Before this year began, I really was pretty clueless about pregnancy and childbirth. I had several friends, a sister-in-law and a few other acquaintances who had been pregnant, but I don’t think I really realized much about the entire process. I didn’t really have an understanding of how drastically my own body would change, all of the crazy symptoms that come along with pregnancy, and perhaps, most surprisingly, I completely underestimated the ways that common strangers might begin to approach me in new ways.
So, as I sit here, about 10 days from my due date, and feeling like more of a spectacle each time I leave the comfort of my air conditioning and brave the outside world, I offer you my list of the top six things that I resolve never to do to another pregnant person again, now that I have personally experienced them for myself.
1. I will not just assume that it is ok to rub her belly. I get it. Bellies are cool. It’s pretty amazing and impressive to know that every pregnant person you see is growing a baby inside there. And really, I don’t have big personal space issues. I love it when my friends and family rub my belly as a sign of love for their coming granddaughter/niece/cousin/friend/etc. And if people I know are fascinated by the belly, and they ask whether it’s ok to rub, I usually give them the green light. But to you, random 50-year-old man in Starbucks whom I have never met before: walking up to me, rubbing my belly and saying, “This baby’s dropping soon, huh?”, is not appropriate. At all. This is my belly. It’s still attached to my body. If I weren’t pregnant and you came up to pat my abs, people around you would be horrified and it would be called sexual harassment.
2. I will not simply volunteer to tell her my pregnancy horror stories. Since I hit seven or eight months pregnant, I have been really curious to hear other people’s birth stories. I’ve been asking friends and acquaintances to share their tales with me, and when I ask, I expect that I’ll hear some of everything: great, relaxed birth stories, tales of births that didn’t go quite according to plan, and testaments of very long labors. But what I didn’t expect was that strangers would, out of the blue, offer me stories of the worst labors they (or their friends) have ever experienced. Stories of incompetent doctors, labors that lasted for 56 hours, etc. This is not encouraging. If you’re going to inundate me with something during pregnancy, shouldn’t it be with stories about how glad you were to have your baby or how memories of labor pains fade over time…
3. I will not make value judgments about the size, shape or placement of her belly. At the beginning of pregnancy, I couldn’t wait for my baby belly to start showing so I could stop looking “nebulously chunky” and start looking full-blown pregnant. For awhile, I thought that perhaps I would never get large and I was crushed every time a stranger would say, “Oh, there’s no way you’re 5 months pregnant” or “You’re too small to really be that far along.” I was sure that I was doing something wrong and was somehow growing the world’s puniest baby who might never reach full size. But now, my how the tables have turned. Beginning a month or so ago, people began coming out of the woodwork to tell me, “Wow, you must be overdue,” or “What have you been feeding that baby?!” Again, not so reassuring for a woman who is getting ready to push this child out, and who still has a month (or maybe more) to go before this baby is even overdue. So, a word to the wise, which I never really would have understood prior to being a paranoid pregnant person: It helps no one to make random value judgments about my belly.
4. I will not stare at pregnant people in public. I know, I know. I do look a bit more like a sideshow attraction every time I venture out in public, and I’m probably wearing clothes that have more in common with a tent than they do with the clothes I was wearing 9 months ago or that regular people like yourself are wearing today. I know this and you know this. BUT, you brazenly staring at me while I navigate my way through the grocery store and climb in and out of my car does not make me feel less conspicuous. The occasional glance is cool, but remember, I’m just pregnant, and it’s still ok for me to be out in public. I can offer you about a 99% guarantee that I am not just going to drop this baby on the spot.
5. I will not judge her birth choices. Frankly, there’s enough guilt out there surrounding motherhood to go around, without everyone feeling like they need to get in on the action. I am really excited about our birth plan, and I will happily share with anyone who asks how we are planning. We’re hoping to go natural, avoid medication and intervention as much as possible, etc. But I’m certainly not under the impression that this is the only way to give birth, and I know that often circumstances can change. So, I’ll respect your birth choices if you’ll respect mine. Let’s just make a deal on that one.
6. I will not comment on her sweaty, flushed countenance. OK, now this one seems like a no-brainer to me. It’s August. I’m pregnant. It’s hot. If you haven’t had a chance to experience this personally, try sticking a warm watermelon under your shirt and carrying it around outside for 20 minutes. I guarantee: you’ll be sweating, too. And seriously folks, it’s not that I don’t know that I look “hot” (and not in the sexy sense, either). And, frankly, you remarking that, “I seem warm” will not help either you or I to feel better about my melting mascara.
To be fair, there are so many ways that people have responded that I appreciate and I want to remember to emulate when I see pregnant people in the future. I will: compliment her appearance, tell her a happy pregnancy tale, offer encouragement, be willing to let her share her own stories and thoughts when she’s excited and scared, offer to help carry her groceries to her car, help her family move across campus in the dead heat of summer, etc. I have been blessed to be surprised by kindness from family, friends and strangers all throughout pregnancy.
But I will always carry these six memories with me as a reminder of the patterns that I don’t want to foist onto any pregnant people who cross my path in the future.
If you are or have ever been pregnant, what are your favorite and/or least favorite memories of other people’s responses to you from that time?