Week 12: Accept "probably safe"

Can Tawaret, hippo goddess of pregnancy, protect you from bad advice? |  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Can Tawaret, hippo goddess of pregnancy, protect you from bad advice? | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

If you’re reading other pregnancy calendars, you’ll notice that right about now they’re all encouraging you to manage your expectations about pregnancy. The Bump's weight gain guidelines are a harsh dose of truth that “eating for two” doesn’t mean license to eat all the ice cream. Pregnant Chicken says "Your kid has fingerprints now so it better give up on that bank heist it was planning."

This week you should also come to accept another uncomfortable truth: your fetus is probably safe.

You may not think that about your fetus, which is why you've held off announcing the pregnancy until this week or maybe even next week. But our cultural approach to announcing pregnancy, Emily Oster notes in Expecting Better, is more "social norm" than evidence of actual miscarriage rates. There's no miscarriage rate "cliff" at 12-13 weeks. That cliff's at more like 5 weeks, when the miscarriage rate could be as high as fifty percent. If you have a normal exam at 6 weeks, the risk of miscarriage is about 11 percent. A normal exam at 8 weeks? 6 percent. 11 weeks? 2 percent. In all cases, then, the risk of miscarriage is not nothing, but relatively low. 

“Probably safe” isn't just the answer to how your fetus is doing after Week 6. It's the answer to many of the questions we ask about sleep training methods, baby gear, first foods, that weird rash, playground equipment, and vaccination. It’s the starting position for nearly all babies born in the U.S. Even though our birth mortality rate is lower than other countries, most babies are still just fine, with very little intervention on our part.

Even though it's true, knowing that our fetuses and eventually children are “probably safe” is unsatisfying, not entirely unlike the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s entry for Earth being “mostly harmless.” With all of the scary stories circulating, it's hard not to believe that our children are in constant peril. To get comfortable with parenting, we’re going to need to get comfortable with probably safe.

If you tend to view the world as more half-full of hidden dangers, fill your coffee table with books designed to curb parenting panic. Oster's Expecting Better is a great start (and look for her new book, Cribsheet, coming in 2019). After you finish Oster, move on to Lenore Skenazy's Free-Range Kids and Kim Brooks' Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear.

Getting comfortable with being probably safe also means getting more comfortable talking about those rare times when things are not safe, when parents or parents-to-be who win the world's worst lottery. If you’re reading this week of the calendar, your pregnancy may be rolling along, but someone you know may be heartbroken over pregnancy loss. Here’s some advice about what to say, as well as cards that acknowledge loss without minimizing it.