Aubrey Hirsch’s previous Loco Parentis columns for The Butter can be found here.
Look, it’s not rocket science. Pregnant people just want to be treated like people. But too often, I’ve found that my distended belly somehow signifies open season on body commentary and intrusive questions from strangers. With close friends and family members, I don’t mind talking about my pregnancy. But sometimes I just want to get in and out of the drug store without having to perform the expectant mother role for a bunch of excited strangers.
Here’s this grumpy pregnant lady’s guide to how not to talk to a pregnant person:
- tell her she’s pregnant like it’s breaking news. I assure you, if you can tell, she can tell.
- comment on her size. Some women enjoy their changing figures; others don’t. Some women get nervous that they’re gaining too much or too little weight or maybe they’re gaining the right amount, but at the wrong time or in the wrong places. Even if you think you’re giving a pregnant woman a compliment, you might be triggering a hidden anxiety. This woman is building a baby with her body. That is amazing. She doesn’t need to know whether or not you approve of her new shape.
- ask when she’s due, what she’s having, if she’s picked out any names. She’s already said “March,” “girl,” and “Emily” so many times her jaw is sore. And why? So the lady behind her in the grocery line can update her “pregnant strangers” spreadsheet?
- ask if this is her first pregnancy. She might say, “Yes.” She might say, “No.” She might say, “I have a four-year-old at home.” These are the easy answers. But what if the answers aren’t easy? She might not want to say, “I’ve had three miscarriages.” Or, “My first child died.” Or, “I had an abortion three years ago.” She might not want to lie. But she might not want to tell the truth either, especially if she doesn’t know you well.
- share a horror story. This should go without saying but no pregnant woman wants to hear that you threw up three times a day, every day for the entirety of your pregnancy. Or that your cousin was in labor for 71 hours and the epidural didn’t even work. Save those fun anecdotes for after the baby’s first birthday.
- think before you speak. Just because you see a pregnant person doesn’t mean you have to say anything at all. You probably don’t ask every blond person you see what it’s like to be blond, or how long they’ve had that hair color, or whether or not it’s real. Before you interrogate her about her pregnancy, ask yourself why you want to know, and whether satisfying your curiosity is worth interrupting this woman’s day.
- connect by giving, instead of demanding. If you’re looking to engage a pregnant woman in conversation because you just had a baby, or your sister is pregnant, or you and your partner are trying to conceive and you’re genuinely looking for a point of connection, why not open by offering that personal detail about yourself, instead of demanding information from her? Instead of asking “Is it a boy or a girl?” say, “I just had a baby girl in January.” Let her decide whether she wants to share anything with you.
- remember her nouns, not just her adjectives. She’s not just “pregnant.” She’s still a woman, a person, a professional, a karaoke star, a Game of Thrones fan. Gestating women don’t cease to be themselves the moment they conceive. Start a conversation with her the same way you would start one with a non-gestating person. Make her feel like her most important organ is still her brain, not her uterus.
Aubrey Hirsch is the author of Why We Never Talk About Sugar. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Rumpus, Brain, Child Magazine and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter: @aubreyhirsch.