*This post was written for Doulas of Capitol Hill based on feedback from their followers
For some unknown reason, when someone becomes pregnant it’s almost as if they have handed out an open invitation for others to comment on their body and their lives. And maybe even weirder yet, it’s not just friends and family that receive this invitation, it is complete strangers. The elderly lady at the grocery store. The middle aged gentleman in the Starbucks line. Your best friends mother-in-law at a family barbeque. You get it. But here is where you come in. Wondering how to not be that mother-in-law? We can help! We reached out to our community and asked “what is something that you should never say to a pregnant person” and, unsurprisingly we had plenty of responses. Most of which came from personal experience.
(While I’m holding an infant in my hands, they looked at my “big belly” and said): “Are you having another baby already?!”
News flash- it is perfectly normal for a postpartum person to still be carrying weight in their belly well after they have given birth. It takes an average of 9-10 months to grow and birth a baby (including creating an extra organ!) They are not required to shed the weight days later, or ever! Also let’s try using logic for a second. If someone is holding an infant it is very unlikely or perhaps even impossible that they are already 5-6 months pregnant with another child. Let’s use the advice we give our children and think before we speak.
A complete stranger offered me the advice of "just have a lot of sex and you'll get that baby out!"... Very awkward
Do you feel comfortable talking to a random stranger about their sex lives? Probably not. So just because this one happens to be carrying a baby it doesn’t change the situation. And let us please not forget that not everyone who is pregnant has a partner. Some are single by choice and others not by choice. Rape survivors likely don’t want to be told to “just have a lot of sex” either. Let’s try to remember boundaries.
"When are you due? I almost died giving birth to my son"
Your story matters. Your trauma matters. But there is a time and a place for everything and telling someone, who is about to have a baby, about your personal birth trauma is probably not an ideal time and space. It’s very likely that this person knows all or most of the risks associated with childbirth. Added anxiety before birth won’t help the situation. If you need to speak about your trauma there are groups and individuals that you can reach out to. Please don’t hesitate to seek help.
“I hope that’s decaf.”
What a pregnant person chooses to put inside of their body is their choice. Let’s go ahead and assume that this person has been seeing a Doctor and knows what is and isn’t recommended to ingest during pregnancy and breastfeeding. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists “Moderate caffeine consumption (less than 200 mg per day) does not appear to be a major contributing factor in miscarriage or preterm birth. The relationship of caffeine to growth restriction remains undetermined.” In short: it’s really none of your business if that’s caffeinated or not.
“Are you sure it’s only one?”
“Yes Karen I’m sure!” Everybody carries differently and even the same body can carry differently for different pregnancies. Sure there is a slight chance that a second baby was missed in scans but it is HIGHLY unlikely. Either way, no one really wants to hear that you think they are SO huge that they couldn't possibly be carrying only one baby. Let’s also try to remember that an early loss might have occurred for this person resulting in the full term pregnancy of only one of their babies. A reminder that “it’s only one” is most definitely not welcome here. Again, we don’t know everyone’s story so let’s not assume.
Similarly any and all variations of....
“I once had someone tell me that they could tell I was eating for two.”
"Wow you've gotten huge"
“You’re about to pop”
“You must be due any minute!”
“Are you sure you have the due date right? You look further along”
“A lady came up to my mom in the mall and said ‘Must be any day now, you are ready to pop’ my mom told her she was only 7.5 months so she still had some time. The lady responded by saying ‘Oh, well, there is still time for the treadmill then’ ”
Body shaming is still weirdly one form of discrimation that people feel ok or valid doing. Pregnant or not, you have no right to comment on the size or shape of someone else's body. Saying you are concerned for their health is still not a reason to be allowed to have an opinion. It.is.not.your.body. Body dysmorphia, anorexia, binge eating, bulimia, all of these eating disorders can absolutely carry over into pregnancy and commenting on how big a person looks or how much they weigh is never ok.
Or the flip side
“You don’t look pregnant!” “Not a very big baby huh?” “You’re due next week? Looks like you have a long way to go!” “Oh you’re pregnant? You don’t look it at all, you’re so lucky!” (Well intentioned I’m sure, it still sucked.. I wanted to look obviously pregnant and was constantly reminded that I did not)...“These are all ways to make someone super self conscious that they just look extra fat but not obviously pregnant and that their baby is not growing enough!”
Let’s go back to the golden rule. If it’s not your body, don’t comment on it’s size and shape!
“Was it planned?”
Does it matter? Somehow we don’t think this is anyone's business but the people directly involved in the pregnancy. And we think it’s important to mention rape victims again here. You do not know this person's situation and you don’t know what traumas you could be bringing up by asking these seemingly innocent questions.
“Fourth baby?! On purpose?”
Just like if it was planned or not, the size of someone else's family is none of your business.
“Get sleep now while you can!” (I had the worst insomnia during my entire pregnancy)
We know that this “advice” is well intentioned but it’s weird to assume that this person is trying to not get sleep. Additionally, the idea that you can rack up on sleep before the baby gets here is misplaced. Sleep isn’t roll over minutes from AT&T. You can’t save up and use it for later after the baby arrives. (you can however, hire an overnight doula!)
The moral of this post is, just because someone is carrying a child (or multiple) it doesn’t give you the right to speak your opinion on their bodies or lives. If you feel like you have to say something. Stick to positive and vague statements like “You’re glowing” but when in doubt, saying nothing it all is always a welcome option. We know most of these statements are made with good intentions, but that doesn’t mean that it will translate that way. Think before you speak and remember that you don’t know everyone's story.
A collection of posts from different humans all over the world, sharing their stories about the struggles they have faced in their individual journeys to motherhood.