I think it’s safe to say that as a culture, we Americans have no idea what to say to pregnant women.
That doesn’t mean we don’t try.
I’ve been pregnant twice while working with the public. So I’ve heard pretty much all of these in person from strangers.
Things you don’t say to a pregnant woman:
“Are you trying for a girl?” If she already has boys.
“Are you trying for a boy?” If she already has girls. Declare one gender as “better” or “easier” in very broad terms.
“You know how that happens, right?” If she has two kids or more.
“How far along are you? Ohhhh…..” Opinion of her size, shape of belly, and weight gain.
“When are you due?” Opinion of the season she’s pregnant. Then name everyone else you know with a birthday even remotely close to her due date.
“I’m so sorry.” Like being pregnant is absolute torture you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy.
“Are you sure you should be doing that? In your…condition?” Not understanding that her pregnancy isn’t a handicap. Treating her like she’s a delicate, breakable object.
“Enjoy the sleep while you can!” Make her feel guilty about not enjoying what sleep she can get between the discomfort, the insomnia, and the five trips to go pee.
“I think whoever did that to you should support you!” I really received this one at work once. I guess I didn’t look happily married enough.
Unsolicited advice about everything baby related. She’ll figure it out just fine. Trust me.
“Is it your first?” Because if it is, she needs even more unsolicited advice.
“How old are your others?” Opinion of whether or not you approve of child spacing…seriously. Like child spacing is a real thing. This comes from people who have never dealt with miscarriage, surprise babies, or infertility. To those to of us who have, child spacing is a joke.
“What’s the name?” Opinion of name / first thing to pop in their head when they hear the name, including lame pop-culture references. No wonder so many people choose to keep the name a secret!
“How many others do you have?” Comment about size of her family. Like there’s a “right” size for her family to be. This question can also be difficult for anyone who’s suffered the loss of a child.
“You’re too young to have a baby!” Comment regarding her age and marital status. Opinion that her life is now over and she’ll never have any fun ever again.
“Was this planned?” Like that’s not overstepping personal boundaries. And even if the child was a surprise, whose business is that?
Birth horror stories. Because most first-time mothers are already anxious about the birthing process. There’s no need to feed her inner uncertainty with fear. I’ve learned from my own kids that birth has the potential to be an amazing, life-changing experience. Absolutely nothing like you see in films.
Opinion of her birth plan. Maybe she’s scheduled a c-section, or maybe she’s excited to birth in the woods somewhere. You don’t know the details, medical reasons, and research that led her to that decision. I personally had an amazing hospital birth and an even more amazing home birth. Was a stranger’s opinion going to change my plans either time? Nope.
Other very, very personal questions…. This should go without saying. Don’t ask how much she weighs, what she eats, or about her sex life. Just. Don’t.
Seriously, what’s up with our culture focusing so much on how pregnant women look anyway? I think pregnant women are beautiful, but I know how hard it is to feel that way about myself. My pregnant self-esteem was fragile.
Why is the emphasis so often placed on her size when it should be the last thing on her mind? In reality, a pregnant woman’s size has very little to do with her and the baby’s health. Her body gains the correct amount it needs for that baby. I gained more weight in my second pregnancy than I did in my first – and I ate a lot healthier! My doctor and midwives didn’t even mention my weight once.
So why were nearly all the comments from strangers on my weight?
With my first I got:
“You look fantastic!”
“You’re too small. Are you sure the baby’s okay?”
With my second I got:
“You’re huge…but it’s all belly.”
“Are you sure it’s not twins?”
“You look like you’re about to pop!”
“Are you about to go into labor?”
People, it is possible to speak to a pregnant stranger without mentioning her belly once (and God forbid, touching it!)
Focusing on her body rather than the woman is objectifying her, even if you mean it as a compliment.
Saying “You look really great for a pregnant woman!” is still demeaning.
Saying “You’re so thin!” is still emphasizing thinness over health.
So what to say when you see a pregnant stranger at the store or in an elevator and want to create smalltalk?
It’s really not that complicated.
The only appropriate thing to say to a pregnant stranger:
Give her a high-five if you’re truly that excited. (Okay, maybe I’m the only one that likes high-fives!)
Ignore the belly, as she’s probably already had multiple comments today.
Look her in the eyes and notice her.
Ask her how her day is going.
Because while it’s all that’s visible to the naked eye, being pregnant is just a small part of her day.