June 2, 2010

For the Love of Pregnant Ladies

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?


Kelli Staggs said...

The first time around I never knew what to say...the second time I kindly responded (in my lovely southern accent) "I like to think I already know what's best for my baby..." As a seasoned storyteller, I love to overshare and, I am sad to admit, I am constantly having to "whack-a-mole" my impulses :o) Great post with great advice!

User Not Found said...

Thanks Anne! I am constantly floored at the reactions I'm getting from people when they find out that we're expecting. "Congratulations!," they say. And then the light tone changes and this evil, dark voice comes out and they exclaim, "YOUR LIFE WILL NEVER BE THE SAME." And I'm like, "Well yes, I understand that things will be different, but we are very excited about this baby." Plus, who likes to be cornered in the staff bathroom and told labor horror stories in great detail?

Anonymous said...

Why is it that sometimes women are the worst offenders?! During my pregnancy last year I had a colleague tell me that I was looking "stout." Really?! Your rules made me laugh, Anne. Great advice. :)

Unknown said...

Everything you said is so true! I find it hard sometimes to hold back stories as well. I hated the unsolicited advice and negative comments when I was pregnant. Then I also find myself wondering why more moms didn't tell me certain things about having a baby! So I have to be careful. It's a delicate balance! Oh and I totally just wrote a post about unsolicited advice today. It's about a lady approaching me in target today about my baby carrier! ugh! Anyway, I agree with you and yet sometimes I find myself sharing something and then kicking myself and saying to myself "i didn't mean to be negative I was just trying to share and be helpful!"

Stephanie said...

I was on bedrest for 12 weeks due to pre term labir complications, It really bothered me when people would say " your so lucky you dont have to work, or get out of bed." IT KILLED ME knowing that my baby was in danger. People just didn't understand that i wasn't at home relaxing, I was worried every second until my daughter came.

Candace said...

Im a new follower and just had my first baby in February. How come when a woman starts to show, people start offering the most outlandish advice and ridiculous first hand accounts? Also, the backhanded
"compliments" There is something about seeing a pregnant woman that takes people's brains away!

Katherine said...

Another related rule should be NEVER EVER EVER ask a woman if she is pregnant! She is either not pregnant or doesn't want you to know that she is.

TropicalHappiness.com said...

Oh so true! I think "You look tiny for being x months pregnant" is always so much nicer than "Wow, your belly is huge!" No matter how far along she is or how big her belly might be!!! :)

Kristen said...

God bless you, Anne! Such a well-written post about a sensitive topic, and only you could say it so perfectly! Love you!

Claire RAoKmonkey said...

This is such a cute and clever post! Thank you for sharing.


Perfectly Imperfect said...

Umm.. can I really get that onesie?!? Because I would so put that on my child!

When I was pregnant, I only wanted advice from those I asked for it from. It really irked me when people overshared with me or told me that I was doing things wrong. Sadly, it doesn't change when the kid gets here. I now hear I'm doing things wrong way more than I count! I haven't killed my kid yet people. Obviously I'm doing something right!

Joette said...

I am currently expecting my first child...due in September. A few weeks ago I "vented" on my blog about the comments that I have been made about my changing shape and body. There have been so many comments made about my expanding hips and butt. There have also been so many comments about what eat, and what I am doing, etc, etc. I've had to put the comments out of mind and know (for myself) that I am doing the very best I can to take care of me and the baby-to-be. Thanks for the post!

Lindsy said...

I really enjoyed your post Anne! I have had some comments I'd rather not get, and stories/advice I could care less to hear! However, you know I will be calling you (and Liz and Lauren) for advice! You are such a sweet friend!

Kiki said...

Oh my goodness, this is so true and well said! I am almost 37 weeks pregnant and just put on bed rest and I cannot believe the things people "volunteer".

To date my favorite thing was a comment by a total stranger while getting a drink in a local casual restaurant..."My, you are really poking out there!".

Gee thanks.


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