In the 1950s and 1960s, women didn’t work while they were pregnant. They wore clothes specifically to hide their growing baby bump. They would also go into a laying–in or confinement a month or two before birth, which means no one saw them at their largest.
No one spoke about the pregnancy in public and strangers certainly didn’t comment on how much a pregnant woman has “popped” or “blossomed” since the last time they saw her.
Fast forward to 2014 and not only is pregnancy a topic of public conversation, but comments about the woman’s body are as prevalent as talking about the weather.
There’s nothing quite like a coworker remarking about how you’ve reached the puffy stage of pregnancy and even your nose looks bigger! Or how your belly is magnificent! (Both comments real people said to me.)
Strangers at the grocery store walk up and put their hands on a pregnant woman’s belly, despite her obvious recoiling at the act.
These unwanted comments and physical touches would be considered rude at best and in some cases grounds for harassment in others.
Here’s a fun fact: the child is also probably recoiling. You can’t touch the child, you are a stranger invading her space. You are not comforting anyone. Your own narcissistic need to be a part (even for a moment) of something that is not in any way shape or form yours is actually making everyone, including the unborn child, uncomfortable.
There is nothing kind about what these people are saying or doing. For a woman who is already dealing with a complete loss of control of how her own body functions, how her shape looks and the general cognitive dissonance from what she thinks she looks like to how she actually looks these comments are just cruel.
No one in their right mind would say anything like these comments to a non-pregnant coworker, friend or stranger. In some cases, these comments would be grounds for a conversation with the HR manager or the ending of a friendship.
Commenting on a pregnant woman’s body is not funny, it is not an opportunity to bond unless she has given you explicit instructions and allowed you in that circle of trust. It isn’t cute, it isn’t funny and at best you are making every person within ear shot uncomfortable. A general hint: if you are wondering if you are in that circle of trust, you aren’t and should keep your mouth closed.
It’s astounding how many people just don’t see you, the human being, the brain, the person anymore and just see an incubator. A pregnant woman has enough trouble dealing with her new identity and changing shape that she doesn’t need the constant reminder that in your eyes, she’s no longer the breadwinner, the math genius, the marketing director, that she’s just a pregnant woman incubating a child.
Toward the end of the pregnancy the comments about “just you wait” or “I’ll remind you of that when” are beyond unhelpful. The pregnant woman IS waiting.
She also has ideas and dreams and aspirations for herself and her child. She has plans that may or may not be flexible and saying just you wait to comments about not sleeping well or being uncomfortable are extremely unkind. Reminding her of the intention to breastfeed (or not), have an un-medicated delivery (or not) or whatever can chip away at her confidence. She has the right to make her own choices, without your judgment, period. Pregnancy is not a competition.
Furthermore, when she’s at the end (or what you’ve determined to be the end) asking, “so when’s that baby going to get here” is just uncalled for. Babies don’t have a clock or a calendar, the mother doesn’t know any better than you do. Unless there are complications and a procedure is scheduled, she doesn’t know. In the case a procedure is scheduled, asking only reminds the woman about the issues surrounding it.
Instead of treating the mother like an incubator whose only purpose is to hatch a child, try bring kind. When you ask how are you and she says fine, don’t push. Don’t say, “no, really, how are you,” until she comes up with something to say. And when and if she does confide in you and tells you about an ache or pain, don’t say, “just you wait.”
Don’t share horror stories in an attempt to bond. If she wants to know your birth story, she’ll ask. But most likely she doesn’t.
Try to remember the woman is still a person, still a human being and still very much trying to hold on to who she was before she was going to be a mother.