Reproduction

How to Have a Private Pregnancy

Pregnant woman's belly with data stream inside
What to do when a data privacy threat is growing inside you.

You've may have heard about my pregnancy experiment: the one where I went viral for keeping my (first) pregnancy away from data detection. It was an elaborate ruse involving gift cards, cash purchases, Tor browsing, and an entirely separate digital infrastructure that I spun up just for "baby" stuff. I gave a talk at a conference about it on and it exploded all over the Internet. I wrote about it at Time.com and the LA Times, or you can read more about it at Mashable, at Forbes, Think Progress, HuffPo (or academically, here).

It was a different time. Your phone didn't listen to your conversations. Tor could still access most websites without getting shut down. And abortion rights were upheld across the United States.

How things have changed!

Our technologies are creepier than ever. New limits and inconveniences have cropped up for those of us trying to use protective technologies. And in the wake of the repeal of Roe vs Wade, now womens' reproductive data is subpoenable in a court of law. In an era of smartwatches that record your body temperature, period trackers and ovulation cycle counters, and everyday recording of all data ever, there is data to prove you were once pregnant or just considering a termination.

Women panicked and deleted their period trackers. A professor tried to follow in my footsteps and wrote about her failure and its implications for reproductive privacy. Everyone has basically accepted that it's impossible to keep a pregnancy secret in this day and age.

Everyone except me.

That's because I never stopped. I didn't just keep it secret in 2014. I gave birth and just-- kept going. As far as I can tell I have kept a digital lid on my parental status for nine years and counting, including subsequent pregnancies.

In this series of posts I am going to tell you how I did it, and how I have kept it up every single day since before I first begame pregnant mid-2013. Some of it has gotten harder, some of this is easier with new tools. None of it is "easy" or "convenient."  As with everything, your mileage may vary, and while I will do my best to explain it all, I cannot be held responsible if you follow these rules and still end up getting hauled into court. 

Now more than ever, women need to know how to keep our reproductive data safe. Regulators and tech companies need to know what is actually in the way for us, for one thing, so they can help make our lives easier. Until then, like so many issues in reproductive health, the burden is going to fall upon women. It's time to share the details.

A road map

The full details will require a series of multiple posts. I recommend you read them all to get a full sense of what's involved before you get started. Subscribe to my newsletter to be alerted when they go live.

I'll begin the series by shifting your perspective and giving you a sense of what to expect. Next, I'll focus on how to research and buy baby things without being tracked and traced. In future posts I will cover alternative self-tracking technologies, managing relationships, general obfuscation, and many other ways to thwart the infrastructures intent on detecting our reproductive status.

I will also tell the crazy stories of what lengths I go to in order to safeguard my childrens' data, and mine. Like what do when someone gets your kid a gift that gives your information away, or when your daycare automatically signs your kid up for surveillance tech, or how to go to Disneyland under the radar.

You must have this knowledge under your belt before you start, because tracking technologies are already looking for you. Your basal body temperature changes ever so slightly during ovulation and implantation: if your smartwatch or fitness tracker records that, you're already sunk. You should be ready to go with these tips in hand before you pick up your first bottle of prenatal vitamins.

It's not easy because it's not supposed to be easy. We all have to have each other's backs on this one. My hope is to share enough details to well equip you for the challenge.

While I don't know anyone who has successfully replicated my experiment (I know many who have tried and failed), I honestly believe that's because they didn't have the full story. And the story isn't over yet. Knowing is half the battle. From there, we can and must work together to change this state of affairs, for all women.

While you're reading, dream about the kinds of technologies we need to avoid this problem. It would be amazing if these posts inspired those of us who do build tech (and there are many of us) to come together to make the tools we truly need. Or even if those of us in need had the support (including tech support) necessary to get us through this stage.

If I can do it, you can too.