The Fine Art Of Hard-Launching A Baby

Why some new moms are choosing to keep their pregnancies offline.

by Rebecca Fishbein
Originally Published: 

When Elise, 35, got pregnant, neither she nor her husband announced it on social media. In fact, she didn’t get around to telling her followers she had a new baby until Mother’s Day, several months after her daughter’s birth, when she posted an Instagram carousel showcasing her new family. Most of Elise’s close family and friends already knew about the baby — she’d sent out a card announcement to her family and friends shortly after her daughter’s birth. But the reveal was a surprise to at least a few people in her social media network.

“There was one post from an old colleague of mine who I hadn’t seen in a while who, in all-caps, said, ‘WHO IS THIS PEANUT?’ all shocked that this had happened,” Elise said.

In the past decade or so, it’s become de rigueur for parents to announce the impending arrival of their new bundles of joy on social media — usually Instagram — with sonograms, baby bumps, or “Coming soon!” onesies. Elise, on the other hand, opted for the hard launch. In marketing terms, the hard launch describes the sudden release of a fully-baked product to the public, as opposed to teasing the item for months with a soft launch. In social media terms, it’s skipping the hints and going right for the in-your-face life update: A couple-y shot with a new boyfriend with no preceding pics of a male hand resting on a restaurant table. A photo of a marathon finish line without documenting any of the training (this has never been done, but you can imagine).

Recently, a handful of celebs have opted for the baby hard launch: The singer Robyn casually posted to Instagram a pic of the son no one even knew she had; Naomi Campbell surprised fans by announcing the arrival of her second child with nary a warning sign; and in November, Paris Hilton revealed on Instagram she had a second baby born via surrogate. “My parents did not know when it was happening; they just knew it was going to happen,” Hilton said on her show Paris In Love. “So it was the best Thanksgiving surprise ever for everybody.” It seems even Paris Hilton has grown tired of millennial oversharing.

Paris Hilton reveals her new baby girl on Instagram. @parishilton

Though as an article in The Washington Post recently pointed out, it’s not that people aren’t posting about their growing families at all; it’s that timing is changing, with the pregnancy announcement skipped in favor of a birth announcement. And it is, of course, understandable why someone would want to keep a pregnancy private. For one, not everyone wants to share such personal news outside of their immediate family and close friendships. Plus, the pandemic changed the nature of relationships, with group chats and FaceTime calls replacing parties and other large gatherings, tightening everyone’s social circles and making personal interactions feel all the more significant. Besides, it was easier to hide a baby bump during those months of quarantine. (On Zoom, no one knows you’re pregnant.)

Elise was pregnant during the earliest months of the pandemic, and spent more time talking to her friends on the phone than posting on social media. She discussed her pregnancy with those close acquaintances, but didn’t feel compelled to broadcast it to everyone else.

“The people who knew, knew — I was sending them private photos and stuff. I didn’t need to share it with my whole social network,” she said.

But even as we've re-entered the real world, the tendency to reveal less of ourselves — including something as big as a pregnancy — on social media has continued. You could count this as yet another trend the pandemic may or may not have started but definitely helped accelerate.

Romance author Alisha Rai kept her recent pregnancy from her sizable following on TikTok and Instagram. In September, she hard-launched her newborn with a montage of pregnancy footage ending with a baby clip, captioning it “Writing the next chapter ❤️” with the hashtag #hardlaunch.

Romance author Alisha Rai hard-launches her new baby on Instagram.@alisharaiwrites

“Culturally, I was raised with this idea of evil eye, where you don't want to share certain things with the world at large, lest someone wish ill on you,” Rai said in an email, adding that she has PCOS and wasn’t sure if she’d ever be able to have a baby. “Superstition or not, I simply felt like this was one part of my life where I'd prefer not to tempt fate. Also, I really liked the idea of having something just for us.”

“The people who knew, knew — I was sending them private photos and stuff. I didn’t need to share it with my whole social network.”

Rai was able to hide her pregnancy by cropping pics and strategically positioning herself behind large objects like plants, like a ’90s sitcom actor. (In one photo, she hides her bump with a Writers Guild of America picket sign.) When she made her big reveal, her followers flipped out — in a good way. “They were really surprised and also thrilled for me, which is what I expected,” she said.

Romance author Alisha Rai strategically positions herself behind a picketing sign. @alisharaiwrites

Her partner was equally supportive of her choice to keep her pregnancy on the DL, though they both shared the news with people in person. “We did do fun pregnancy announcements for our immediate family members and close family and friends,” she said. “It would have been difficult to just show up with a baby to Thanksgiving.”

