Pregnant women are notoriously sensitive, emotional, irrational: both personal experience and chemistry support this stereotype. But in defense of expectant mothers, they receive more than their fair share of provocation during their nine months of blissful anticipation. Something about a mother’s protruding belly seems to cause a selective malfunction in the average person’s verbal filter. Perfectly kind, well-meaning individuals will sometimes make surprisingly offensive comments or ask shockingly personal questions when conversing with a pregnant woman. This lack of decorum usually arises from a sincere desire to appear interested and empathetic: we pregnant women DO understand the innocence of the intent. But I’ve put together a beginner’s guide of comments to avoid in order to help you communicate more effectively with the expectant mother in your life.
What Not To Say: You look like you’re about to pop!
What the Pregnant Woman Hears: You’re really fat!
How the PW Feels: “I know—I’m huge! And I’ve still got two more months to go and what if my center of gravity shifts so far that I fall down all the time and I’m afraid that I’ll never get my pre-pregnancy figure back and I’m ugly! Why am I so, so horribly ugly?
What the PW is Forced to Say: *awkward chuckle* Yeah..he’s/she’s getting bigger every day…
What the PW Would Like to Say: So do you! *pointed glance at offender’s midsection* But at least I have an excuse! Ha ha! (This is especially effective with people who are in relatively good shape: give them a moment’s taste of the tormenting self-consciousness you’ve suffered for months.)
What You Should Say Instead: You’re looking lovely today.
What Not To Say: Wow, you look exhausted!
What the PW Hears: Not only are you fat, but your overall attractiveness is diminishing, too.
How the PW Feels: I’m supposed to be glowing, but instead I looked harried and worn: what kind of hag will I become when I’m actually up feeding a newborn five times a night?
What the PW is Forced to Say: Yeah…I guess I haven’t been sleeping well.
What the PW Would Like to Say: You would look tired, too, if in addition to working a full time job and cooking and cleaning, you were constantly knitting together and feeding a new human being! With no hands!
What You Should Say Instead: Have I mentioned how lovely you’re looking today? Why don’t you let me do the dishes so you can take a little nap.
What Not To Say: Are you going to get an epidural?
What the PW Hears: Are you a real woman or a weakling?
How the PW Feels: I don’t know! I’ve never done this before! And I’m dreading the pain almost as much as I dread these awkward questions. What are you going to think of me if I cave and accept pain medications?
What the PW is Forced to Say: (This depends on her personal choice, but chances are good that she’s not comfortable saying it.)
What the PW Would Like to Say: Hmm…it seems like only reason you could want that information is so that you can judge my worthiness as a woman or compare me with other women and I am not comfortable with either of those alternatives.
What You Should Say Instead: When would you like to use this gift card for a pre-natal massage that I picked up for you?
What Not To Say: Are you experiencing…swollen feet/water retention/constipation/etc?
What the PW Hears: Please explain your uncomfortable medical issues to someone who a) is not usual privy to personal information and b) can do nothing to help make you feel better.
How the PW Feels: Awkward! That’s something I only want to discuss with my doctor or my mother and since when is it okay to inquire about someone’s medical history?
What the PW is Forced to Say: Oh, you know…just the usual stuff….it’s not too bad.
What the PW Would Like to Say: Do you really want to hear about my gastronomical difficulties? Do you really think either of us will enjoy that conversation? Because if you really want to know, I can tell you. Imagine first a constant pressure on the bowels and…
What You Should Say Instead: How Are You? I mean, how are things going in areas of life besides your pregnancy?
What Not To Say: Do you mind if we…drink this freshly corked bottle of wine/eat sushi in front of you/all go skiing next weekend?
What the PW Hears: We’re going to have fun without you for a while now and we would appreciate your pleas.
How the PW Feels: You’re going to do it anyway, whether I mind or not, so why must you make a big deal about asking me if I mind and making me pretend that the privilege of bringing new life to the world is enough to make me perfectly content to be the only sober person in the group?
What the PW is Forced to Say: Oh, no, go right ahead!
What the PW Would Like to Say: Do you mind if I go to a corner and weep for the loss of my autonomy?
What You Should Say Instead: Would you like…a cup of tea/to pick a restaurant/to take a walk together?
Clearly, there are myriad other comments and questions to avoid, but these have been the most common in my experience. I’m sure that I’m guilty of being equally insensitive to people in other circumstances, but I hope that being on the receiving end of some of these comments will help me to think before I speak in the future.
If any other mothers (or sympathetic fathers) out there have suggestions to add, please take a moment to leave a comment! Together we can work towards a more courteous society.