What to Expect when you're Privately Expecting

An orange
By the time your b*by is the size of an orange, the entire Internet will know.

Hold onto your hats, because parenthood's many "inconveniences" start now.

So you want to have a private pregnancy? Maybe you are tired of the marketing machine invading every part of your life. Maybe you live somewhere where you do not have the right to make decisions about your own body. Maybe it's morbid curiosity. Whatever your reason, please know it is possible. But you will definitely have to change a few things.

Be prepared for an expensive and wild ride in which you are not entirely in control. You will fight for ownership over your body and your rights, while systems all around you work actively (and passively) to figure out if you are reproducing or not.

Loss of control, massive expense in time and money, invasive and challenging-- sounds like Parenting 101. But where actually having children can be rewarding, you'll have to look for the rewards in the little wins, and meet each new challenge with all the patience, skill, support, and energy you can muster.

Along the way, expect the following.

It's expensive.

You will turn down every discount at the till. You will not swipe a loyalty card or a credit card for points. From prenatal vitamins to unscented body lotion, diapers to talcum powder, company databases are trawled continuously to look for the identifiable patterns. Companies offer you discounts if you buy particular products in a traceable way: especially particular products associated with pregnancy. It doesn't stop once your kids are born, either. I once turned down an $8 discount on a bottle of kids' sunscreen--and it still hurts. Console yourself, as I did, with the knowledge that you are worth more than $8. Then spare a thought for your sisters who actually cannot afford to give that "discount" up and have no choice but to trade away their information in exchange.

It's time consuming.

No Target run will be a time-saver again, I guarantee it. You'll pull out wads of cash from various ATMs, even do two transactions at the till if you run short. You'll spend extra time loading private browsers and tabs, copying and pasting links manually so that your map app doesn't know you're plotting for a route to Buy Buy Baby.  You'll turn your phone and its tracking systems off so you aren't traced in particular stores. You might even invest in a phone that doesn't run an operating system that listens to your voice. Soon you will stop asking yourself, What's the most convenient way to get this done?--unless you are looking for the road to avoid at all costs. Because the most convenient way is now the most traceable way, I guarantee it.

It's invasive.

Everything is looking out for you--but not in the way you expect. You are by now in a fairly intimate relationship with several apps and services, many of which you use to talk to your most intimate friends and partners. But you probably never thought about what those systems think about you.  And they notice everything. It goes far, far beyond your search traces. Have you relied on a smartwatch to track your steps and body temperature? It already notices when you ovulate and it will know if or when a fertilized egg implants. Do you use Google's gChat or Facebook messager to talk to your friends and loved ones? Systems like these are listening in, and they never forget what you said.  You will find yourself trading these fickle friends out for trusted tools that enhance your privacy, but it will come at a cost (see above on time and money).

It challenges your relationships.

I still feel so, so badly for my mother. She is the queen of Facebook and I'll bet it kills her that she cannot post pictures of her completely adorable grandkids and get all the likes in the world.  It breaks my heart too. I know how important sharing pictures and news and updates is for managing all of our most intimate relationships. I'm lucky that my family and friends understand that I'm high maintenance about this, that some of them think it's kind of interesting and even cool. But the bottom line is that this evasion stuff is challenging to your everyday relationships, the very relationships you would otherwise rely on during a challenging time like pregnancy. Because those relationships have moved online, onto data-sucking and information-detection systems, and you cannot afford to have anyone (or anything) listening in.

It's an unequal burden.

Every woman knows that they shoulder the majority of the burden for birth control. Sure, there are condoms, and every man loves using them all the time. But whether it's birth control pills or IUD's or other barrier methods, the majority of the family planning choices fall on women. Lest this become another one, I recommend you do not do this alone. It will help if your partner, or your best friend, or your mom, or whomever is on side with you, is on your side to shoulder a load from the beginning. If you don't want your purchases associated with your identity, your partner or your friend can run out and buy those diapers or look something up on their phone, or whatever you need.  My husband is still a big part of this experiment, and I would have an even harder time doing it without him to buy the occasional birthday gift, or spin up an email alias from home while I'm out at a store, or sign some form with a pseudonym. Don't try to do it all yourself

You can't control everything, or everyone.

It is the greatest lesson of having children, that you aren't in control. You are not in control of how others treat your data.  Your pregnancy will rely on getting as many people on-side as you possibly can, letting them know you are not putting this on the Internet or on social media. Still, there will be people who misunderstand, or who don't think twice about sending you a gift shipped to your real name and address. Of course, if your life and your freedom depends on it, you must do everything you can to control all the things and all the people.  But this is an impossible task. Do what you can, be prepared to accept breaches that you cannot control, and keep your allies and friends close. My husband, my friends, and my family all pitched in to be sure people knew that they needed to interact with me and my children differently than everyone else. Child-rearing truly is a team sport. With a team helping to keep you safe and protected, your chances of success will improve.

You can do it.

Yes, it's annoying and frustrating. But it is possible. And if you can't do it yourself, that's not because you aren't strong enough. It's because an entire ecosystem has been built up around invading our bodies in order to sell us things. And it would be more possible, and easier, with different tools, built to keep us, our data, and our bodies safe. So even though I will share all my tips and tools to give you the best possible chance to follow along, I hope we can also imagine what we can build differently. We must keep our bodily autonomy safe from automated detection and marketing, and support others in this journey.