Reality Star Describes The Pain Of Keeping Her Baby A Secret

Photo: Jaimie Trueblood/Bravo.
Nadine Jolie Courtney is the author of an popular eponymous beauty and lifestyle blog that bears the phrase "professional oversharer" in the tagline. Like many people today whose income comes from documenting their lives online, her readers have come to expect a level of openness and candor. Earlier this week, however, Courtney surprised everyone with a post titled "No More Secrets," in which she revealed that she'd hidden not just her entire first pregnancy, but also the fact that her daughter is now 6 months old. 

Right now, you're probably wondering why Courtney was "forced" to keep her pregnancy a secret. That was my first question when a friend shared Courtney's interview with a blog called The Sparkly Life on Facebook yesterday, which was my entrée into this whole situation. The article had the very click-bait-y title of "Why I Kept My Baby A Secret Until She Was Six Months Old," so of course a million explanations floated through my mind before clicking. Was this person in the witness protection program? Did her baby have a rare disease that meant she might not live that long, but she was receiving experimental treatment that — if successful — could be the medical marvel of the 21st century? 

None of my imaginative guesses proved correct. Nadine Jolie Courtney had hidden her pregnancy because of a reality show. She and her husband, Erik, were cast members on Bravo's Newlyweds: The First Year. This meant that a blogger who admits, "I hate secrets. I’m not good at keeping them, and I don’t want to have them," was contractually obligated to hide her pregnancy until it fit into the narrative arc of a reality show.

Of course, many viewers have already become wise to the fact that what we see on reality shows isn't always the truth. Mariah Smith, who runs the Tumblr Keeping Up With the Kontinuity Errors, painstakingly documents the difference between what viewers see on Keeping Up With the Kardashians and the version of the family's "real" lives Smith pieces together using interviews they've done outside of the show and what they post on social media. 

In a recent interview with Business Insider, Smith said she doesn't feel the Kardashians are duping viewers. "They have the confidence to say, 'We're gonna give you this reality show, but get this: it's not gonna be real.' It just blows my mind." For Smith and many other viewers who also follow Kim, Kourtney, Kris, Khloé, Kylie, and Kendall on social media, the truth is readily available. 

The trouble is that the narratives of people whose livelihoods depend on the public persona they portray on social media are increasingly being faked because of the heightened stakes they're forced to adhere to if they want to remain engaging and part of the cultural conversation. The question is, do we mind?

Smith told Business Insider she wouldn't care one bit if the Kardashians decided to be up front about their so-called reality show. "They could come out tomorrow and hold a press conference and say this show was created by Shonda Rhimes and is a dramedy...I would say, 'Okay, sign me up for however many more episodes you have left."

The Kardashians' TV and social-media-constructed personas — and the fact that viewers are complicit in their deception — are clearly starting to filter down. Nadine Jolie Courtney hid her pregnancy on social media, a place where she normally shares every aspect of her life, because she was constructing another reality on a television show. In her mind, she may have viewed it as simply delaying the truth, but she felt guilty about duping her readers. Having to lie and hide her pregnancy from social media, which has increasingly become a public space for documenting such a major life event, actually took an emotional toll.
Photo: Via @nadinejoliecourtney.
"I like to be an open book with you, my readers, too. And that’s why the past year and a half has been absolute torture for me...Keeping a secret of that magnitude was depressing beyond words," Courtney wrote. "Not being allowed to share, to communicate, to connect: it’s a one-way-ticket to sadville. If I can’t communicate, a part of me dies. Having to keep all those secrets exactly at the moment that I needed to share: it was tough. It was so tough."

Why did she do it then? It seems like Courtney was coming from a well-meaning place. She had signed an agreement with a reality show, and she was fully prepared to share the details of her pregnancy and new baby with fans and readers once her contract allowed it. Courtney also revealed that having to keep her pregnancy a secret had turned it into a more personal, mindful experience, so maybe there's a lesson here about finding balance between our online public personas and what's actually happening in our lives. "It was quietly lovely," she wrote.

Still, there's that lingering issue of a public figure building up a level of trust with her followers only to reveal that she'd been deceiving them. It seems to be happening a lot more frequently. Last month, it was revealed that Belle Gibson, a popular health blogger in Australia, may have lied about having terminal brain cancer and treating it without conventional medicine in order to further her brand. 

The public version of ourselves we share on social media may also hide important — and possibly harmful — issues going on in our private lives. ESPN recently published "Split Image," a story about college athlete Madison Holleran, who committed suicide last January. "On Instagram, [her] life looked ideal: Star athlete, bright student, beloved friend. But the photos hid the reality of someone struggling to go on," author Kate Fagan wrote

Nadine Jolie Courtney's concealing of her pregnancy may have been well-intentioned, but it's troubling when tied into the larger narrative of social media deception and its impact on the subject's emotional state as well as followers' trust. "I was afraid that my readers wouldn’t understand, and I was also worried—justifiably so—about losing readership because I wasn’t posting as much," Courtney confessed in her interview with The Sparkly Life. "[I]t was a really stressful, frustrating time."

She also lamented the fact that she couldn't use her pregnancy to shed light on "the pressures that are put on women to be perfect. You’re supposed to have this perfect pregnancy, this perfect delivery, and then be the perfect mother. It frustrated me and pissed me off, and I wanted to write about it — to share my own (very imperfect!) experiences and fears...But, of course, I couldn’t."

We've all readily bought into reality shows where subjects' lives are manipulated for more engaging story arcs and heightened drama, but clearly it's time to stop.
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