The Prying Game

For some people, your pregnancy is a signal to get nosy.


When my husband and I announced I was pregnant with our first child—after five years of marriage and 12 weeks of keeping the baby news secret—no less than half of our friends responded with “Congratulations! How long were you trying?” The questions didn’t end there: “Did you use fertility drugs?” “Why did you wait so long?” “Was it planned?” Silly me, I had assumed those things were nobody’s business but my husband’s, my gyno’s and mine.

How did such a private topic wind up in the public domain? “There’s always been a cultural tendency for people to take an interest in the next generation—who’s having babies and how they’re making them,” says Judith N. Lasker, Ph.D., a sociology professor at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., and author of In Search of Parenthood: Coping With Infertility and High-Tech Conception (Temple University Press, 1994). “But now that so much information is available, people have a new way of thinking about pregnancy.” In other words, when you watch real women giving birth in graphic detail on The Learning Channel’s A Baby Story and read every detail of Courteney Cox Arquette’s miscarriages and fertility treatments in the Star, it’s not such a stretch for the guy in the cubicle next to you at work to ask if you had an episiotomy.

In this new culture of openness, some women feel comfortable discussing every last detail. “All my friends knew I had wanted a baby for years,” says Randi Pellett, a 37-year-old teacher. “So when my husband finally agreed he was ready, we practically had a community celebration.” Pellett shared her ovulation schedule with friends and was on the phone minutes after she took her home pregnancy test. “It never even crossed my mind to wait to tell people I was pregnant,” she says.

Others are less forthcoming, especially if they’ve experienced infertility or miscarriages. Interestingly, Lasker’s research found that couples are more likely to share information if it’s the woman who’s infertile. “If it’s something to do with the man—like a low sperm count—they’re less likely to discuss it, or sometimes they’ll even lie to protect his virility,” Lasker says.

How soon should you tell? No matter how you get pregnant, once you are, there’s the question of how long you should wait before spreading the news. Though many eager couples don’t go this route, the prevailing wisdom is to only tell people you are closest to at first, then wait until you’re past the first trimester, when the chance of miscarriage decreases.

“Ask yourself, ‘If I miscarry, who are the people who will support me the best?’ and tell only them,” advises Somerville, Mass., psychiatric nurse Diane Clapp, R.N., medical information director for Resolve, a national infertility and pregnancy counseling and referral service (

“Many women want to wait until they’re sure it’s going to happen,” Lasker says. “That could be at the end of the first trimester, or the first sonogram, or even the first time they feel movement.” Your culture may also dictate how chatty you want to be about your pregnancy. For example, many Orthodox Jewish parents don’t discuss baby names during pregnancy because their babies aren’t officially named until after they’re born.

Respect your comfort level

So let’s say you’ve heard the heartbeat, you’re wearing maternity clothes, and everyone from your mother to your mailman knows what’s going on. Get ready for a whole slew of new questions: “Are you getting an amnio?” “Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl?” “Are you planning a natural childbirth?” “Will you be induced?” The decision now about how much to share often depends on how much feedback you are willing to put up with. “The first time I was pregnant, I told my parents everything,” says Jennie Fahn, a 37-year-old actress in Los Angeles. “And they had opinions and comments on everything! So the second time around, I was more careful.”

Of course, the only real rule about how much you should reveal is to go with what makes you most comfortable. If people start probing about how exactly that baby got in there or how it’s going to get out, just smile and say, “That isn’t the point; we just want to celebrate our joy with you,” Clapp suggests. “If you anticipate that some people are going to be particularly nosy, work out a script for exactly what you’re going to say and do a practice run,” she says.

If you decide to keep the baby’s name and sex a secret until he or she arrives, take the advice of Lesley Carlin and Honore McDonough Ervin (aka the Etiquette Grrls), co-authors of More Things You Need to Be Told (Penguin, 2003): “If you don’t want to tell anyone, that is your prerogative! You can always pretend you don’t know or haven’t decided; that way no one can weasel the information out of you.”

Then, get ready, because the nosiness doesn’t end once the baby’s here. “It’s bizarre that strangers ask you questions when you’re pregnant, but what’s even more bizarre is the way they talk to new mothers,” Lasker says. Questions about fertility and childbirth soon give way to: "Are you breastfeeding?" "What do you use for sore nipples?" "You're not really going to give that child a pacifier, are you?" And of course, "When are you going to have the next one?"