This time of year, many of our refrigerators are sprinkled with sweet, pastel invitations to shower a mom-to-be. A wonderful impulse, don't you think? Showering someone with attention and joy?
The problem comes when people's eagerness to meet a baby-to-be collides smack into their desire to "forewarn" a woman of what's to come, speak "candidly" with her about past pregnancy or childbirthing/rearing experiences and provide her some "straight talk" advice.
Our moms were right; we really should think before we speak. To anyone. But when you speak to a woman who's fortunate enough to be expecting a child, whether her first or her fifth, please put Mom's advice to into practice.
Take whatever you want to say, roll it around in your brain (not off your tongue!) for a moment, then filter it through the lens of the hopeful, hormonal, exhausted but excited pregnant woman. Is it necessary for her to hear this? Is it encouraging?
People say all kinds of things to pregnant women. The universality of the experience, I think, makes sane human beings drop all decorum and common courtesy and say whatever occurs to them. That might be appropriate if you are the sister or best friend of the woman in question and she asks you for the nitty gritty or your deepest thoughts. For the general public, however, there are a few rules we should all keep in mind as we encounter these brave, blessed women.
1. Let's only comment on her appearance to say, "You look fantastic!" or "You look so very happy! What a glow." Should the urge to say anything else pop up, let's fight it down like the whack-a-mole game at Chuck E. Cheese. Yes, use that much vigor. (See examples of what not to say here.)
2. Offer only the most brief, positive and simple nuggets of faux advice. Nothing she'll find in What to Expect; only thoughtful, encouraging tidbits. These seem to be the hardest to find the further along a woman gets. Maybe we could try: "Pamper yourself - you deserve it!" "Rest for you is rest for the baby. Don't feel guilty about taking the elevator!" "Being pregnant means you're working harder in that chair than a grown man climbing Mt. Everest. Don't say you aren't getting enough done!"
3. If she comes to ask a question about your experience, be honest. Be empathetic. Be mindful that you're not an M.D. The phrases "you can do this," "you will be a wonderful mother," "you're in good hands," "I'm so proud of you" or "you're already doing an extraordinary job" cannot be overused.
4. No need to scare her with horror stories of month-long labors, female pattern baldness, flat butt syndrome, the loss of your expansive bosom, your inability to get a "good night's sleep" in "decades" or anything else that comes to mind about post-pregnancy life. We may think we're cautioning her; she'll undoubtedly just feel overwhelmed. That precious bundle is coming whether you terrify her or not, so let's leave what comes next to develop on its own.
5. We should applaud any and all sacrifices she's making. Cutting caffeine, aspartame, alcohol, Tylenol, wild dance parties, fake tanning, sky-high heels, rollercoasters, noxious nail salon fumes, heavy lifting, whatever the case may be - these all take thought and some measure of self-restraint. Offer to help with that box, keep her company while everyone else goes out for a smoke break (blech) or grab her a Sprite next time you're out.
But let's please not pressure her to do anything she'd like to avoid. I was called a "Cautious Camille" for turning down glass upon glass of wine at a client event. By a superior. Who continually noted my "inability to embrace moderation" during pregnancy. Are we encouraging pregnant women to drink now?
It's one thing to leave the door open for a doctor's approval of caffeine, medication, or even a glass of wine at the end of pregnancy. We all have our own (hopefully educated) opinions, but that's between you, your husband and your doctor. To urge someone to consume something they don't need or want? And mock their decisions to boot? I really don't know what to say to that, though I passionately wished for a witty response at the time.
6. Understand that everyone's experience is different. Every time. Even experienced moms find a second time around can be vastly different than their first. Share what was true for you, but don't push any viewpoint onto her. Acknowledge that your opinions aren't hard and fast rules. No woman should be brought to tears by someone pouring out her soft drink, lecturing her for vaccination choices or picking apart her every action.
7. Finally, the rule that triggered this post. My best friend will be on bedrest for the remainder of her pregnancy, what we're hoping will be around seven or eight weeks. (Keep cooking, Wynn!) I was incredibly thankful that my doctor didn't have to prescribe bedrest until the very end of my pregnancy; it was just a week and a half before I went into labor. Many women do not have this experience.
Please try not to tell them to "enjoy the rest" while they "can get it." Understand that many circumstances leading to bedrest can be scary, anxiety-inducing and even painful. It's hard to enjoy something that is a direct result of medical complications for you or your child.
It's even more painful to imagine that there's no light at the end of the tunnel, that things will only feel more difficult and burdensome once the baby arrives. Yikes. Why do all those baby shower cards wax poetic about the tender moments of motherhood if it's all so darn sleepless and awful?! Perhaps a better response might be to say you're sorry, you hope things go beautifully from here on out and you'd love to bring over a meal.
Ladies, what are your thoughts? I wrote a shorter, simpler version of this PSA in my third trimester. At the time, I was fighting the suspicion that the scary stories I'd been told would all happen to me. Encouragement and compliments were music to my ears.
On the "other side" of pregnancy, I find that I'm protective of my expecting friends and have even more passion for this subject than before. (Hence the wordiness!)
I'd love your perspective. What do you do/say in these situations?
2 hours ago