There is nothing worse than being pregnant around people who don’t know how to properly interact with you.
Believe me, I am learning this the hard way right now. Everywhere I go there are people who treat me like a stray kitten simply because I am pregnant. They see me and immediately are concerned about my well-being, wanting to know how I’m eating and commenting on how small I am compared to the other kittens. They reach out to try to rub my belly. And then they try to take me home. (Just kidding about that last one.)
But even being well-fed and in a loving relationship, being a kitten is tough. Everyone seems to love kittens. And when you’re a kitten, people forget boundaries exist. They invade your personal space constantly no matter how much you swat them away and hiss at them. To them, even your hissing is cute. People don’t see that this is a problem. Pregnant women are not kittens. Being pregnant does not make it okay to enter our personal space. If anything, it means you need to keep more of a distance.
Everyone comes across a pregnant woman at some point in their lifetime. So to make those situations go a little more smoothly, I give you an incomplete guide on how to interact with pregnant women.
Rule #1: Hands off
I cannot stress this rule enough. She already feels uncomfortable enough in her body now that she’s gaining weight in weird places, let alone the fact that there is a tiny human pushing against most of her organs. Dealing with the discomforts and pains of pregnancy are no fun. And the one thing that makes it so much worse? Having people touch her without her permission.
This isn’t limited to just strangers; friends, coworkers, and even family are included. Unless she specifically asks you to feel the baby move, do not touch her belly. Being pregnant does not make her public property. It does not make her an animal at a petting zoo. So keep your hands to yourself unless you want an angry mama bear biting them off. You have been warned.
Rule #2: Do not mention her weight/size
Unless you are her OB/GYN, keep your mouth shut. Body shaming a pregnant woman is just as bad as fat shaming or skinny shaming. All body shaming sucks, and women get enough of it when they aren’t pregnant, so we don’t need your comments on our bodies when we are expecting. This is not just comments about how big she is; it’s also comments about how she is “so small”.
Every woman and every pregnancy is different, and some bodies change in unique ways that others don’t. Just because she is halfway to term and barely showing doesn’t mean she is doing anything wrong or that there is something wrong with her or her child. And if she is halfway there and already looks like she’s full term, so what? She and her doctor know what is best for her body and baby and situation. Next time you have an opinion about her size, do yourself a favor and shut up.
Rule #3: Her diet is not your concern
Similar to Rule #2, but different because you can make comments about what/how much she is eating without talking about her weight. What is most frustrating about dietary comments is that most of the people trying to dictate how or what she eats are completely irrelevant. Coworkers mentioning that she should eat more because she’s “eating for two” will make her want to bash her head into a wall. Strangers at a restaurant judging her meal choice because “you’re not supposed to eat that when you’re pregnant!” are just as annoying.
But here’s a secret: her doctor has told her what and how much she should be eating, and if she has a high-risk pregnancy they’ve developed a special diet plan. Shocking, I know. It’s unbelievable that someone who sees their doctor at least once a month knows how to take care of themselves, right? Her food, her body, her baby – none of them are your business.
Rule #4: Don’t assume you know her situation
This ties into multiple scenarios and stereotypes that we are all so tired of people categorizing us into. First, just because you see a mother with multiple children (especially if she’s a woman of color or low income), do NOT assume that she is single and/or there are multiple fathers. Not only is that thought based purely on racism/classism, it’s just plain disrespectful to make assumptions about someone you don’t know.
Second scenario is a younger mom-to-be. Stop assuming her age just because she looks “too young to be a mom”. I worry about falling into this category once I’m more visibly pregnant, because people already make assumptions that I am under 21 despite being halfway though my 20s already. (One customer at work found out I was pregnant and was noticeably shocked; he thought I was still in high school and didn’t have a problem speaking down to me like a child, until I corrected him about my age.) Judging a younger looking mother is harmful because it adds more pressure on her to prove that she is in fact an adult who is capable of handling the responsibility of motherhood.
The last situation is more broad: assuming that every pregnant woman is either married, or engaged. This thought is so old-fashioned and outdated, and (not surprisingly) usually comes from someone much older. Implying that a woman is married, or that she should be, needs to stop. It’s 2017. There are many single, successful mothers who are capable of providing for a family without the help of a husband. Being independent is not a bad thing! Similarly, just because a couple is expecting a child doesn’t mean they have to get engaged. Despite creating something beautiful together, sometimes two people aren’t meant to be. Coercing, shaming, or forcing them into a legally binding relationship just because you think “it’s the right thing to do” is selfish. Their relationship (or lack thereof) is nobody’s business but theirs, so keep your marriage comments to yourself.
Rule #5: You are not her doctor
Probably the most important and all-encompassing rule. Telling a pregnant woman what she can and can’t do is a waste of your time and hers. Not only are you (most likely) not a doctor, you are not her doctor. If she wants your advice on anything, she’ll ask. If she wants to know about your personal experiences, she’ll ask. And if she wants an outside opinion, she’ll ask.
Unless she comes to you about something, don’t assume you have to be the one to tell her. All of the medical advice she needs, she’ll ask for from her own doctor. Advice about lifestyle (what brands to use, tips for motherhood, etc) she will likely ask other female relatives or close friends about. Unwarranted advice is never welcome, especially to a new mother who is hearing all sorts of contradicting advice from everyone around her. Remember: let her come to you.
When in doubt, keep quiet.
Since this isn’t a complete list of what not to say/do, I know there are plenty other points to make. Moms-to-be or moms in general: what else would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments!