A Rant by an Angry, Overdue Pregnant Woman
Pregnancy is an exciting time for both the mother-to-be as well as her community. I am writing this two days past my due date. The time has never gone so slowly. I can feel the space between the seconds. Using this time to reflect on the past ten (it’s ten, not nine) months of pregnancy, I look back on some of the good times (the first ultrasound), and some of the bad (the first trimester in general, when no one knows but the nausea makes life incredibly arduous). I also look back on some of the comments, questions and remarks by loved ones, acquaintances and strangers. Throughout these conversations, I was baffled by the lack of pregnancy etiquette. Because I live in a world full of rules and laws, here are my rules of talking to a pregnant woman.
1. Ask an original question
Once I packed the bump, I heard the following questions ten times a day, in the same order: “When are you due?” “Is it a boy or a girl?” “Do you know any names yet?” I understood that people were just trying to be friendly, but it became incredibly … boring … to say, “July 7th,” “It’s a boy.” “We haven’t decided yet” over and over again. Try asking an original question: “What color eyes do you think he’ll have?” “Do you think he’ll have hair?”
2. Respect her privacy
Don’t ask questions that elicit a private response. Anything she discusses with her doctor is private. Any decisions she makes with her partner are private too, unless they decide to share. If she doesn’t want to share her private feelings, it just makes her feel uncomfortable. For example, a question like “Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?” seems harmless, but is essentially useless, because the answer is always, “We don’t care, as long as he or she is healthy.” She will never tell you her true feelings. Even, “What are some of the names you like?” is only an opportunity to give your unsolicited opinion on the couple’s name choices. “What type of birth are you planning to have?” or “You’re going to ask for an epidural, right?” is also within the realm of her privacy. And a question like “Are you nervous about birth?” seeks an answer regarding her mental state, which is private too. Don’t force her to think or talk about birth, unless she wants to.
3. No unsolicited “advice”
Throughout my pregnancy, I asked for a lot of advice from other mothers. This is my first baby, and I didn’t know anything. I also read many, many books. I prepared for birth like I did for the bar exam, by absorbing as much information as I could, to make me feel a little bit more in control. If I wanted to know something, I asked. There is truly no need for unsolicited advice, especially because this sort of advice is all over the place, from “you should stop working out,” to “you should work out every day,” from “you should eat more cheese,” to “you shouldn’t eat cheese,” to “a glass of wine is okay,” to “no alcohol, at all.” You can assume the woman knows what she wants to know. There will be very little that she hasn’t read or heard from her doctor. Don’t say, “Make sure to sleep now.” I get it, life with a newborn will be exhausting. I am trying to sleep now, but I can’t. I wake up ten times a night and I can’t get comfortable. The reminder that it will only get worse does not make me feel happy.
4. No birth stories
The absolute worst form of unsolicited advice is in the form of a scary birth story. I was shocked by how many women shared their horrible birth stories with me. This happened more and more as I was closer to my due date. Within my due week, I heard so many scary birth stories that I started to avoid people in general. I heard, “I was in labor for 72 hours,” “I was in so much pain I thought I would die,” “You’re going to go through hell,” and “Wow I’m so glad I’m not you right now,” all within five days of my due date.
Sharing your birth story is never for the benefit pregnant woman, it’s only for the benefit of the woman sharing the story. I don’t know why anyone would do that. Maybe because there is rarely an opportunity to share a birth story, so hearing that a woman is about to go into labor may trigger this opportunity. I did my best to ignore them, but the stories still stuck in my head. Do not share your birth story. There are two exceptions. The first is when the woman specifically asks. In that case, focus on some of the comfort measures that helped. The second is when the birth story is “My baby just fell out, I didn’t even notice it.”
5. When she's at the end, leave her alone
I am two days past my due date. This has been the strangest time. I like deadlines. Other events in life have a clear date: graduation, wedding, bar exam, trial, motion due dates. I like the certainty. Surrendering to the unknown is a big challenge for a pregnant woman. It takes a lot of mental resilience. The days around the woman’s due date, leave her alone. If you haven’t heard anything, there is no baby. Even though you mean well, there is no need to check in. It will only make her even more nervous, because it’s a reminder of how many people are waiting for the big finale. There is no need to ask, “Is there a baby yet?” “When’s the baby coming?” The answer is always, “There is no baby yet.” You’re only reminding the woman that she also does not know. I was so frustrated that I started responding with, "The baby came out but I put him back," or "I forgot the baby at the store." There is also no need for questions like, “Do you feel anything moving down?” “Is he still moving?” “What does your doctor say?” “Are you dilated?” “When are you being induced?” The answer to all of these is, “None of your business.” If she will share, she will. Don’t ask. One message I did like receiving is, “I’m sending you lots of love.” Just know, when the baby's here, you will find out.
5. No Cliche Compliments
On a particularly hot day, when I felt very sweaty, I heard “Wow you look … glowing” at least five times. I also heard, “Looks like you’re packing a big baby,” and “Good job on building a lot of fat reserves for breast feeding.” Make sure your compliment is not a disguised insult. I heard, “You look so cute,” many, many times. Although well-intended, I didn’t perceive it well. I didn’t feel “cute,” I’m not a child, I’m growing a child, I’m a powerful goddess!
Here are some of the approved things you can say to a pregnant woman:
- How are you feeling?
- I love your maternity style
- Do you want a sandwich?
- You are so strong
- I’m so impressed by how you combine work with pregnancy
- You’re going to be a great mom
- Do you want a sandwich?
- This baby is very lucky
- Can I get you some pie?
- Here’s some water
- You are going to be just fine
- I bought you a prenatal massage
- Your baby is going to be so smart and goodlooking
- I’m so excited for you
- Do you want a sandwich? How about pie?
I hope this pregnancy etiquette helps pregnant women. I will go back to answering a hundred text messages with, "No baby yet. You'll be the first to know!"