Monday, January 03, 2011

How to Talk to a Pregnant Woman

I've been pregnant for 39 weeks now.  Over the last few days I've had a handful of people pay me truly lovely compliments, and continued comments from my friends, family, and fabulous husband have helped me maintain emotional balance throughout the process.

Unfortunately, I've also gotten my share of insensitive (or just plain rude) comments along the way, as pretty much every pregnant woman has.  Here are a few things people have actually said to me, and my suggestions for how to make them sound more like the compliments I trust they were originally intended to be:

Actual Comment: "That's quite a bulge."
No.  It's really not.  A bulge is excess fat that hangs over your too-tight pants because you're trying to pretend you're still a size 8 even though you're a 12.  A belly is a sweet, gently rounded abdomen that is accommodating the miracle of life within.  A bulge is gross.  A belly is cute.  We want to have a baby belly.
Suggested Alternative: "Looks like baby is growing wonderfully!"

Actual Comment: "WOW! You must be having twins!"
Why, because I'm enormous?  Really.  Thanks.  Would you like to comment on my crazy-hormone-acne, as well?  Or how about the arm flab I just noticed the other day?  I could show you my new stretch mark, if you wanted.  I mean, as long as you're reassuring me about all my insecurities.
Suggested Alternative:  Shut up.  If your only comment on her pregnancy and upcoming bundle of joy is related to her overwhelming size, I promise, she doesn't want to hear about it.

Actual Comment: "How do you feel?"
Ok, there's nothing inherently wrong with this question.  My problem is with people who ask "How do you feel?" in the tone of voice you would use when addressing someone who just fractured their leg in six places or found out they have terminal cancer.  The woman you are speaking to is pregnant, not critically injured or ill.  Whether she's feeling great or not, she doesn't need your pity.  She could probably benefit from your encouragement, though.
Suggested Alternative: Same phrasing, but try it without projecting your bummer expectations about pregnancy on the recipient.

Actual Comment: "You'd better hurry up and have that baby!"
This was a month before my due date.  Turns out, she had me confused with another pregnant lady and thought I had passed my due date already.  An honest mistake.  However, had I been approaching 42 weeks as she'd thought, the comment probably would only have served to make me feel more pressured and anxious about the fact that I still hadn't had a baby.
Suggested Alternative: "I bet you're excited to meet your baby!"

Actual comment: "You look so big/huge/tired/fat/ready to pop!"
A growing belly is the sign of a healthy pregnancy.  We want to get bigger, and most of the preggers ladies I've met are delighted with the process.  But consider- just for a moment- how your phrasing will sound to the woman you're talking to.  As I continue to be the recipient of these kinds of comments, I'm increasingly tempted to respond with things like, "Aww, so are you!" and "You barely fit into that top!"  But I keep them to myself, and then write blog posts about them later.
Suggested Alternative: "You look so beautiful/healthy/amazing/incredible/glowing!"  (This one, using any of the suggested words or any derivation of them, is always safe.  ALWAYS.)

Actual Comment: "You're still pregnant."
Trust me on this one.  If it feels to you like she's been carrying a baby for a long time, it doesn't feel like it's been any less time to her.
Suggested Alternative: "So, when are you due?"  (Again, another one that's always safe.)

Actual Comment: "That shirt's workin hard."
Alright, this one doesn't bother me, but only because my husband says it to me.  It's a line from Juno.  We think it's funny.
Suggested Alternative: I do not recommend trying this on anyone but your best friend who has also seen Juno and liked it and would definitely remember the line.

In any conversation with a pregnant woman, carefully consider your relationship with her and your level of intimacy before saying something you can't take back.  My close friends and family can make comments and ask questions that acquaintances would never get away with.  And if you are so socially awkward that you don't know the difference between preggers small talk and asking if her nipples are weird now, maybe you shouldn't be talking to her at all.

What about you, moms and mothers-to-be?  What unbelievable or humorous-now-but-not-so-much-at-the-time comments did you receive during pregnancy?


pamela said...

I feel ya, girl! I have been there and came up with some pretty good comebacks during my last pregnancy. Fortunately, my filters were working then, and I didn't say any of them. I cannot say the same for this pregnancy (19 weeks now). My best response for the "you're showing too much/too big/ready to pop/etc." is:
"I'm sorry Dr.... what did you say your name was? How big should I be right now?" Although I'm also tempted to respond with, "Oh, so are you!"

Anonymous said...

so gla that none of those came out of my mouth, I was actually worried - we both know sometimes it sounds good until it comes out! Love you girl! And I think you look fantastic and I can hardly wait until I meet Isabella!

annie said...

I know in the past that I have made awkward comments to people, which I have then regretted. Sometimes I just hang around friends who have awkward humor and it rubs off on me, other times something is very out of context when it would not have been with the appropriate body language. I know sometimes I think that someone is so wonderful and beautiful that they must already know it, especially since nothing could make a woman more beautiful than motherhood. Sometimes it's just uncomfortable to expose that part of your mind to the world.

I think facebook and other social mediums can often draw out these kinds of misunderstood or frustrating acts from people. They expose people's deepest loves, fears and triumphs to an uncaring (or unenlightened) world. I think that's even harder as the internet age plows forward, something you want to share with your closest friend is also read by that guy you met once at a convention.

All that aside, I know I've said things that could be easily misinterpreted, and I've regretted it. Sorry if I've ever hurt your feelings, you are incandescently beautiful, and I take for granted that you know I think that.

jessica said...

My worst nightmare comment was from a radio personality that we advertise with here at home. I walked into the booth, and while we were still live on air, he says "wow! You got boobie-doo." I said, "I've got what?" In which he elegantly replied, "you're belly finally sticks out further than your boobies do..."

Really??? Really, that's what you came up with? I was SO embarrassed!

Rhonda said...

Great article! I know I have erred in the past in the words I have spoken. Having never been pregnant, this was helpful for me. Thanks for sharing in a public format like this.

RachelRenae said...

It's just amazing the things people say without thinking!

@Annie- I wasn't even remotely thinking of you. Most of these comments were made by well-meaning (albeit misguided) strangers or vague acquaintances, and all were made to my face. I'm certain;y not calling anyone out specifically. None of these people would even qualify as Facebook friends.

@Jessica- horrifying!!! What did you say?!?

Janella said...

Awesome blog post, as always! I'm sorry some people have been rude to you (it doesn't feel good for a mommy to see her daughter go through that). I've heard a few of the comments, and know that the comments were given with good intent, just not well thought out. Some of these, however, are ridiculous! How do you say some of these things? I've had one or two "nice" things said to me about my weight. It's just incredible what people will say.

You look beautiful, amazing, healthy, perfect, etc.

I do not remember anything said to me by others while I was pregnant, although I do know people said some awkward things. Some very hurtful things were said behind my back by family and I only learned of them years later (they had nothing to do with my size, etc., but the fact that I became pregnant with you so early in our marriage).

Love you! I'm so excited to meet my very first grandchild!!

Amy said...

Wow. Some people's children! I wonder how people can think that some of these comments are OK. It's absurd.

Anonymous said...

Very well written...Funny, entertaining, and insightful.