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!

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25 thoughts on “PSA: Pregnancy Etiquette 101

  1. So true on all counts. Including item 6. I didn’t want to share our son’s name, so it always put me in an awkard position when people would ask, particularly other expectant mothers who were open with their names.

    One you missed. I got pregnant a month after getting married, so I got a lot of “Were you trying to get pregnant?” We were, but what if we weren’t?

    Also, related to number 9, I got repeatedly asked if I was going to have another. Although we had some thoughts on the subject I was just trying to focus on the one baby that wasn’t even born yet. One step at a time, people.

    BTW -My husband’s suggestion whenever people ask ultra-personal questions was that I should burst out in tears. It would get me out of the answering as well as make the person feel the sort of discomfort that would hopefully teach them a lesson. I’ve never done it, but the option is there.

    • I know, people asked me right after Flora, “So are you going to have more?” As I was recovering from quite a long pushing time, and dealing with having a newborn, I was hardly in any position to answer such a ridiculous query.

      I like the crying strategy. That’s a good one.

  2. In 5th grade, after I learned about sex, I wondered when the one lady from church was going to deliver. About 3 years later, I finally realized she wasn’t going to have a baby. I am so glad I never asked her anything about her pregnancy.

  3. I feel very strongly about #5. This is my first baby – I DO NOT WANT TO BE TERRIFIED BY BEING FORCED TO LISTEN TO HORROR STORIES! I’m already inclined to be a worrier and I do so plenty without hearing about every birth that ever went wrong! I give grace to my close friends who are concerned about me – but strangers?

    I got pregnant three months after I got married. I can’t believe the number of people who have asked if my baby was an accident. NONE OF YOUR DAMN BUSINESS!

    Also, several people I barely know have commented on the fact that my already very large boobs have gone up another 4 sizes since I got pregnant. This is probably the most annoying thing for me. I KNOW I HAVE HUGE BOOBS! I’M TRYING REALLY HARD TO CONTAIN THEM! PLEASE STOP TELLING ME HOW BIG THEY ARE!

    • Elisabeth, the things that people told me during my first pregnancy shocked me. It’s like they are trying to scare you. Don’t listen! Seriously, plug your ears and say, “la la la.”

      And the boob comments fit right in with appearance. People are unbelievable.

  4. I noticed you didn’t ban discussion of the conception. That appears to be the only thing left to talk about. That ought to make things interesting… I’ll let you know how that works out for me next time the opportunity arises.

    (j/k)

    @Rob,
    When I was a very little boy (1st grade, maybe) I asked a very pregnant woman if she had a basketball under her shirt. I’d never seen that kind of shape on a person before and it was all I could think of.

  5. If anyone asked me anything about my pregnancies, I just answered them by asking back “Why do you want to know?” Then I would use the awkward pause to escape.

  6. For some reason, as a paramedic, every time I met a pregnant woman, there was this incredible urge to talk about pregnancies I’d seen.

    Fortunately, I stuffed some food in my mouth and didn’t say anything.

  7. I love your PSA’s. I think I need to write one about having a child with autism!
    Hugs to you, friend! Hang in there!

    • Oh, man, I just read one on having a child with developmental delays (I think her son has CP). It was a list of comments she hates, as well as what she likes to hear. I’ll try to find it and send it too you.

      It’s funny because sometimes I think these things are common sense, or what people think but just don’t say. And then I think (like number 10) it’s things that people just don’t know.

      Plus, everyone’s different. You know me, for as open as I am with my close friends and on my blog, around strangers I’m very private. Even with acquaintances like co-workers I tend to fall on the side of keeping more to myself. For example, a lot of parents-to-be share their babies’ names easily, but it’s harder for others.

  8. When I was a week from my due date with my first, my boss (I was working full time then) told me she could tell I was going into labor soon because my nose was huge. I wanted to throttle her and ask her where the heck she came up with that one, but seeing as how she was my boss, I just smiled politely and gritted my teeth.

    As for baby etiquette, be sure to include this one: Don’t touch my baby. Don’t hold his hand, stroke his forehead, or for Pete’s sake, give him a kiss without asking me and bathing yourself in Purell first.

  9. Thanks for this, RPM! I have a friend who got married three weeks ago. I am amazed at the number is people who ask, “when are you going to get pregnant?” She relpies, “when I have any news I’ll let you know!” which is a very gracious way of saying “don’t ask me again”! The truth is she and her husband are probably not going to have any children (by choice). She can’t imagine getting the “when are you…” question over and over for the next decade. People mean well, I truly believe, but they are so clueless. We should post your PSA in public places.

    • Seriously, why is baby-making everyone’s business? Jeez!

      That being said, my FIL takes the cake. When he shook his future son-in-law’s hand at the ALTAR, he whispered “grandbabies” in his ear. He was telling Dan & I to get busy by the end of our reception. We laughed at him, but the man is cheeky! (And now, he’s got more than he bargained for!)

  10. In reading your follow up post I realized I should have mentioned another peeve: lecturing on what a woman is doing or consuming during a pregnancy. There are a lot of things women are *warned* about, but there isn’t a lot of solid, scientific evidence to support most of it (except the really bad stuff like smoking). It’s nearly impossible to avoid everything that every book and article says you should avoid. And sometimes you just forget. So if a woman is eating cold cuts or hot dogs, or sipping some caffeine, or (as was my case) doing Bikram yoga just leave the poor woman alone.

  11. THANK YOU! For the love of God, thank you.

    I had a coworker lose her baby when she was 7 months along. Another coworker commented on how the first coworker was getting “special treatment” on having whatever days she wanted to work and whatever days she wanted off.

    Um, excuse me?!? Special treatment? Nevermind her husband was going through chemo treatments, she just lost her FREAKING BABY.

    People make me sick.

    • I am so sorry to hear about your coworker. I’m shocked she could work at all with all of that going on. But maybe, too, it was a welcome distraction for her. I know after I lost Gabriel, it took me about 4 months to resume freelancing. By then, even though I was grieving pretty hard, still, I needed something else to focus on. I sincerely hope you gave coworker #2 a piece of your mind! People are unbelievable. A little more of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes would go a long way in our society.

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