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The unexpected lesson in Britney Spears’ miscarriage announcement

Women shouldn't be discouraged from sharing the news of pregnancies early on, even if they can end in loss.
Britney Spears attends the Pre-GRAMMY Gala on Feb. 11, 2017, in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Britney Spears attends the Pre-GRAMMY Gala on Feb. 11, 2017, in Beverly Hills, Calif.Scott Dudelson / Getty Images file

I cringed when I saw Britney Spears announce last month that she was newly pregnant. 

As someone who went through four miscarriages before the birth of our daughter, I know how tenuous pregnancy is — and how many end in early miscarriages. Ten to 20 percent of known pregnancies result in loss. And older women like Spears have an even higher risk of miscarriage: At 35, there’s a 20 percent risk, according to the Mayo Clinic, and at 40 (Spears’ age), the risk is 40 percent.

So when the pop icon joyously revealed the news to her 41.2 million Instagram followers in April, my instant reaction was “Oh, no.” I was afraid she would have a miscarriage and, sadly, on Saturday she returned to Instagram to inform the public she had lost her “miracle baby.”

For many women, pregnancy is a joyous time: The minute they get that first positive pregnancy test (or pee on five sticks), they want to wave it around and show everyone they know. But for anyone like me — who did wave around her first positive pregnancy test like a magic wand — after you experience loss, you get nervous at pregnancy announcements, especially early on.

That’s why many women don’t tell anyone aside from their partners and maybe one or two close friends or family. Many wait until the end of the first trimester to share the news, or even longer. In the Jewish community, where many of us are so superstitious we don’t have baby showers until after the baby is born, the proper response upon hearing someone is pregnant isn’t “mazel tov” or “congratulations” but “b’sha’a tova,” meaning “all in good time” or “good luck.”

There are good reasons to hold off on the pregnancy announcement, as about 80 percent of all miscarriages occur in the first trimester. But there are problems with hiding your pregnancy, too, so maybe it’s time to let people share the news early on. Maybe they shouldn’t have to wait until they are showing.

The message to keep a new pregnancy a secret can make it seem like it’s something shameful, not joyful. When you’re pregnant, there are actually happy hormones coursing through your body — that glow! — and you can be so excited. It feels hard and wrong to hold such good news inside — and in these troubled times, we need all the good news we can get.

There can also be an extra physical toll to holding back. Instead of a glow, many women experience a greener hue due to the nausea of early pregnancy. Some 70 percent of women experience morning sickness during the first trimester, with a small percentage of women, such as Amy Schumer, having extreme morning sickness throughout pregnancy, known as hyperemesis gravidarum.

More than a belly bump, that can be a hard thing to hide for a month or more, especially if you’re working in an office. The workplace is difficult enough to navigate while pregnant, with some women needing extra flexibility for doctor’s appointments, exhaustion, heartburn and nausea. Others worry their competence will also come into question due to the “brain fog” of pregnancy. Keeping all of that concealed can make the experience even worse.

Yet there’s also pressure to keep quiet about a pregnancy because of discrimination. One in five mothers say they have “experienced pregnancy discrimination in the workplace,” according to a recent survey. Some 23 percent have “considered leaving their jobs due to a lack of reasonable accommodations or fear of discrimination during a pregnancy.”

Top executives and celebrities like Spears, of course, may not have to hide their pregnancies for fear of discrimination. In fact, when their bodies are front and center of their brand, they may actually want to showcase their baby bumps (think: Beyoncé).  

For Spears, the early pregnancy announcement was about more than showing off a cute little belly. It was a celebration. She had wanted to have another baby for years (she has two teenage sons with Kevin Federline), but she said the conservatorship she was in until November forbade her from removing her IUD, a long-term contraceptive device. No wonder she posted a video last month featuring the Ace of Base lyric “All that she wants is another baby.”

So despite my miscarriage struggles, I can see why Spears wanted to share pregnancy news — even though it seemed super early, which she acknowleged in her miscarriage announcement: “Perhaps we should have waited to announce until we were further along however we were overly excited to shared the good news,” they said Saturday. “This is a devastating time for any parent.”

I know how devastating miscarriage can be. It’s not only the loss of the beginning of a life you were nurturing inside of you; it is the loss of a whole future laid out before you. For me, it took an emotional and physical toll, with the shifting hormone roller coaster leaving me feeling empty and lethargic. 

If we really want to take away the shame of miscarriage, we have to take away the stigma of announcing early pregnancy.

I chose to suffer those aftermaths in silence. I hadn’t told many people I was pregnant, and it seemed awkward to tell them I miscarried after the fact. I also felt ashamed at my body for failing me, like I was too old, too broken. In a national survey on the public perceptions of miscarriage published in 2015, of the respondents who had a miscarriage themselves or whose partner had a miscarriage, 41 percent reported feeling “they had done something wrong,” 41 percent felt “alone” and 28 percent felt “ashamed.”

Women should not have to feel this way. We should not have to hide our early pregnancies, nor their ends. We need help to deal with pregnancy as soon as it begins, and then, if it doesn’t work out, we need help to deal with our loss with time off, rest and recuperation.

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If we really want to take away the shame of miscarriage, we have to take away the stigma of announcing early pregnancy.

And so, to Britney Spears and Sam Asghari, who announced they will “continue trying to expand our beautiful family,” I wish you a baby bump really soon. And I won’t cringe if you decide to announce it early next time.