Monday, August 30, 2010

Things to Say to a Lady In The Family Way

When my boss was expecting her first child a couple of years ago, I really had no idea how to act around her. I had zero friends with kids, I had just gotten married, didn't even know if I wanted kids, and the whole thing was like an alien ritual. I would let her bring the subject up, and try to ask very boring questions. When are you due? Can you still have coffee? And then I would drop the subject like it was hot. I didn't want to ask invasive, annoying questions and display my vast ignorance. At the same time, I wish I had had a stockpile of polite things to ask or say to her just so I wouldn't look like a childhater.

Now that I too am in that delicate condition, and remember how very, very intimidated I was (and still am a lot of the time) by pregnancy conversation, I am very attuned to how people react to my ever-expanding body. There is a funny axis I measure this on:

Blissfully ignorant
Uninterested------------+------------Very very interested

Needless to say - but I'll say it anyway - the vast majority of people fall into the middle or left of this axis. They'll ask about the sex, say something about how fun babies are, and let it go. They'll hold the door, but won't give up a seat on the train. They'll have something charming to say about the experience (e.g. "I was three weeks early, but I think I knew she was coming because I was nesting like crazy"), but don't proselytize.

And, needless to say - but again, I'll say it anyway - there are a few, a very very few, people who do not fall into the middle. There are a few people who fall towards the right of this axis - they are either blissfully ignorant or know-it-all, but one way or the other, they are extremely interested in talking about your pregnancy. The know-it-alls usually have a bunch of kids, or have just had their first and just want to pass along their suddenly infinite wisdom. The blissfully ignorant are usually childfree, but unlike bewildered two-years-ago me, they are chockful of questions or remarks, many of which are wildly inappropriate.

And before anyone reading is like, "OMG IS SHE TALKING ABOUT ME?" - the answer is probably not, because usually you get these remarks from strangers or super-casual acquaintances, like someone on the bus or in your yoga class.

Some examples (and my real or imagined responses):

Know-it-alls: "You're not giving birth in a hospital, are you?" [Unless the baby comes out on the way over there, yes, yes I am.]
Blissfully Ignorant: "So was this pregnancy planned?"
[::Sob:: no and I regret it every day. Will you please take my baby?]
Know-it-alls: "You shouldn't be lifting weights this late in pregnancy." [Whoa, did my doctor get plastic surgery? Because my doctor is cool with my workout regime and you do not look like one bit like my doctor.]
Blissfully Ignorant: "Wow, you're getting huge, you must be due soon. Any minute now, huh? Har har." [I am four months pregnant, actually, but thanks.]
Know-it-alls: "Trust me, you do not want one of these, they are a pain in the ass. Do you want mine? Ha ha ha." [Wait, what? You mean something that my husband and I have worked through two miscarriages, four rounds of Clomid and untold doctor's visits to get to is a pain in the ass? Thank you, good Samaritan! I have reconsidered.]
Blissfully Ignorant: "So are you worried about losing the baby weight?" [I am more worried about keeping a small human alive, not only through the bone-crushing, flesh-tearing adventure that is childbirth, but also for the rest of that human's life. Ask me why I haven't lost the pre-baby weight.]

To be fair, I truly think that most of these comments come from a place of caring and interest. And I am really open to talking about any aspect of my pregnancy with anyone who asks - I will gladly discuss breastfeeding, miscarriage, fertility, weight gain, circumcision - I'm an open, if mostly ignorant, book. But there are some things you should just not say to a pregnant lady, and I think the six remarks/questions above are good examples of the "just-nos" or "find another way to say/ask thises."

On the other hand, I've heard some lovely comments and questions from various people, parents and childfree alike. I'm sure some would disagree with my assessment of all of the below as appropriate, but I say, you can always say "I can't," or "we're not really ready to talk about that," or whatever. For example:


  • "Wow, that's so exciting. Congratulations."

  • "You look great." [Never fails.]

  • "I would try to take a long leave if you can. I took 10 weeks and it goes by so fast."

  • "I know a great maternity store/book/pre-natal masseuse you should check out."

  • "My sister was also born in August and my mother really found swimming relaxing."

  • "Oh, my brother's wife is due in February, she just passed through her morning sickness phase." [or some kind of story about someone you know - no birth horror stories plz]


  • "Are you excited?"

  • "How are you feeling?" [So simple!]

  • "What's your plan for the birth?" [Please don't be judgmental if you don't like the answer.]

  • "Do you know the sex? Will you find out?"

  • "Are you picking out a name ahead of time? Are you keeping it a secret?"

  • "So what doctor are you seeing? Do you like him/her?" [If a local]

My perspective is slightly compounded by the fact that I try not to speak about my pregnancy unless spoken to or asked about it* - I would hate to end up on stfuparents. Doing a facebook pregnancy announcement was scary for me because I was sure I would jinx something and it felt so indulgent, I almost decided I didn't want to do it at all. Other than that, I'm trying to stay as classy as a 40lb-heavier+ragingly-hormonal+overheated person can possibly stay for the next few months.

And then, hoping all goes well, I'll get to listen to strangers talk to me about parenting instead of pregnancy. Except instead of nine months of unsolicited advice and judgment, I'll get a lifetime of it.

Can't wait!

*I know, no one solicited this damn post. But I consider it to be a PSA on behalf of expecting mothers everywhere. Hope it helps!


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