Superstition is a fairly common reason to keep a pregnancy under wraps. Erela, a 35-year-old biotech consultant living in London, suffered a miscarriage about six weeks into her first pregnancy. When she got pregnant again six months later, she and her husband decided to keep the happy news close to the vest for a bit. Their son was born this past February, and it took Erela nearly six months to announce his birth online, via an Instagram post of the three of them at the beach. At that point, only a few dozen of Erela’s 300 or so Instagram followers knew she’d had a kid, and people were pretty shocked.

“There was a lot of surprise, obviously, and a lot of, ‘Oh my God, why didn't you tell us?’ moments, as well,” she said. “Honestly, I didn't know how to respond to that. because I'm like, ‘Well, we don't really speak on a day-to-day basis.’ What am I going to do? Pick up the phone to be like, ‘Hey, by the way, I'm pregnant’?”

“It's a little bit difficult, especially with individuals where our pasts were very close, for example, at university or at master's degree, but then their life went in a different direction,” she added. “I think if social media didn't exist, none of those people would actually know that I had a baby.”

Posting on social media, in general, has declined among adults; according to a recent Morning Consult survey, 61% of adults with a social media account report being more selective about what they post, and 28% said they post less overall than they did last year. There are a lot of reasons for this: Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter (now called X), the proliferation of new social media networks that decentralized the old public square, and a posting fatigue that sets in when everyone around you thinks they’re an influencer, to name a few.

“I'm like, ‘Well, we don't really speak on a day-to-day basis.’ What am I going to do? Pick up the phone to be like, ‘Hey, by the way, I'm pregnant’?”

“I don't feel like people are keeping their pregnancies quiet because it's a cool, blasé thing to do, but I do think people are sharing less on social media,” Kelly Weill, a journalist who runs the parenting-focused Substack MomLeft, said. “People are communicating more in close circles.”

Singer Robyn posts a picture of the baby boy her fans didn’t know she had.@robynkonichiwa

Weill, 29, hard-launched both of her sons, the first in January 2020 and the second in spring 2022. “The first pregnancy I had kept quiet for personal reasons and safety reasons, and the second, I think I kept quiet just because it was funny,” she said. “It’s a running bit now that I will go into hibernation and emerge with a baby.”

Some hard-launchers, though, have mixed feelings about missing out on social media support while the baby’s in utero. Molly, a 36-year-old social media strategist from Tacoma, Maryland, kept her first pregnancy offline over a combination of religious superstition, physical challenges (“I felt sick all the time, and it just didn’t seem like something joyous to share,” she said), and a general desire to keep things away from public discussion. She found that pregnancy tended to encourage people to interact with her in a way that made her uncomfortable, and she wasn’t interested in opening up such a private experience to the masses.

“Pregnancy invites people to touch your body or comment on your body, people get very involved in your life when you’re pregnant,” she said. “To me, it felt so personal, like this is happening to me and to my body. I didn’t want to invite all of the comments.”

When her daughter was born in November 2020, Molly featured the newborn in a “Welcome to the world!” Instagram post right after she got out of the hospital. Her followers were surprised. “I definitely got, ‘I didn't know you were pregnant!’” she said.

Overall, the reaction to her post was positive, and it was fun to surprise people, she said. But she thinks there might have been some benefit in sharing more about her pregnancy online.

“My first pregnancy in particular was during Covid and very lonely,” she said. “I think sometimes I did want to post about it in order to get external support.”

But for some people, the idea of posting a pregnancy on social media feels potentially harmful. Kate, 38, is currently pregnant, but has neither posted about it nor plans to post once she gives birth. She and her husband went through six cycles of IVF and three miscarriages before this pregnancy stuck, and found it incredibly difficult to witness other people’s pregnancy announcements while struggling with her own fertility.

She ended up unfollowing everyone on Instagram who was pregnant or who she thought might become pregnant, a move she admits might have been extreme — “I gave myself a little latitude to be a little nuts about it,” she said — but ultimately necessary to protect her mental health.

“There were a few posts that would make me cry. They tended to be people in that weird middle-distance of social media contact, a person I knew because we used to hang out in our mid-20s but we’re not close now,” she said.

Kate echoed others interviewed for this piece, who noted that parents in their 30s who’ve maintained Instagram and Facebook accounts for years may find that their social media following no longer reflects their inner circle. Mutuals might include high school and college friends, former co-workers, and drinking buddies, but those relationships have moved on, even if the nature of social media freezes those past lives in amber. It can feel strange to alert those people about big news like pregnancy, or a new romantic relationship, or a career move, or even a vacation, when your only contact with them is casual lurking (and vice versa).

But beyond that, Kate, who says her current pregnancy is a “total miracle,” is conscious of how posting about it might be received by others struggling to get pregnant — perhaps especially those “middle distance” people, who don’t know the whole story.

“It's not that I think my friends who post are being mean or selfish, that's literally what Instagram was made for,” she said. “But I don't personally want to be the cause of someone else getting reminded of something that makes them really sad.”

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