Jewish Journal

Negotiating a Landmine:  Interacting with a Pregnant Woman

by Sarah Tuttle-Singer

July 27, 2011 | 9:40 am

Pregnancy is both a beautiful and bizarre time. 


When I was pregnant, it felt like my body was no longer mine – not only did it belong to M and Little Homie

(and about ten thousand pounds of Haagen Dasz ice cream,) but it also seemed to be the property of  the whole entire world.    That’s what makes pregnancy so surreal – not only does your stomach shudder and shake like something out of a scene from Alien, but you also have to figure out how to navigate in a world where all the social norms you’ve grown up with are out the freaking window.


For instance:  If total strangers came up to you and fondled your belly when you weren’t pregnant, wouldn’t you shoot them  in the face with a can of pepper spray? 


If the barista at Coffee Bean said “are you sure you don’t want decaff, and holy crap, your boobs look huge” wouldn’t you actively consider throwing your drink in her face?  (And maybe be a little flattered but skeezed out as well? True story, by the way.)  


Now factor the hormonal highs and lows and being pregnant is super fun!


Look. I know that despite the gravitational pull of a knocked up woman’s belly, the universe does not revolve around her.  Still, I know how much I appreciated when people were supportive and loving, and not all weird and not judging every step I took, every pound I gained (85 for those keeping score at home) and every ice blended I sipped. which is why I was thrilled when  Anna North recently interviewed me for the article How to Properly Interact With Pregnant Women which ran a few days ag on Jezebel.com.  


Anyway,   I thought I’d share her original questions and my responses here. 


What are some things you should never say to a pregnant woman?


First of all, in the interest of full disclosure, I have broken every single one of the rules I am about to lay out for you.  More than once. 

- OK.  The first cardinal rule when dealing with a pregnant person:  Now, say it with me: Never assume someone is pregnant unless she straight up tells you that she’s knocked up, or you actually see the baby crowning.  Food babies and real babies can look remarkably similar, so until you know for absolute certain that she is in fact ‘with child’, do not smile fondly and pat her belly.

In fact, just don’t pat her belly at all….


-   And this leads us to our second rule: Pregnant women are not public domain.  Even if she’s your BFF, do not caress her belly unless you’ve asked for permission, or unless she’s said “hey, do you want to feel Kicky McFetus in action?”  In which case, grope away… Even if she’s wearing a Buddha maternity shirt that says “rub me for good luck”ask.  Because you do not want to contend with an irate pregnant woman—she might sit on you.  (I would.)



Touch me, and I will cut you.  Try me.

-  OK, at some point, when a pregnant woman waddles into the third trimester, hearing “oh, you’re HEEEEYOUGE”  can be really annoying.  Especially when she has ten plus weeks to go.   But on the flipside, hearing “oh, you’re so teeny!” can be completely unnerving because it can make her question the health of the baby beneath. 


I experienced both extremes during my first pregnancy—until I reached 28 weeks, everyone told me how tiny I was, and this scared the crap out of me, so I hunkered down with Haagen Dasz, and within a few weeks the chatty homeless man in front of CVS informed me I was having twins. 

“No, not twins,”  said I.

“Triplets!  How wonderful!”

Yeah, not so much.

(In other words, please refrain from shouting “Thar she blows!”)

In fact, just don’t say anything about a pregnant woman’s belly - with one exception:  “You look FANTASTIC!”  is always great to hear.


-   Another thing you should never say to a pregnant woman  is  “Was it planned?”  Because sometimes pregnancies are not planned.  (Ahem.) And regardless of whether this one is or isn’t, it really isn’t any one’s business.  And come on, do you want to hear about how your friend spent five minutes each day analyzing her cervical mucous?  Didn’t think so. 

-  When I was pregnant, it made me sad to hear, “Oh, what a blessing!  Enjoy every precious second!”  Because there were times when I felt ambivalent about gestating life- dry=heaving into the tampon box in the public restroom at Barnes and Noble was one of those times, and sure, while in hindsight it makes for a funny memory, in that moment I was really miserable.  Yes, being pregnant is a transformative experience - carrying life is miraculous.  But it’s also scary.  And when people would say “oh, don’t you just LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE being pregnant?” I felt ashamed that I didn’t love it every second. 

-  Now, along this same vein,   I am Woody Allen with a uterus.  And many other women are similarly neurotic.  While some people head straight to Babies R Us and register as soon as they pee on a stick, I’m much more wary.  And whenever someone would say to me “this time next year, you’re going to be a mama!” like it was a given, it would freak me out.  I was afraid their well-intentioned words would jinx me, because in pregnancy—as in life—there are no guarantees.

-  OK, I’m all for hearing the gory details of an 82 hour labor that culminated in a gigantic dump on the delivery table and a third degree tear down there, but many women would prefer NOT to hear about it.  So unless someone asks you to weigh in about your experience or your cousin’s friend’s sister’s dog’s experience, don’t.  In other words, save the Horror montage for Wes Craven. And speaking of horror stories, please do not tell a pregnant woman about how you know someone who’s baby died.  It’s our worst nightmare.  And I promise, we will be up for the rest of the pregnancy kick-counting if you do that to us.

