Handling Unwanted Comments During Pregnancy
Date: August 1, 2010
It begins as soon as you announce your pregnancy: the unsolicited comments from family members, friends and even strangers about everything from what you should be eating and which hospital you should choose to whether or not you should slip your newborn a binky. And as your baby and belly grow, so, it seems, does the litany of remarks.
Blame your highly visible state of pregnancy. "Your protruding belly literally shortens the distance between you and others, and some people think that closeness entitles them to all sorts of personal information," explains Dr. Teresa Spillane, a psychologist for Isis Maternity Centers, a Boston provider of prenatal education courses. Others get so wrapped up in the thrill of pregnancy that they spurt out inappropriate (though well-intended) comments when a simple "Congratulations!" would do. But just because you're sporting a bump doesn't mean you can't politely, yet firmly, ask these well-meaning (but tactless) folks to keep their opinions to themselves. Here's how to best deal with the all-too-common, unwanted comments about your maternal state.
"Can I touch your belly?"
Yes, your belly may be big and round, and out there for all to see, but that still doesn't make it public property. Thankfully, most people have enough good sense to know it's never OK to grope someone else's body — at least, not without asking first. If you prefer not to be rubbed like a Buddha, say so.
"Being polite doesn't mean letting others treat you in ways that make you uncomfortable," says Leah Ingram, author of The Everything Etiquette Book: A Modern Day Guide to Good Manners.
To stop it: Try using a little humor. Say, "Please look, but don't touch." Or turn the tables and say, "You can touch my tummy, if I can touch yours."
"I was in back labor for two days and finally had a cesarean section."
Positive birth stories have the power to make you feel more confident and less scared. Then again, terrifying tales — like "I tore" and "I gave birth in the backseat of a Chevrolet" — only intensify anxieties and fears. While nightmarish delivery stories aren't what the doctor ordered, a number of moms still feel compelled to share.
"Sharing their birth stories is their way of bonding. They truly believe they're being helpful by perhaps preventing you from experiencing something similar," Spillane explains.
To stop it: Just interrupt. If you find yourself in the throes of a childbirth tale only Stephen King's wife would appreciate, jump in and say, "Please stop. I'm already anxious about the big day."
"Are you sure you're not having twins?"
We all know it's impolite to comment on another person's size, yet propriety falls by the wayside when a baby's the reason for the weight gain. That's unfortunate, says Dr. Stacy Lindau, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago, because surging pregnancy hormones make moms-to-be more emotionally vulnerable to insensitive remarks.
"For most women, this is the largest they've ever been. And even though the pregnancy weight is temporary, they still struggle with body image issues," Lindau says.
To stop it: Say nothing at all. "By giving the commentator a silent, stunned look, she'll know you're offended," Ingram says. Should you feel the need to respond, try, "What would make you say something like that?"
"Haven't you had that baby yet?"
"When are you due?" usually closely follows, "Congratulations!" when people find out you're pregnant. It seems well-wishers are almost as excited about that magical date as you are. But when your due date has come and gone with no indication that your little one is going to make her appearance, responding to incredulous comments about your still very pregnant state can be exhausting and even upsetting.
To stop it: Switch roles and play doctor (at least for a few minutes). Remind others (and reassure yourself — again) that your baby isn't exactly late. Estimating due dates is not an exact science, which is why the majority of babies are born between 38 and 42 weeks gestation and only 5 percent arrive on their actual due date. Sprinkle in a little humor by saying, "I guess he's content where he is and at least he's quiet" or, "I love being pregnant so much that I decided to put off delivering for another month."
"Did you undergo fertility treatments?"
With women in their 50s (and even 60s) giving birth and the number of multiple births on the rise, it's no wonder this question has become more common and accepted. Since people normally wouldn't dream of inquiring about another person's sex life (and asking how one conceived is virtually the same thing), consider that the question isn't being asked out of pure nosiness, but because the inquisitor is struggling with fertility problems herself (or knows someone who is). Regardless of the underlying reason, how egg came to meet sperm is truly nobody's business but your own.
To stop it: Remind the inquisitor of personal boundaries. Steer the conversation in another direction by saying, "That's really a personal question. I'm thrilled about the baby, but I'd prefer we talk about something else." No matter what remarks you hear, try to remember people genuinely are happy and excited for you — even if their choice of words doesn't always convey it.
Jeannette Moninger got lots of practice dealing with rude comments while pregnant with her twin sons.