Wednesday, November 10, 2010

So Someone You Know is Pregnant: A Guide to Behaving Properly

Tip: only touch Mom's belly if invited!
Let's chat about how people behave around pregnant women, shall we? Although I've only just really started showing at all, you'd be amazed how common boundaries and etiquette are apparently not applicable to pregnant women. And after talking to several friends who have just had babies or are also pregnant, I've discovered that it's not just me that has been taken aback by something someone has said or done.

And I do get it - babies are exciting. Babies are miracles. But that brings up my first helpful hint: Could you not try to touch my miracle while it's in my stomach, unless I invite you? What many people don't know (unless they've been pregnant before) is that for many pregnant women, the stomach area is sensitive. Our skin is stretching to accommodate a whole human. Our organs are being slowly maneuvered out of the way. Muscles, tendons and ligaments are stretching - sometimes painfully. All of this stuff is going on, and sometimes we don't even want pants around our midsections - let alone someone's hands.

Suggestion Two: Yes, we know we're getting bigger. The baby is getting bigger. No need to state the obvious. I've already had to purchase pants with a stretchy panel in the front and I'm down to five shirts that fit across my chest. I'm getting bigger. I know. And please also refrain from calling me nicknames involving rounded fruits or vegetables (Pumpkin, really?). And don't imply we're much bigger than we should be for however many months along we are. And don't insist that to be that big, we must be carrying twins.

Suggestion Three: Assume the mother-to-be has an excellent rapport with her doctor, is well-educated and stocked up with all the current baby books, and knows what she's doing. And just because you did or didn't do something, doesn't mean she is wrong. I'm looking at you, co-worker who lectured me on my half a can of Coke. Shush. I needed it to go with my meth and bologna sandwich.

Suggestion Four: Don't ask about her possible milk flow and tell her your baby nearly starved to death because it turns out you weren't producing at all. Don't tell her your cousin's sister-in-law's cousin's friend had a 50 hour labor and her doctor botched her episiotomy. Trust me: We pregnant women can make up nightmare scenarios in our heads all day long. We don't need help.

Suggestion Five: "Was it planned?" is never a question you should ask, unless you routinely and inappropriately ask random people about their sex lives.

Suggestion Six: Do not say, "Oh, when you want to go out for girls' night out, your husband will babysit." No. He's the father. Parents don't babysit.

Suggestion Seven: "Are you going to have this baby naturally, or are you going to do drugs?" A) This baby is coming out of me one way or another, and that's the natural scheme of things. B) If a doctor puts something in my spine to help alleviate the pain, I'm not doing drugs. Let's not liken an assist from an anesthesiologist to a heroin dealer, OK?

Suggestion Eight: "Why aren't you going to find out what it is? How will you bond with it?" Really? I think I'm already bonding with the baby. Knowing what gender it is won't change the excitement of feeling its first fluttery kicks, or hearing its heartbeat at the doctor's office. This baby is growing inside me, which is about as big a bonding experience as you can get.

I know a lot of the curiosity and such comes from a place of caring. Or morbid curiosity. But I think whole issue can be solved by just asking, "Would I say or do this if the person wasn't pregnant?" If the answer is, "Probably not," then it's probably not OK, period. But you know what is perfectly lovely? Telling a pregnant woman she looks great. Tell her she'll make a great mom.

Because on a day when you're tired, feeling large and realize that in your pregnant, sleep-deprived brain fog you wore two different shoes, positive words like that mean more than you know.

Bethany Erickson is a Dallas writer, 17 weeks pregnant, and the wife of Texas Health Resources web editor Tom Erickson.


  1. Great guide - now if only non-pregnant folks would actually take it to heart. I would add something to Suggestion 2, though - comments about belly size in either direction (too big OR too small) are inappropropriate. I got SO tired of hearing how I was too small for how far along I was. I'm tall, I was measuring right on track, and I delivered a healthy 8 pound, 4 ounce son (a week late!). So it was maddening to hear for nearly 9 months that I was too small! (Hearing I was "all baby" though, was nice, especially near the end when I felt like a whale.)

  2. LOVE it!!! You didn't, however, address all the lovely unrequested advice about the baby's name. (you are probably not to that point yet, so brace will come!) In addition to many unsavory suggestions that I had to fake interest in, the comment from my mother "he(the baby) is always going to wonder why you didn't love him enough to name him after his father" really didn't hurt my feelings as much as just made me think the outspoken party was seriously lacking taste or manners! Ugh!

  3. OH, we have names. But we're not tellin'. That way, nobody can tell us they hate them. LOL

    Yesterday someone at the deli in my office building touched my stomach and asked, "Oh, how far along are you?" So I reached out, put my hand on HER stomach, and said, "I'm due in April."