-  Advice is a sticky issue:  Now, I loved getting advice from family, friends, and the kindly checkout clerk at Whole Foods - but that’s me.  And really, not everyone feels that way.   Problem is, I assumed that all my pregnant friends would want to bask in the glory of my newly attained knowledge once I became a mama.  It wasn’t until two recently knocked up girlfriends defriended me on facebook that I realized maybe I should STFU and wait to be asked.   Instead of saying “oh, make sure you sleep on your left side and stay away from unpasteurized soft cheeses, and are you sure flying to France when you’re four months pregnant is safe, and really, you have to make sure that your baby is moving x amount of times per hour, and if you want to breastfeed - which of course you want to- then stay away from… ” (you get the idea…)  I now say “If i can help in any way, let me know.”

- Which reminds me:   Please do not tell a pregnant woman how she should be raising her child.  (Did ya see the keywords, people?  Her.  Child.) Breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding.  Disposable diapers vs. cloth diapers.  Dr. Ferber vs. Dr. Sears.  Daycare vs. nanny vs. stay-at-home parent.  Just let her figure out what works best for her.

(If she wants to gaze into the Eyes of Judgment, she can always go visit her Mother-in-Law. )

-  If a pregnant woman shows you the money shot of her baby-boy-to-be, you are allowed to say the following :

  *  Oh wow, no question there!

  *A boy!  That’s awesome!

  *- OH MY GAAWWWDDD that’s like the fetal version of Ron Jeremy!

There is one thing you must never ever ever ever ever say:  “Are they sure it’s a boy?” 

-  I think one of the most annoying things you can say to a pregnant woman is the classic line  “Oh, you better sleep now while you can because once the baby gets here, good luck” (hyuk hyuk hyuk.)  Yes, because pregnant women are squirrels gathering sleep for the long winter.  Believe you me, in the third trimester, most pregnant women have to contend with stabbing sciatic nerve pain, leg cramps, heartburn, 1:00 am, 2:00 am, 3:00 am, 3:30 am (damn that stupid glass of water!) and 4:00 am trips to the bathroom.  In other words, it’s virtually impossible to sleep…. Please don’t add to the anxiety by reminding a mama-to-be that it’s only going to get harder.   We will curse you when stress-eating our way through an entire bag of Hershey chocolate chips later that night.

- And finally, please don’t say  “Wait, you’re still pregnant?”  when you see her waddling toward the ice cream section at the grocery store three days after her due date.  We all know that the watched pot never boils.  So step away from the stove.


What are some things that are acceptable to ask or say? Things pregnant ladies (at least in your experience) like to hear?

- Any variation on the theme of “Wow! You’re glowing!  You look beautiful! ZOMG you are a goddess” are all acceptable.   And appreciated.  In fact, lets try this:  . Log into facebook.  Find your friend with all the bellyshot pictures, and  post an upbeat comment that does not refer to whale watching.

- You can also feel free to say something like “Oh wow, from behind I can’t even tell you’re pregnant. Drop it like it’s hot, baby mama!”

When in doubt, just give her a warm smile. 

Assuming you’re not going to a shower, should you send a gift/card before the baby is born, or should you wait until after? And what’s a good gift to get?

I’ll answer the easy part first: A good gift to get is whatever the parents-to-be ask for on the registry.  If there is no registry, ask what they want/need. You can also consider teaming up with other close friends to buy a ‘big’ gift (car seat/changing table/crib…) but just make sure to check in with the grandparents-to-be first because grandparents can be super territorial over the big ticket items. 

Also?  Give wash cloths.  First time parents seriously have NO IDEA how much they are going to need wash clothes.  No, really.  Wash cloths.  And babies tend to outgrow the 0-3 onesies super-fast. Although on the flipside, newborns are shit and spit machines and having itty bitty onesies is always helpful.


And if she has a sense of humor, get her a box of condoms as well.

As far as when to give gifts, this is a touchier issue.  Some cultures—like mine (Judaism) frown upon gifting the unborn baby because we worry that it invites the Ayin Ha Ra” - “The Evil Eye.”  And because of this some women will be uncomfortable with the idea of accepting gifts before the baby is born. 

Now, if the mama-to-be is having a shower, then try to get the gift to her before the baby arrives—some people are planners and like to have every detail in place.  Her life is about to get ridiculously chaotic (no need to tell HER that, though) and the illusion of order and control may be comforting.  


What are some ways you can offer to help a pregnant friend?


My dear friend, Crystal, came to more doctors appointments and impromptu jaunts to labor and delivery with me than my husband.  Even in the middle of my most neurotic, hormonally charged meltdowns, she was there for me with a pint of Haagen Dasz or Chicken Tika Masalah.  Not only that, but she seemed to genuinely love listening to me go on (and on and on and on and on) about each movement, each craving, each fear, and each hope.  In hindsight, I was probably a monstrous pain in the ass, but SHE was the epitome of grace and love.  And that’s the most wonderful gift she could give me - support.  No questions asked, no strings attached, compassion, love and support.

Now, if your pregnant friend lives far away, or you are busy and can’t race out at 11:00 PM to take her to the hospital because she’s sure she’s going into preterm labor (but really it’s just gas - not that I would know of such things…) there are other things you can do :  Ask to see ultrasound pictures.   “Like” the bellyshots she posts on Facebook even if they’re starting to get annoying.   And feel free to leave supportive, loving comments…. By doing these simple things, you help make your friend’s pregnancy a nurturing, beautiful experience.  She will notice, and she will be grateful.


For the full article, please check out How to Properly Interact With Pregnant Ladies on Jezebel.com.

(And the picture they chose to run with the piece?  Classic.  And maybe a little frightening. Totally worth clicking on the link just for that.)





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Sarah Emily Tuttle-Singer is a stay-at-home mama who craves adult interaction, a triple-shot latte, and a stiff drink

and a good night’s sleep.  Born and raised in Los...

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