Life is tough enough without having someone kick you from the inside.
A strange phenomenon happens to pregnant women. The people around them lose their social sensitivity. Truthfully this phenomenon baffles me for two reasons: First, the perpetrators are often women themselves. Second, pregnant women are a pressure cooker of hormones and emotions – at any minute they could cry, yell, or throw up. Logically you would think we’d be on our best behavior around them. Yet, talk to any woman who’s carried a baby, and they’ll have stories of inconsiderate people. From an etiquette perspective, here are the worst offenders:
- Belly violators: Before I was pregnant I’d heard about people spontaneously touching the bellies of pregnant women. I thought that surely this pregnancy myth couldn’t be true. It’s just not accepted behavior in our society to touch someone’s stomach. As with so many of my pre-pregnancy beliefs on pregnancy – I was wrong. People actually touch your stomach. It’s bizarre.
- Size Police: Size police are sometimes sneaky. They don’t critique the expecting mom’s size directly; they come through the side door. They’ll ask her if she’s having twins. Or predict she’ll have a large baby. They may greet her with an emphatically stated, “Wow.” (It’s equally as rude to tell a woman she’s smaller than she should be. I just don’t have any personal experiences with this side of the coin to share!)
- Dr. Ruth Interrogators: What was private before a pregnancy is still private. Yet an announcement of pregnancy brings out the inner Dr. Ruth in friends and coworkers. Suddenly people ask women (shockingly!) if their baby was planned. If a woman is on her third, fourth, or fifth pregnancy she is subjected to jokes about her family planning and fertility. If a woman of a certain age is on her first pregnancy, she’ll be asked about fertility problems and if medical intervention was necessary to become pregnant. Unless you’re a medical professional, behind closed doors with a patient, do not ask about these personal issues. If she wants to share – she will.
- Freddy Krueger Friends: Ladies, I know labor and deliver is an initiation into a sorority of shared pain. However, a woman about to face delivery, whether it’s her first or third baby, doesn’t want to hear your scary story. It’s like not wanting to watch a movie about a plane crash before flying.
Recognize yourself in any of these categories? Dave Barry wrote:
“You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests that you think she’s pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.”
–Dave Barry, “Things That It Took Me 50 Years to Learn)
Remaining silent is certainly more polite than teasing her about a disappearing waistline. However, ignoring an obvious pregnancy can be just as awkward as responding badly!
To be on the side of the etiquette angels, do the following:
- Congratulate her and wish her well. Either tell her she looks wonderful or don’t comment on her appearance.
- Offer your seat to pregnant women. Their feet hurt.
- Only get personal if she goes there first! Her “delicate situation” is not a license for you to remove your verbal filter.
- Special note for husbands. Pregnancy is exhausting. Your body is working to MAKE A PERSON. It makes you tired. Lighten the load a bit for the love of your life. This is your moment in time to be the rock-star husband that women brag about at lunch with their girlfriends.
- Special note for coworkers and bosses: Congratulate her and then continue to treat her as part of your team. She’s the same competent professional she was prior to announcing her pregnancy.
Stay tuned for additional posts covering the etiquette of BEING pregnant – how to handle insensitive people and the social-side of pregnancy (baby showers, gifts, etc.). I’ll also write about the pregnant professional – how to tell your boss about a pregnancy and to remain the competent, committed professional that you are.