Billy Connolly once joked that men can keep a secret, while women can hold in a fart: so if you want a woman to keep something confidential, simply whisper it up her arse.
In fact, thousands of women walk around with one of life’s biggest, most disruptive, most wonderful secrets churning away within their wombs every day; an early pregnancy. Few mothers will ever suffer the violent curiosity and speculation so enjoyed by Kate Middleton this week - as Kensington Palace is banjaxed into announcing her third pregnancy earlier than hoped because of sickness affecting her schedule - but we all will know what it is to stare a close friend or respected colleague in the face, as you emerge sweaty and saucer-eyed from the toilet, and wonder - what do I say?
WATCH: Your 30s: Why They're The Best Years Of Your Life
It is both understandable and sensible that, until you’ve had that first 12-week scan and seen a healthy foetus careering around your womb like a globulous synchronised swimmer, you may want to keep the number of people who know about your pregnancy to just a very few. Early life is as fragile as it is miraculous; pregnancies can be lost as well as gained, a heartbeat can stop as unaccountably as it started. People who know you’re pregnant may subsequently have to know you are no longer so. And so, until you know for sure that yours is viable, many women choose to keep their pregnancy schtum.
Of course, there may be unlikely circumstances that throw all that into the fan; at eight weeks pregnant I found myself, somewhat oddly, training to be a lifeguard in North London, meaning that although my own mother had no idea I was up the duff, a room full of 17-year-olds from Hornsey were already calling me ‘mum’ and making sure I didn’t lift anything too heavy out of the water.
The real kicker of those first three months, of course, is that you are likely to feel more revolting than ever in your life before, or again for the rest of your pregnancy. What remarkable quirk of design means that, as you gaily vomit in bins, reach corners of exhaustion that render you unable to move for minutes at a time, turn to quease at the mere mention of fish or the smell of strangers, swerve booze, refuse uncooked protein and stop smoking, you will be simultaneously reluctant to admit to almost everyone the true cause. (In another unlikely twist, while I was 10 weeks pregnant I was asked by a food editor if I would like to review a sushi restaurant’s new lunch and cocktail menu; a prospect that not only sent me hurrying to the bathroom but all-but-forced an admission that I was pregnant for fear of coming across as simply unhelpful.)
And so you lay low. During the first twelve weeks of my pregnancy I went to very few parties, turned down all dinners, went to bed early, saw only a handful of friends and went quiet on Twitter. As I retched and spilled into the toilet, mere metres from my flatmate’s bedroom, I prayed she was asleep and said nothing; when friends offered a glass of wine I feigned a hangover or early start; as I swayed softly on a full bus, temporarily overwhelmed with fatigue and hormones, I never once put on my Baby on Board badge, for fear of bumping into someone I knew. I am no master of secrecy - my life tends to hang open like the well-thumbed pages of a library book - but even I kept the contents of my uterus to myself for most of the first trimester.
But then, if you’re lucky, at some stage, comes the next hurdle: telling people. Every woman is different, her body is her own, her choices are hers entirely and her motives not to be questioned. This goes without saying and yet we could all do with hearing it each and every day. It is not my place to tell anyone how, when, where and why to announce a pregnancy. But, for what it’s worth, I can share my experience. Uploading scan photos to social media makes me uneasy; you never know who has just lost a child, who is facing despair at another unwanted period or who is having to take the brave and responsible decision to terminate a pregnancy. I didn’t want my pregnancy to bob up on their online horizon and trigger any unhappiness. It also felt, if I’m honest, like an unsavoury invasion of my own body and baby’s privacy to put a picture of an unborn foetus out into the ether to be gazed at by eyes unknown.
I also remembered how much it meant to me, as a 30-year-old single woman, creeping with the fear that I may never have a family, to be texted by a dear old friend and told, privately, that she was having a baby and wanted me to be one of the first to know, before word got round. I was pleased for her and humbled by her thoughtfulness in equal measure. And so when my turn came I tried to tell the women I knew it would mean most to early on; my mother, my sister, my close friends, my midwife cousin and my boyfriend’s mum. After so many months of wolfish secrecy it felt extremely unsettling to be bringing the news out into the cold air and bright sunshine of the real world. To have words like ‘mother’, ‘baby’, ‘birth’ and ‘parent’ spoken out loud and unguarded. The first time someone went to touch my as-yet-non-existent bump I genuinely thought she was going for my knickers. It took many months for me to feel ready to write about it, even in third person. But then here I am, I suppose, telling you.
There are many friends, acquaintances and even relatives who still don’t know I’m pregnant. The people tricked by Facebook or Twitter into thinking we have kept in touch when, in fact, they haven’t actually called, texted, emailed or asked me how I am in over a year. If they find out in a year’s time that I now have a child who can stand up, that’s entirely fine - sometimes you have to take an active interest to keep up to speed.
For now, I’m going to concentrate on the world of activity going on beneath my skin, in the hope that it will grow into life itself. Oh, and maybe I’ll have a snack, too.