PSA: Pregnancy Etiquette 101

I guess maybe it’s because it’s been more than three years since I’ve been pregnant, or the number of pregnant women I suddenly know (because of Twitter), but in “conversation” yesterday, I was reminded of the shocking behavior of other people toward pregnant women.

And I thought, “Something needs to be done.”

So here are a few things that if you should try very, very hard not to do to or say to a pregnant woman.

I know it can be hard. As one of my tweeps put it yesterday, “People see a baby belly and lose all mouth and hand control.”

1. I, myself, cannot stop the question “How do you feel?” from popping out of my mouth. Now, I don’t ask strangers that (I don’t ask pregnant strangers anything; I am an anomaly. I am a very private, quiet, introverted person who feels uncomfortable talking with strangers about my own pregnancies and/or labors, so I just don’t go there with people I don’t know.) I’ve asked my SILs this question; and my pregnant coworkers; and pregnant friends. I ask because I genuinely care, and they can tell me as much or as little as they want. But don’t ask if you don’t want to know, and don’t ask just so you can talk about your own pregnancies.

2. Never, ever, unless you are 100% certain that a woman is pregnant, ask someone how far along she is. This can go very badly for you. She may have just delivered two weeks ago. She may have delivered two years ago. She may simply have an unfortunate shape and have never delivered babies, or a cyst the size of a watermelon in there. Don’t ask!

3. Even when you are 100% sure that a woman is pregnant, you still should not comment on her size and/or shape. Believe it or not, “You hardly look pregnant!” is just as rude as “Wow! You’re huge! Only six months along?” This pregnancy being the exception, I didn’t show conclusively until I was seven-eight months along. And hearing, “You’re so tiny” made me worry about my babies. You don’t comment on non-pregnant people’s shape and size to their face, do ya?

Also, unless it’s hugely complimentary, don’t tell a pregnant woman how she appears. An acceptable comment would be, “Your skin looks fabulous.” Unacceptable: “Your skin looks so much better when you’re pregnant.” Don’t tell me how horrible I look —  and this pregnancy, I do look horrible. I look tired because I’m facking exhausted; my skin is breaking out like a teenager’s the week before prom; and, yes, I already have a belly. (Actually, I’m kind of proud of this last feature. I’m sure I will feel differently by month seven when I feel like I’m carrying a bowling ball between my legs.) I know you mean to be sympathetic, but it just makes me feel worse.

4. Never, ever, and I mean EVER, touch a pregnant woman’s belly without asking and receiving her express permission. This one completely boggles me. I don’t know why I was never assaulted this way (and make no mistake, it’s an assault, no matter how innocent or well-meaning you may be) — maybe because I am no earth-mother-looking pregnant chick; I look like a telephone pole with a basketball duct-taped to it. And I’m 5-foot-10-inches tall in bare feet. In any case, hands off. You do not touch other people’s bodies without permission. Period.

5. Don’t share your horror stories. First of all, if you share an unsolicited labor story with me, you are going to hear the horror story to end all pregnancy/labor horror stories. Second, you’re scaring people. Pregnancy can be a wonderful, magical time in a young woman’s life. She doesn’t need to hear about your emergency C-section after 72 hours of hard labor, and how your epidural wore off in hour 48. Now that being said, we all sit around and swap these stories with others we know, others who have been in the trenches with us. But if you don’t know a woman, and you don’t know if this is her first or her sixth pregnancy, don’t regale her with your tale of woe. As I often say, “It ain’t called picnic; it’s called labor.” Most of us knocked-up ladies understand what we’ve gotten ourselves into, and we all have different ways and means of dealing with what we gotta go through to get that baby in our arms.

6. This may be a personal one: Don’t ask me what I’m naming my baby. Dan and I decided when we started having babies that the first person to know the baby’s name would be the baby. We would whisper it in his/her ear. I don’t feel comfortable telling you what I am naming him/her before he/she gets here. Yes, I am superstitious about this, and yes, I have damn good reason to be.

7. Holy cats, don’t ask about things that only the woman’s midwife and/or doctor need to know. One of the women yesterday said a guy asked her (at the end of her last pregnancy) how far she was dilated! That’s just wrong.

8. Don’t say, “Trying for a boy/girl this time?” Especially in that jocular insider’s understanding tone. This may be another one that rubs me especially wrong. I had a boy. And I have two girls. I just want a healthy baby. We speculated a little bit when my brother’s wife got pregnant for a fourth time if she was “trying” for a girl (she had three boys), but I knew, like me, she just wanted a healthy baby. (She had another boy, by the way.) It doesn’t matter, and, frankly, it’s none of your business.

9. This is an after-pregnancy peeve: Don’t comment upon and/or ask about the number of children a couple has. It’s none of your business if the parents of an only child are going to have another one, and it’s none of your business if a couple decides to have eight kids — hey, maybe they own a farm or want to start their own sports team. Commenting that little Bobby would probably love a little brother or sister — especially repeatedly — is rude; you don’t know if that decision was a heartbreaking one, or not, but it sure is a personal one.

10. If, in the course of your inquiries or conversations, you do discover that a mother has suffered a loss (miscarriage, infant death, still baby), say: “I’m so sorry” and move on. Do not elaborate. A statement like, “That must have been devastating” is painfully obvious; a statement like, “Everything happens for a reason” borders on outright offensive. Say, “I’m so sorry.” That’s all. Oh, and say it for goodness sake; don’t ignore the fact that you are talking to someone who has lost a child. In the course of a conversation with a coworker who just had a little girl, she mentioned that she had had three miscarriages between her sons. And I just said, “Oh, I’m so sorry” and we continued our conversation. That was that.

What do we think, moms and moms-to-be? Did I miss anything?

Edited to add: YES: 11. Don’t ask about the conception. “Was it an accident?” “Were you trying?” In the case of multiples: “Were you using fertility drugs?” Woah, people. This is the same as asking, “Were you and your spouse/partner copulating? Were you using birth control?” None o’ yer business. people. (I tend to look at people with an eyebrow raised and say, “Well, we weren’t exactly NOT trying.”)

12. Don’t comment if/when a woman goes past her due date. SHE KNOWS.

Next week: Infant/baby Etiquette 101. Leave your suggestions in the comments!