July 27, 2011
Negotiating a Landmine: Interacting with a Pregnant Woman
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
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.
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.)
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!”)
- 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.
*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?”
What are some things that are acceptable to ask or say? Things pregnant ladies (at least in your experience) like to hear?
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?
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.
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.
(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.)