Friday, February 5, 2010

You're As Big As A House and Other Things You Should Never Say to a Pregnant Woman

I gained very little weight during my pregnancies.  No, I'm not one of those lucky people who never puts on weight.  It was due to prolongued morning sickness that lasted well into
the ninth month and reared its head at all hours of the
day and night. So, no one told me I was as large as a
house (thankfully) but I was subjected to all manner
 of etiquette violations because, an impending birth,
like all of lives monumentous occasions, brings out
the crazy in people. I could write an entire blog about
 the dos and don'ts of maternity etiquette but I've distilled
my pet peeves and advice to ten tips that will help whether
you are the expectant mother, the doting partner, family,
friends, colleagues, or a complete stranger. As a disclaimer,
I have to admit that I've written these from the point of view
of a woman who has carried two babies. I'm sure if my husband wrote this post, he would have different things to say but he didn't go through it now did he?

1. Things You Should Never Say to a Pregnant Woman

Are you pregnant? - If you have to ask, don't! All sorts of things can go wrong here. If the woman in question is not indeed pregnant then she does not need the implication that she has gained weight. Perhaps she is pregnant but has not yet shared her good news, in which case you've put her on the spot. Often times she has already delivered the baby but is still working on shedding the baby weight (no easy feat). Obviously, as women get farther on in the pregnancy, it becomes more obvious but I would say this is after the six month mark.

You're huge - Take it from me, if a pregnant woman has reached the point where her appearance elicits that kind of comment, she doesn't want to be reminded of it. She's large, uncomfortable and starting to wonder if she'll ever get her pre-pregnancy body back.

Are you planning to breastfeed? - Until I had my own kids, I didn't realize what a politicized issue this had become. How a mother will choose to nourish her offspring is a personal decision based on a host of factors. She should not have to disclose this to strangers or even well-meaning friends and colleagues. And, once the decision has been made, she should not have to defend it to anyone.  Try to resist the urge to preach or change her mind.

2. Things You Should Try Not To Say To A Pregnant Woman

Are you getting an epidural? - This question is often asked with the best of intentions and in the spirit of sharing your own experiences or giving advice. But pregnancy, especially with the first child is so overwhelming and unknown that it's really hard to make this decision until the moment arrives. If someone asks for your advice, feel free to share but if they don't, let them make up their own mind. And don't judge them if they change it when they're in labour.

Your whole life is going to change - Duh, no kidding! As anyone who has gone from childless to parent in 24 hours knows, this is true. But that doesn't mean that an expectant mother (or her spouse) needs to hear it over and over for nine months. If possible, share the joy of parenthood more than you talk about the lack of sleep.

3. Etiquette tips

Put comfort first - Just as you would with any friend or colleague who is not in their normal state of health, try to remember that a woman in the latter stages of pregnancy may not be able to stand for a long period of time, might need more water or more bathroom breaks. If you're having a gathering in your home, let the pregnant woman have the comfy chair. She'll love you for it.

Give up your seat - I was disappointed during both my pregnancies to see that the old rule of giving your subway seat to a pregnant woman was not followed by everyone. While people did occasionally offer me their seat, they were almost all females and elderly people. I don't want to tar everyone with the same brush but many able-bodied men looked right through me even when I was very obviously ready to give birth. I don't know if this was a lack of etiquette or a misguided fear of offending me in a post-feminist world but you should make the offer. If the person says "no" then at least you've done the right thing.

Keep your labour war stories to yourself - Many parents feel that someone else's pregnancy is an opportunity for them to talk about themselves. Sentences that start with "when I was pregnant" or "I hope you aren't as sick as I was" or 'I had the longest labour ever" are not helpful to someone who is already nervous about an unfamiliar stage of life.

Don't offload your junk - In the early years of parenting you amass hordes of stuff as you go through the stages of newborn, crawler, toddler, etc. until your home is filled to the brim with jolly jumpers, strollers, exersaucers, mobiles, sheets and clothes that no longer fit. Once your last child has used these acoutriments, the urge to rid yourself of them becomes an obsession and the temptation to dump it on an unsuspecting pregnant couple is almost too good to resist. But resist you must. Let them know you would be pleased to pass on your nearly-new items if and when they are interested. While some will appreciate it, others may want to buy their own baby things for varioius reasons and that's their decision.

4. For Spouses

Please don't complain about your pregnant spouse - I have a friend who's about to give birth and over dinner recently, her husband was kvetching about how she's become irritable. Maybe she has. She's probably exhausted, uncomfortable and anxious to bring a close to a tough nine months. Cut her some slack. I know that sometimes pregnant women can seem cranky and unreasonable. There is a famous story in my household from my second pregnancy when I asked my husband to bring me a Dairy Queen Skor blizzard and instead he went to Loblaws and bought a carton of vanilla ice cream and a jar of chocolate sauce, thinking it would be cheaper if we made our own blizzards. Apparently I went ballistic although my memory is foggy. Was I irrational? Absolutely! Did I have a right to be? Damn right.


  1. I think "Are you pregnant?" is a question that goes on the Things You Should Never Say to Woman, Ever, list. In the last two months I have made reference to having exciting news (my engagement, my promotion at work) and was met with "are you pregnant?" Totally rude and inappropriate.