Everyone was laughing—the doctor, the nurses, even my husband—and as I caught my breath and waited to see the baby I had just pushed out of my body, I wondered what was so funny. I just gave birth, people! Show a little respect! Then I saw him, all 11 pounds 2 ounces and 23.5 inches of him, and I laughed, too.
While this was not my first time delivering a baby, it was my first time delivering a small toddler. My joy over his surprisingly fast and easy arrival was great; my sense of sheer relief was even greater. I felt relief that this roly-poly ball of perfection was safe and sound, relief that I was no longer pregnant—hallelujah!—and then there was the relief that all those ridiculous comments I endured during this baby’s pregnancy would finally, finally come to an end.
Yes, those comments: the ones that cause hormonally volatile expectant mothers to turn red with humiliation, anger, and sometimes, plain shock that someone in the checkout line had the audacity to ask just how much weight they’ve gained.
Too big or too small, eating too much or too little, exercising too hard or not enough—opinions about every facet of a woman’s health, weight, and diet somehow become acceptable to share with that woman when she is pregnant. As recent headlines about model Chrissy Teigen’s furious responses to outrageous online commenters reveal, even celebrities undergo scrutiny as their bodies grow and stretch to accommodate the little person growing inside.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my pregnancies, it’s that no gestating lady is safe from these insensitive, crazy, and downright absurd remarks.
The last four months of my most recent pregnancy were like running a comment gauntlet on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. Every single person I encountered at the store, school, the gym, and even the waiting room of my OB-GYN office had something to say about my baby and me. Hey, lady at the gym, the one who let me know she only gained fourteen pounds with each of her pregnancies, is your comment really helping me? I’m at the gym! I’m trying, really I am! And surely the man who actually survived the pregnancies of his own wife must know better than to tell me I look “so huge” in my 38th week. If it weren’t for the good manners my mom instilled in me—and my husband holding me back—I might have sat on that man and squashed him flat.
In retrospect, I realize that people really don’t intend to be offensive or unkind; they just fail to realize that talking to a pregnant woman is like walking through a huge hormone-laced minefield. One must tread carefully because one wrong word can set off an emotional explosion.
01. Never, ever, ever ask a woman if she is pregnant.
Let me repeat: Never, ever, ever ask a woman if she is pregnant. Unless a human child is actually emerging from the woman’s body—and even then you’re taking a risk—do not ask someone if she is pregnant, no matter how obvious it might seem to you. For one thing, the mom-to-be may be early and feel self-conscious that she is showing so fast. Or she may even be postpartum, and, as Kate Middleton so bravely revealed, the belly is taking a while to shrink. Finally, the woman may not be pregnant or postpartum at all, so it’s best to be patient and let your friend/wife/stranger share the news in their own good time.
02. Do not guess the due date.
Once it is established that the woman is in fact pregnant, you may ask her when she is due. This is a prudent question to ask because it makes no assumptions about where she might be in her pregnancy.
Rookies make the mistake of either guessing how far along a woman is or asking the dreaded, “Any day now?” question. I promise you, this will send that woman into a tailspin. First of all, if your guess is off, she might worry that she is too small or too big, and she will cry. If you assume she is due any day, but she has months or weeks until she is due, your question will make her feel big and remind her that this pregnancy is lasting an eternity, and she will cry.
When I was pregnant with my eleven-pound son, I started fielding questions such as, “You’re still pregnant?” and, “When is this baby going to hurry up and come already?”—at thirty weeks. I got so self-conscious that I started lying about my due date to avoid the shocked (and sometimes disappointed) looks on strangers’ faces when I answered that I still had several months to go. I’m not proud of this tactic, but I’ll go ahead and blame the hormones. If you’re trying to make friendly conversation with a pregnant lady, better to play it safe and just ask when she’s due.
03. Do not give advice.
Resist the temptation to offer advice or share your battle scars from your own all-natural 36-hour labor. The best way to go is simply to ask the mom how she is feeling. Keeping the conversation focused on the new mom might allow her to open up and ask for the advice she actually wants to hear from you. Some days, people would tell me to “savor every moment of the pregnancy,” when all I really wanted to do was savor a piece of toast without having to pop sixteen Tums in my mouth. One particularly foreboding person nodded toward my bourgeoning belly and said, “If you think this is hard, just wait until he’s born.” Thanks, Mr. Glass-Half-Empty!
After all this “advice,” I really appreciated the kind soul who just asked how I was feeling. Sometimes a woman, despite her excitement for the joyous arrival, just needs an opportunity to vent a little or ask questions rather than receive advice.
04. No comments on her appearance (other than ‘You look great!’)
The only thing you should ever say to a pregnant woman about her appearance is, “You look great!” That’s it. Any other comment regarding her appearance places you in that most treacherous emotional minefield.
My husband learned during our first child’s pregnancy that there is only one right answer to the questions: “Do I look pregnant?” or “Am I showing yet?” Oftentimes, well-meaning individuals will feel the need to comment on the size of a mom-to-be’s belly and say, “You’re getting so big!” or “You’re so small!” But a pregnant woman worries about any comments regarding the size of her belly. Some women wish their stomachs were bigger, and some wish they were smaller.
With one of my daughters, I was measuring small, and people would tell me I was tiny. Those comments made me worry that something was wrong. Fast-forward to my ginormous son’s pregnancy; I endured nonstop comments about how the sonogram must be wrong, and I must be having twins. Every blessed day! My incredibly kind and smart husband, who often dealt with the emotional aftermath of people’s insensitive comments, always advised that when dealing with a pregnant woman, the only answer or comment worth saying is a simple, “You look great.” And he is not wrong.
Now that my son is 6 months old, I can laugh at all the unsolicited comments, questions, and advice I heard during his pregnancy, but at the time my sense of humor was buried under a pile of healthy pregnancy hormones and their resulting anxiety. And I’ll be the first to admit that ladies carrying babies might be a little, shall we say, oversensitive at times, but as Benedick from one of my favorite Shakespearean comedies, Much Ado About Nothing, reminds us, “The world must be peopled!” So, our community needs to support women as they undertake this all-consuming and incredibly important task of bringing new life into the world. Speaking with a little more care and tact is one great way to help out an expecting mom—and also not get sat on.
Photo Credit: Christie Graham Photography