On Nov. 25, Genesis Paras announced to her family and friends over Instagram that she had a new baby girl.
“Everyone meet our little bat Harlow Phoenix Paras,” she wrote.
All baby announcements are somewhat of a surprise; no one can ever be sure when a baby will be born. But this one was especially startling because Ms. Paras, 31, a stay-at-home mother in Anaheim, Calif., hadn’t told anyone outside of her parents and her husband’s parents that she was pregnant.
“My grandmother was like, ‘I am sorry. What? When? Where? How?’ She was the most shocked of anybody,” Ms. Paras said. “One of my best friends was mad at me. He was like, ‘Dude, why didn’t you tell me?’”
Ms. Paras had had traumatic experiences with past pregnancies. She had a series of miscarriages, and a newborn baby girl had died. (In addition to Harlow, she has a son who is 2.) Covid added to the anxiety she already felt about being pregnant, and she didn’t want to jinx it. “With Covid and how pregnant women are so susceptible, the whole pregnancy I was terrified I was going to die or she was going to die,” she said. “I felt it was too good to be true.”
While the pandemic added to her anxiety, it also gave her a way to avoid seeing anyone and sharing her news. Her unvaccinated son gave her the perfect excuse to stay at home and away from gatherings so no one could see her growing belly.
“Keeping it a secret made my pregnancy so much more peaceful. I didn’t have to listen to people tell me it would be OK or to stop being scared,” she said. “I had my space to feel whatever I wanted, and I could stay in my own bubble.”
“I wish there was a way for women to be able to hide they were pregnant even without a pandemic,” she added.In prepandemic times most pregnant women, of course, didn’t have the luxury of deciding when they shared their news. They had to go to work and social events, and once they started showing it was obvious they were expecting.
Some women, especially frontline workers, still don’t have that choice. But the pandemic has transformed the reality for many others, allowing pregnant women to stay out of sight of colleagues (if they are working remotely) and friends and family, since socializing is so limited. With that comes the freedom to talk about their pregnancy when they are comfortable and when they feel it won’t harm them professionally or psychologically.
“Many of the women I have seen during the pandemic have chosen not to tell people they are pregnant until they feel ready,” said Katayune Kaeni, a psychologist who specializes in perinatal mental health. “The ability to keep it from other people because of Zoom has benefited a lot of people.”
This is particularly true of women who have high anxiety or have experienced pregnancy loss like Ms. Paras. “It can be incredibly stressful to field questions from people who have the best of intentions but don’t know how their questions are landing or how they can feel minimizing or insensitive,” Dr. Kaeni said.
With her other pregnancies, Ms. Paras did receive unsolicited questions and advice. “Especially women of the older generation would ask me questions like, ‘Are you carrying twins?’ ‘Is the baby healthy?’” she said. “People who knew me would bring up my daughter or tell me everything was going to be OK with this pregnancy, when there is no way they could know that.”
“Those questions were stressful,” she said. “It was a lot better not having to interact with other people when I was pregnant during the pandemic.”
Other pregnant women are happy to keep their pregnancies a secret to avoid judgment from others.
Fabulous Flores, 30, a graduate student who lives in Absecon, N.J., gave birth to a girl in May. When she got pregnant she was not married to her boyfriend, and she was relieved not to have to tell her mother and contend with her disapproval at such an emotionally fraught time.
“My mom would not be OK with me having a child out of wedlock, and I was afraid to tell her, so I was glad to put it off until I was ready,” she said. “Luckily my mom was very strict and stayed inside, and we did as well so no one had to see each other.” (Once the baby arrived, her mother got on board and is now a supportive grandmother.)
Ms. Flores also felt relieved not to have to show her changing body to other people: “I was so nervous that I would get huge and swollen and wouldn’t want people to see me,” she said. “Part of me was like, ‘Am I not attractive anymore because I am a mom?’ I was happy to not have to see people’s reactions.”
Dr. Kaeni noted that there are a lot of body-image issues during pregnancy that women have to deal with. “I can see how women don’t want the expectations from the people around them, that they are supposed to be happy and glowing and all that good stuff,” she said.
Then there are professional concerns.
“Women are often reluctant to announce they are pregnant and not without good reason,” said Dina Bakst, a founder and co-president of A Better Balance, an organization that helps workers, especially mothers. “Bias against pregnant women and mothers continues to be rampant in the workplace, and this bias takes many forms. It can be intentional; it can be implicit, it can be unconscious, it can be structural.”
Ms. Bakst said that often when a woman announces she is pregnant, “stereotypes kick in that she is less committed to her job and less capable.”
She gets calls, she said, from women who announce they are pregnant and then get passed over for a promotion or taken off a project that requires travel or late nights.
Of course, not all pregnant women have the luxury of hiding their stomachs on Zoom. A frontline nurse or a woman working in a factory can’t do their jobs remotely. And even if a woman can work remotely, she can’t keep her pregnancy a secret the entire time. In states with paid family leave — like New York — an employee is required to give 30 days advance notice if they intend to use paid maternity leave and other benefits.
But women with the option of keeping their pregnancies private during the pandemic have discovered many advantages in doing so.
Adrienne Alexander, 36, who works for a labor union in Chicago, couldn’t hide her pregnancy five years ago when she had her first daughter. “It was an election year, and I remember being in the campaign office wearing T-shirts and eating a lot of snacks,” she said. “It was way more visible.”
When she had her second daughterJuly 2020, her work had conditions changed drastically. “I wasn’t in the office, everything was happening via Zoom,” she said. “It was easy to hide. I had a computer stand, so you really couldn’t see my body, and I just didn’t stand up. If I did, I turned off the camera and readjusted.”
She shared her news with her immediate team so they could prepare for her maternity leave. But she found it refreshing that most of her other colleagues didn’t know. “It’s just easier to not answer people’s questions or for it to be the topic of conversation every single time,” she said. “I wanted to just focus on work and not talk about the challenges of being a mom during the pandemic. I didn’t want my identity to be about being a mom.”
There are some downsides to keeping a pregnancy private.
It can feel lonely for no one to know, Ms. Paras said. “I felt like I needed advice sometimes dealing with a toddler and being pregnant,” she said. “There were times I felt I needed to vent to someone or tell someone I had a lot of anxiety. But I am still glad I didn’t tell anyone. It was the easier of two evils for me.”
Dr. Kaeni pointed out another potential drawback. “The downside to keeping it private is that you don’t get the special attention some people want or get from pregnancy,” she said.
Some people anger family members and friends by keeping such a big update from them. “My best friend was just very shocked,” Ms. Flores said. “He got very quiet and said he needs some time to process. He came around once my daughter was born, but it took some time.”
Another downside she experienced by not telling anyone she was pregnant: “I didn’t have a baby shower.”
But many women report feeling grateful that the pandemic has at least given them a choice. They now have the opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of sharing their pregnancies with the world.
“If I have my choice again, I think I would keep my next pregnancy private,” Ms. Alexander said.