If You Can’t Think of Something Nice to Say…

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.



Filed under Domesticity, Friendship, Marriage, Mothering

13 responses to “If You Can’t Think of Something Nice to Say…

  1. I always loved this one: “oooh, can I touch your belly?”. And this only if the person felt particularly courteous. Usually they just go for it like it’s not part of your own, personal body located inside that sacred, personal space…

  2. On the other hand, there are those expectant mothers who will offer very personal information with no prompting at all. Such as “hey, wanna guess how much I’m dilated now!? ” Or the afore-mentioned gastrointestinal issues. But perhaps they are in the minority… :0)

  3. I have been the recipient of several unsolicited belly-pats…fortunately, just from little old ladies at mass. Glad you found the blog, Anya! Permission to link to your interpretartist page?

    I’m sure the TMI thing goes both ways, Liza…and, to be fair, a lot of the unwanted inquiries come from mothers who ought to know better!

    • Yeah, TMI is always difficult because everyone has their own boundaries for that sort of thing. I have a friend who always shares/says things that are utterly inappropriate and yet whenever I reciprocate I am usually met with a funny face and a “dude, TMI liza!” Though, I’m pretty sure she’s joking most of the time.

    • Little old ladies areallowed most anything, in my book 🙂 And of course, link away!

  4. I always found that the best way to deal with awkward questions is to simply ask an awkward question in return.

    Kind Friend: So, my wife gave birth to three kids! Vaginally! With no medication! Are planning to man up or wimp out?
    Me: I’ll address that in a second. But first, do you mind if I show you what I have in this baggie in my purse? Because I think it’s my mucous plug!

    Also, please know that regardless of the (sometimes rather insensitive) proclamations, you are doing The Most Amazing Thing. You’re actually growing a kid. I did it twice, and it’s still SO crazy to me! (I’m horribly excited for you, and if I lived closer, I would bring you a lasagna right now. Please, someone who lives close to Laurel, take her a lasagna. With fresh rolls and a salad, and perhaps a tiramisu to top it off. She deserves it.)

    • (Oh, how I wish I could edit my comment for grammar.)

    • Thanks for your kind comment, Angela! Lasagna sound just about perfect right now (along with moose tracks ice cream, french onion soup, and all the pickles Heinz ever packaged).

      I don’t have a mucus plug handy yet, but I HAVE learned a few things about placental encapsulation that might make for a good conversational defense….

  5. Janet Schamp

    It seems like there is some almost universal compulsion among women who have been through labor and given birth to want to share their experiences with any pregnant woman they see. There can even be a oneupmanship sort of competitiveness to it: “you think 20 hours of labor was tough? that’s nothing, I was in labor for 36 hours, and I pushed for the last 18!” If anything can be measured or counted or timed, we keep track and take pride in it. (BTW, Angela was joking about the mucous plug in her purse, I hope). I think a lot of the inappropriate questions are just lead-ins so the mom can tell you her stories. I’ve done my share of this and am trying to change. Laurel, your suggestions for what we should say are excellent. I wish I were there to do your dishes while you take a nap!

    What a mind boggling mystery: it truly is the most amazing thing we’ve ever done, and yet we don’t do it at all, have no control over the process and are at the mercy of the Lord’s grand design. I think my first pregnancy was the most “uniquely special” experience of my life.

  6. Amy

    It’s like a weird cult among mothers, especially at baby groups. Really, it’s the only thing you all have in common. Just wait until you have your own labor story to tell! 🙂 Hilarious post, though, and it should be required reading.

  7. Alycia Nielsen

    Haha, Amy sent me a link to this post, Laurel, and I loved it! (Congratulations on your pregnancy, by the way!) I have gotten ALL of those comments and more (including, no I’m not kidding, on multiple occasions, “Wow, so was he/she planned?” to which I have now begun responding Angela style with a Dr. Whalen-esq comment of my own: “Well, we had sex if that’s what you mean.” I highly recommend the use of such humor.) You express the inner workings of a pregnant woman’s mind so well! Hope all is well 🙂

    • Alycia! It’s been too long—I’m so glad to hear from you. Our little bundle of joy is due precisely 9 months from our wedding date, so the queries about whether or not we meant conceive have been numerous. It’s the somewhat knowing, slightly snide “Oh, a HONEYMOON baby, eh?” comments that really got my dander up at first. I like your response—Dr. Whalen would be proud 🙂

      Here’s hoping all is well with you! Whereabouts are you and TJ these days?

  8. cemg

    Genius. Genius. Bravo, dear one. 🙂

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