Recently, I received one of those annoying pregnancy update emails. I usually don’t give them any consideration, because I believe they do nothing but incite fear over what you can and cannot do while pregnant and what parental choices you may or may not make that will ruin your child before it’s even born. But, this one’s subject line caught my attention: 6 strategies for handling rude strangers.
It has happened to almost all of us; an awkward comment or unsolicited groping. I think this subject line caught me because not too long ago, I found myself smack in the middle of one of those awkward “Did they really just say say that to me?” moments of my pregnancy. As my entire department at work stood in the hallway around a chocolate cake to celebrate someone’s birthday, a new coworker pointed at my stomach, mouth agape, and exclaimed loudly in front of everyone, “Boy, it’s a good thing you told us you were pregnant because lately I would have started wondering! Your stomach is so big!” Queue blank stares and awkward silence from the 11 other people standing around. For once in my life, I had no words. Well, that’s not true…I had some choice words that were very inappropriate for the workplace.
I was left dumbfounded, thinking Did she really just call me fat?
For the record, I was only about 14 weeks pregnant, had not gained a pound (in fact, I had lost 5 from morning sickness), and I was still wearing my pre-pregnancy pants. Also for the record, I still ate the chocolate cake.
This incident prompted me to post a little light-hearted PSA on Facebook which, to my surprise, was also met with mixed responses. I mean, do people really not know what isn’t appropriate to say to a pregnant woman and why?
But maybe it was just me. Maybe I was “too sensitive.” Maybe my coworker wasn’t necessarily calling me fat but instead just commenting that my stomach had grown. Harmlessly? Then, I thought, maybe I should ask if she was pregnant too because clearly her stomach was also huge? If we were just pointing out body characteristics for funsies, I don’t know why that wouldn’t have been a completely appropriate and acceptable response.
But, as I read through the above mentioned article on How to handle rude comments during pregnancy — which suggested things like, “Ignore the comment and stay silent,” “Just smile and nod,” or joke “If you’re going to touch me, you’ll need to buy me dinner and a movie first!” — it hit me. How a pregnant woman should handle these awful, awkward situations shouldn’t be an essential learned skill. We have enough other shit to worry about. No, how to make people not say moronic, insensitive and inappropriate things should be the real focus.
Maybe it will help to put it all on the table and clarify exactly why we pregnant ladies don’t like to be poked and fondled or told how huge we are. Maybe breaking it down to some of the most common dumbass comments and why we don’t like them will make the rest of society understand. And then maybe providing some really simple, short instructions on what to specifically do to not be an asshole when it comes to interacting with us preggers will keep these situations from coming up every again. So here we go:
1. “You’re enormous.” Just because our bodies are supposed to grow when we’re pregnant, doesn’t mean we need everyone pointing it out to us. I mean, when people get old they are supposed to get wrinkles – is it appropriate to point out every new crevice on your face? Every week, we go to our OB/GYNs to get weighed and sized up with a tape measure. We are very aware of every single pound we have gained and every inch we have grown. We are aware that if the baby weighs 6 lbs, and we have gained 60 lbs, that is the equivalent of 54lbs of fluid and fat. And some of our OB’s don’t hesitate to tell us that it’s too much and we should stop eating like we are. Most of us have been brought to tears, terrified that the pounds will never come off even after the baby comes out. Yes, we are large. Huge. Enormous. Thank you Captain Obvious, keep it to your fucking self.
2. “Are you sure it’s not twins?” See #1. Inferring it must be twins is the equivalent of pointing out that our belly sure is huge. So big, in fact, that there can’t be just one little fetus in there! In case you didn’t know, they have these things called Dopplers and Ultrasounds these days. I know, it’s this crazy concept where they actually let us hear the heartbeat and *gasp* even SEE inside our uterus. We would know if there were 2 in there. So yes, we’re sure it’s just the extra fat and yes, we certainly don’t want to have to convince you of that.
3. “There’s no way you’re 8 months along. You’re barely showing!” This one is near and dear to my heart, because I heard it throughout my whole first pregnancy. Saying this immediately triggers panic inside the mother’s already anxious brain, where suddenly they become certain that they aren’t eating enough and their baby is malnourished and probably dead. Or that their baby doesn’t have enough space and is being all cramped up in their abnormally small uterus and is probably dead. Too small = something wrong. Seriously, we have enough to worry about while we’re pregnant. If you could not add one more thing by pointing out that we are different from every other “enormous” round-bellied pregnant woman that ever existed, that would be great.
4. “It must be a girl because you have so much acne.” Really? Now not only am I fat, but I’m ugly. You don’t need to highlight that the succubus inside me is literally sucking the life from me. I have mirrors to tell me that, I don’t need you.
5. “Was it planned?” I am baffled that anyone would ever think this is appropriate. I mean, A.) why the fuck does it matter? and B.) what are you looking for as a response? “Yes, I stuck a basal body thermometer into my vagina every morning to track my temperatures and verify when I was ovulating, then my husband would insert his penis into said vagina in hopes of planting the seed.” OR, “No, I was totally hammered off 5 margaritas and ended up bringing home some random guy from the bar to hump…didn’t even catch his last name really.” And so what if it was unplanned — are you going to hand me some pamphlet about my “options”? Because that would earn you a swift kick to your baby maker in an attempt to keep you from ever procreating yourself. Idiot.
