-changing events secret from friends and loved ones?
Izabela Minkiewicz, Founder of children’s boutique Blue Almonds certainly thinks so.
“I think the idea of waiting 12 weeks is a little outdated now,” she says. “Pregnancy always comes with ups and downs – on one hand you have the elation and joy of knowing you’re expecting, but at times it can feel hugely overwhelming. This is heightened when you can’t tell anyone how or why you’re feeling odd, either physically or emotionally.”
Izabela believes it’s time we give the ‘Three month rule’ a rethink. “There is no rule book for expectant parents, and if you’d like to share your journey with close friends and family there is no reason you shouldn’t!”
Anne-Marie O’Leary, Editor in Chief of Netmums believes women shouldn’t feel the pressure to keep quiet if talking about what is going on might help their mindset.
“Getting pregnant presents all of us with a unique set of concerns and worries, and one of the most anxious times is waiting for the first scan, as many women worry about the possibility of miscarriage and are aware it is most likely to happen in the first trimester,” she says. “ Whilst excited, we know a lot of women are holding their breath a little until the first scan confirms all is running smoothly. Its sensible to be cautious and careful, but it does help to speak to others who may be going through the same thing as you.”
Anne-Marie suggests finding other mums-to-be who might be going through similar feelings.
“You can sign up for our Netmums weekly pregnancy emails with information about how your baby is growing and developing and how your body is changing and you can also sign up to our free online Netmums pregnancy course and join your Due Date club to chat to other mums expecting a baby at the same time as you,” she says.
Netmums also offer a free Drop-In Clinic service which can be accessed from your mobile and takes place every weeknight between 7.30pm and 9.30pm. Each session is staffed by experts from health backgrounds and they are on hand to answer any questions you might have.
“Half the time, you’re not even sure that what you’re worried about is a genuine concern but our medical professionals are here to help put your mind at rest,” she continues.
While its understandable that some women prefer to keep their pregnancies private, for those whose early weeks are peppered with difficult side effects, concerns over miscarriage or other challenging issues, it may be time to break the silence and speak out.
Did you feel isolated in the first three months of pregnancy? Let us know @YahooStyleUK