Pregnancy apps are full of random information. Since downloading two, I have become unnecessarily aware of many of my fetus’s developmental milestones. One day, he was the “size of a venti iced coffee” and another, his fist “the size of an M&M.” He has also moonlighted as a mango, box of crayons, and slow loris, which are exactly the sorts of things you want to imagine inside your uterus.
Not even out of the womb, my fetus has managed to change his look more times than an Instagram influencer at her own wedding. It’s impressive, really. Besides, like, getting bangs, I haven’t truly transformed — one day you’re an iced coffee and the next you’re a bag of M&Ms — since high school.
But along with the magic of pregnancy and its modern day accompanying factoids comes serious anxiety. If you were hoping to have a nice relaxed pregnancy in the year 2019, you can forget about it — unless reading about “common pregnancy side effects” like hemorrhoids fills you with a sense of calm. Maybe it’s the hormones, but our addiction to information only increases while we gestate. And these days, one can scarcely get a paper cut without ending up on WebMD learning that, in a complication or two, we’ll die. During pregnancy, even when nothing is actually wrong, our phones make it infinitely possible to learn about all the potential ways our bodies could deteriorate in some horrific way at any given moment. We could all get hit by a bus tomorrow, but pregnant women tend to consider these kinds of possibilities more than the average person.
As soon as I knew I was pregnant, I downloaded The Bump app. Who would want to go through their pregnancy not knowing which week their baby was the size of a pomegranate? Not me, that’s for sure. Downloading a pregnancy app has become as routine as going to the doctor. Only you can check it 12 times a day and learn about things you might not otherwise — like premature rupture of membranes, which goes by the acronym PROM (cute!).
At first, the app provides nice ways to refer to your fetus before you can know the gender. When you first get pregnant, he’s a poppy seed, then progresses to berries, and, excitingly, citrus fruits.
My husband and I enjoyed going through the upcoming weeks of produce together — until we got to endive.
“What’s an endive?” he asked.
“It’s a bitter green that’s like lettuce but cuter,” I explained. The next time we were in Whole Foods together, I pointed it out to him.
“Oh,” he said. “I never would have known what that was.” We didn’t buy any, though. It’s become inextricably linked to our future child as opposed to a refreshing, slightly bitter salad green.
Then, a friend of mine told me about Ovia, which — per the app user's preference — compares fetal size to fruits and vegetables, animals, playful objects (think: "box of Crayons!"), or Parisian bakery items. I downloaded the app thinking that, if bae struggled with less common produce, he wouldn’t have trouble understanding baguettes and croissants.
Yet it was these very baked goods that led to a deep-seated hatred for every possible comparison. One week, the baby was the size of crème brûlée, which only invites more questions: is the crème brûlée in a large ramekin or a small one? Designed to be shared or just for one?
Then, there was a palmier cookie, which my husband had never even heard of. And one week, crepe suzette. I informed him of this milestone via text one morning.
“This French pastry stuff is bull crap,” he replied.
I sent him a screenshot of Ovia’s illustration of the crepe in case he was having trouble visualizing it. “For the finishing touch on a citrusy crepe suzette, many ignite liqueur poured over a freshly-cooked crepe,” the description read.
He replied, “Are they suggesting we flambé the baby?”
When I got pregnant, I thought it would be just like movies and TV shows, where every doctor’s visit includes an ultrasound and the photo booth-like string of photos they let you take home. In reality, you only have a few scans, and only some of those allow your ultrasound tech to predict fetal weight. This is another reason the apps are so tempting to check all the time.
Plus, at our 20-week scan, the ultrasound tech remarked that our baby looked “big."
“He’s about a week ahead of schedule, weight-wise,” she said.
I had read in one of my apps that he would be about a certain weight, and when she told me he was much over that amount, I got worried.
“Is that bad?” I asked, now envisioning having to push out a small whale instead of a slow loris.
“A week plus or minus the average is normal,” she said. “Better too big than too small.”
At the next scan four weeks later, another ultrasound tech remarked, unprompted, “That’s a big baby.”
When I saw my OBGYN I asked her if I should be worried about the alleged giant I was growing (I say “alleged” because final fetal size is difficult to predict, and estimates are often wrong). She pulled up a group of charts on her computer showing where our baby’s measurements fell on various bell curves for head size, femur size, and so on. Anywhere on the curve was normal, she said.
While this was reassuring, I’m not communicating with my doctor or her team every day. I’m getting information in a vacuum from the internet, where you’re never five clicks away from deciding you have cancer. How could my apps get things so wrong?
I called Josephine Johnston, research director at the Hastings Center and an expert in the ethical implications of reproductive technologies, who argued that, for these app makers, choosing the objects to compare fetuses to was a difficult task in itself. “You want to be sensitive to the fact that someone could lose a pregnancy, and I imagine they’re trying to avoid comparisons that denote personhood,” she said. Also, she added, “I can’t imagine them saying the fetus is about the same size as a shoe. Because then people might think it’s offensive because shoes are ... dirty.”
I told her about my last two scans: “He was much bigger than where he should be.”
“That’s an interesting phrase ‘where he should be,’” she said. “There will be bigger and smaller of the same age, so it’s not like you should be in the middle. Most people are in the middle but some people are going to be above and below.”
Johnston suggested pregnant women not seek out too much information, which is only likely to exacerbate an already stressful time. She pointed out that physicians don’t like expectant parents to use foetal heart monitors at home, for instance, because they’re not trained in understanding what is and isn’t normal.
This was welcome news, because she saved me $20 on another tempting app that lets you listen to your baby’s heartbeat in your third trimester.
“It’s funny, because it’s safer to be pregnant today than it ever was in all of history,” Johnston pointed out. “You’ve got way more control of your pregnancy than your mother did, or her mother or her mother — way more information and way more control. So try to relax.”
I still have both apps on my phone, but now they're more for entertainment rather than to seriously assess the size of my foetus.
Meanwhile, my husband has become so dismissive of the information in these apps that he's convinced they're also lying about the food. He thinks brie en brioche ("an entire wheel of soft cheese, wrapped in dough!"), croquembouche ("pastry balls… piled into a cone and held together with… caramel!"), and even boule de pain ("a rustic loaf") are all "made-up."
I just hope someone decides to make a postpartum food/child comparison app. When our child is 16, I still want to be able to check my phone and text my husband that he's the size of 36 baguettes.