6. “Did you use fertility treatments?” Why, would my test tube baby be less of a real baby to you or something? Again, how is it anyone’s business. It is painful enough for a man and woman to try to have a baby, only to realize that their bodies are failing them. Do you know the devastation that causes? If not, you’re fucking lucky. So whether or not my body produces viable eggs, if I have a hostile uterus, and the count of my husband’s sperm are all really none of your business. The important thing is that there is a baby in there, and we fucking made it.
7. Any act of touching. We have a HUMAN BEING inside of us. I know, it’s crazy and exciting!!! And like a puppy, you just can’t keep yourself from petting it. But unlike a puppy, this fetus is hidden behind a layer of skin, fat, a uterine wall, placenta (possibly) and amniotic fluid. You can’t actually pet it yet. And this human being has taken over our body, from the inside out. It makes us have to pee every 5 minutes. It kicks us in the ribs. It gives us heartburn so bad we want to rip out our esophagus. It makes us incapable of pooping. Our body is no longer our own. We have to watch every little thing we consume/touch/smell/ingest. The ONLY thing we have left, the ONLY thing we have ownership of, is the outside. So DO NOT touch it without asking. And really, just don’t ask because that puts us in the position to have to say yes even when we really just want to scream, “Touch me and I’ll cut you.” Please, just let us have ownership over this, the one and only thing we have left.
8. “Wow! #2 already – you are crazy!” I might be crazy, but you’re an asshole. Do you think I don’t know how hard it is to have a toddler? Because I do, I have one. Do you think I don’t know how hard it is to have a newborn? Because I do, I had one. Do you think that I am too dumb to understand that deductive reasoning predicts that having both at the same time will be a bitch? Because I do. But raising two children at once isn’t reinventing the wheel. It has been done before. I mean, some people even have 2 babies at the same time! So enough with the comments from the peanut gallery. We don’t need your predictions putting us in the nut house before the second baby even gets here.
9. “Are you going to breastfeed?” Much like the questions on use of fertility meds or whether or not it was a planned pregnancy, the answer to this is nunya. Nunya business. Breastfeeding was the ONE thing I was completely unprepared for with the birth of my first child. Because it’s hard. And can be so painful. And sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we just can’t do it. Inverted nipple. Not enough milk glands. Baby can’t latch. The reasons are plentiful. Please just take comfort in knowing that I have every intention of feeding my child. Whether that’s with a boob or a bottle, that’s between me, my nipples and my baby.
10. “So, think you’ll get an epidural?” This comment isn’t so much rude as it is also none of your business and just intended to open a can of worms. Why does it matter if I want drugs? Do you just intend to try to convince me of the benefits of going med-free? And if I say I’m going natural, do you intend to tell me how nuts I am and to just go for the drugs? Either way, if I wanted your input for my birth plan I would have solicited it before making the plan. The thought of labor is terrifying enough – not only for first time moms who have no idea what they’re in for, but also for second and third and fourth (and on) timers who know what is about to go down and are scared shitless. We don’t need your two cents adding to that stress.
And yes, before you question it, the advice above applies to everyone… whether or not you are the pregnant woman’s best friend, sister, mother, coworker, or a complete stranger. While some pregglies are less offended and more lenient with these rules than others, the majority of the answers remain the same… don’t point out my flaws, don’t pry into my fertility and my life without my consent, and don’t freaking touch me. It might feel a little bit like you can’t say anything without offending us. That’s not entirely the case… just use your head and don’t say something to us that you wouldn’t say to anyone else. Just because we’re pregnant, it doesn’t mean we don’t have feelings or want a little privacy and respect.
And if you find yourself in a situation where you’re interacting with a pregnant woman and you’ve become unsure of what to do or say, here are three simple steps you can take to ensure you’re not being a jerk:
First, feel free to look at the woman just as you would anyone else. Don’t stare at her belly any more than you would any other woman’s on the street, trying to figure out if it’s a baby or a gut. Don’t ask when she’s due, unless you know for sure she’s pregnant. Because it would really suck if she’s just been drinking lots of beer, or already gave birth 6 months ago.
Second, it’s okay to form a judgmental though in your head. It’s human nature. She may look beautiful, but she may not. She may be ginormous and ugly and swollen and exhausted looking. And if she is, it’s perfectly okay to acknowledge that, in your own head, and think, “Wow, this bitch is huge.”
Third, no matter what thought you formed in Step 2, do not say it aloud. No matter what force from within compels you to shout out how fat or ugly we look or question how the baby got in there or inquire about every little TMI detail, do NOT do it. Bite your tongue. Think of something to distract yourself. Take your honest thoughts, and replace them with one of the following: “You look great!” ; “You are glowing!” ; “Pregnancy looks good on you!” ; “I am so happy for you!” Anything else is unacceptable.
I hope this information helps. Best of luck to you, dealing with us emotional, hormonal women. We know we’re asking a lot. But learning how to not be obnoxious is really the least you can do for us. We are creating a life after all, we don’t have time for your shenanigans.