I love pregnancy. I love pregnant people. I am filled with awe and wonder and gratitude and joy when I see a pregnant woman. The childish glee I feel when it comes to all things pregnancy has, however, inspired more than a few foot-in-mouth moments and led to some hard-earned lessons on what not to say to a pregnant woman.
What does one say to a pregnant woman? What is appropriate? What's OK to say to close friends, who may not love pregnancy as much as you do, particularly if they’re in the midst of the not-so-fun pregnancy side effects, like endless nausea or skin flares? What's OK to say to a complete stranger passing by, innocently pushing their shopping cart in the grocery store?
Hint: If it's a stranger, what to say is nothing at all. No need to utter a single word to that pregnant person about the fact that they are pregnant. Because guess what? They might NOT be pregnant. They may never have been pregnant. They may be newly not pregnant and feeling more than a tad self-conscious. They may be a million things, and saying nothing may save you from a cringe-worthy moment.
Let me help you help yourself. I’ve been pregnant. I’ve been not pregnant. I’ve been pregnant and then not pregnant in very quick succession. And I’ve been the impulsive human who said something very, very silly to a pregnant person.
Here’s what not to say to a pregnant woman
“Oh, I had a suspicion you might be pregnant!”
Instead, say: “Yay for babies! Can I do anything for you?”
What exactly does this mean? Does it mean you thought the person looked bloated? That they were carrying a little extra weight where they hadn’t before? That you thought the person was at the appropriate age or life stage to be trying for a family, based on your personal opinion? There are too many questions left by such a statement that could easily result in a very awkward conversation should the pregnant person choose to follow up. Instead, a simple ‘Congrats!’ will do.
“Aww, what are you going to do about the dog(s)?”
Instead, say: “That’s awesome. I’m here for anything you need along the way.”
If the pregnant person in question loves their fur babies, pregnancy does not change that fact. Nor does having a human baby. Please don’t imply that pregnant people’s ability to be a decent pet owner abruptly ends with the birth of a human baby. Shockingly, there are millions of people around the world succeeding in both raising a child and owning an animal. Even multiple animals. At the same time. Instead, give a genuine offer to help!
“Oh, wow! Were you trying for a baby?”
Instead, say: “Congrats, that’s so exciting!”
Pause for effect here. Imagine me just staring solemnly at the person who just asked me this question.
First, friends, this is a moot point. Because trying or not, there’s a baby in there. Second. Just no. OK? No. Like my mama used to say, “None-yuh. Meaning none yuh business.” If you need to say something, again, a simple "Congrats!" will do.
“Can I…” No. “But may I…” Nope. “Would it be okay if I…” Absolutely not. “...touch your belly.”
Instead, say: “How are you feeling?”
Somehow, society seems to imagine that a pregnant belly exists independently. Like it’s just a floating, baby-growing vessel, walking around on its own two legs. May I take this moment to remind the world that pregnant bellies are, indeed, still just bellies attached to humans. And that those humans still reserve the right to decline your offer to touch them. In fact, they really deserve to be in public without having friends or strangers constantly asking to touch their body at all.
Aside from the obvious fact that a woman is housing another life within her abdomen, there is absolutely no difference between touching a pregnant body as compared to a non-pregnant body. Either way, asking to touch someone’s stomach is just weird. Don’t be weird. Instead, ask how she’s feeling.
“Oh my gosh! When I was pregnant [insert horrendous pregnancy and labor stories here].”
Instead, say: “I’m thrilled for you. I remember what it was like to be pregnant. If you need a listening ear, I’m here.”
Guilty. I’m guilty. I have 100% done this to a poor, unsuspecting pregnant woman before, and only realized afterward how traumatizing some of my stories must have been.
People love to tell their own pregnancy and birth stories. They are the stories of their children’s existence. They are sacred, special, incredible, and worthy of being told. But there is a time and a place.
Unless a pregnant woman specifically asks that you share your experience, holding off is the best bet. Talking to a woman who is 25 weeks pregnant about your 48-hour labor that ended in a traumatic C-section during which the surgeons discovered you had 2 uteruses and an extra kid in there may be a bit overwhelming when that person has not even considered the possibility of a birth that veers from her specific plans. Instead, let her know you're there to listen.
Related: 5 lies I believed about giving birth
A note from Motherly
Pregnancy is a truly incredible, awe-inspiring function of the human body. What is important to remember, though, is just that: that we are talking about a human being. A pregnant person is still a person who has feelings, fears, worries, desires. Neither the state of their body nor their birthing and parenting plans are the business of others. Kindness, compassion, empathy and acceptance are what pregnant women need. If you focus on that, you’ll do fine.