Especially if you've never been pregnant — but even if you have — interacting with a pregnant lady can be a big social minefield. You know there's some stuff pregnant women don't especially like (invasive questions, belly rubs from strangers), but how do you avoid that stuff and talk to moms-to-be in a polite and normal way? We have the answers!
Do not talk about a horrible birth experience.
A friend of mine offers this advice: "If you are a person who has already had a baby, don't tell a pregnant person your horrible labor story about how you almost died and your baby almost died, oh but everything will be FINE." I also talked with Sarah Tuttle-Singer of Kveller and The Crazy Baby Mama, who says,
I'm all for hearing the gory details of a 82 hour labor that culminated in a gigantic dump on the delivery table and a third degree tear down there, but many women would prefer NOT to hear about it. So unless someone asks you to weigh in about your experience or your cousins's friend's sister's dog's experience, don't. In other words, save the horror montage for Wes Craven. And speaking of horror stories, please do not tell a pregnant woman about how you know someone whose baby died. It's our worst nightmare. And I promise, we will be up for the rest of the pregnancy kick-counting if you do that to us.
Don't talk about her size.
It's a pretty good rule of thumb not to make unsolicited weight comments in any situation, and pregnancy is no exception. Says Tuttle-Singer,
At some point, when a pregnant women waddles into the third trimester, hearing "oh, you're HEEEEYOUGE" can be really annoying. Especially when she has ten plus weeks to go. But on the flipside, hearing "oh, you're so teeny!" can be really unnerving because it can make her question the health of the baby beneath.
She also offers an alternative:
Any variation on the theme of "Wow! You're glowing! You look beautiful! ZOMG you are a goddess" are all acceptable. And appreciated. Greatly. And of course, feel free to ask "How are you feeling?"
Ask before you touch the belly.
A lot of people experience a reflexive desire to rub a pregnant lady's belly — it's all big and out there, with a little kicking thing inside it. And the pregnant lady herself may be into this — or she may not. That's why you need to ask. Tuttle-Singer advises,
Pregnant women are not public domain. Even if she's your BFF, do not caress her belly unless you've ASKED for permission, or unless she's said "hey, do you want to feel Kicky McFetus?" In which case, grope away... Even if she's wearing a Buddha maternity shirt that says "rub me for good luck" ASK. Because you do not want to contend with an irate pregnant woman — she might sit on you.
[N]o words are of value too. When a pregnant woman crosses my path, I can't help but send love her way, whether she knows it or not. If we happen to make eye contact, I typically send her a warm smile that communicates my respect for her and I move on. I have no personal need to flag her down and delve into her or my personal life. People who are inclined to do that need to read the situation to see if they are being too invasive. If a pregnant woman is keeping to herself, she is sending the message that it isn't a good time to connect.
Relatedly, Tuttle-Singer says,
Never assume someone is pregnant unless she straight up tells you that she's knocked up, or you actually SEE the baby crowning. Food babies and real babies can look remarkably similar, so until you know for absolute certain that she is in fact 'with child', do NOT smile fondly and pat her belly.
But what about the bus or subway? Luckily, Carla Saulter addressed this back when we discussed public transportation: "You don't necessarily have to say, 'wow, you're in the family way, can I give you my seat?' You might just say, 'do you want to sit down?'"
If you're inviting her out for drinks, go somewhere where there's food.
People differ on whether it's okay to have a drink here and there during pregnancy, but your pregnant buddy probably doesn't want to get wasted with you. And, says Tracie, "hanging out in bars and stuff is SO boring when you're not drinking, even if you're with people you like." Solution: go someplace where there's food. And not just because of the eating-for-two clichés — when everyone else is drinking, it can be nice to have something to do. Tracie explains, "I don't mind if people drink around me at all, as long as I have something to ingest." Also, the food should probably not be sushi.
Time your gift right.
If there's a baby shower, it's easy to know when to give your pregnant friend a gift. But if she's not having one, timing can be trickier. Tuttle-Singer points out that gifts before the baby is born aren't always a great idea: "Some cultures — like mine (Judaism) — frown upon gifting the unborn baby because we worry that it invites the 'Ayin Ha Rah' ('The Evil Eye')." Tuttle-Singer also says, "whenever someone would say to me 'this time next year, you're going to be a mama!' like it was a given, it would freak me out. I was afraid their well-intentioned words would jinx me, because in pregnancy — as in life — there are no guarantees." Pregnancy is stressful, and some women may not want to take anything for granted until they deliver a healthy baby. If you have reason to believe your friend falls into this camp, hold off on a gift until after the baby's born.
Give love and support.
Even if you don't give a physical gift, there's a lot you can give to a friend to make her pregnancy easier. Says Tuttle-Singer,
My dear friend, Crystal, came to more doctors appointments and impromptu jaunts to labor and delivery with me than my husband. Even in the middle of my most neurotic, hormonally charged meltdowns, she was there for me with a pint of Haagen Dasz or Chicken Tika Masalah. Not only that, but she seemed to genuinely love listening to me go on (and on and on and on and on) about each movement, each craving, each fear, and each hope. In hindsight, I was probably a monstrous pain in the ass, but SHE was the epitome of grace and love. And that's the most wonderful gift she could give me — support. No questions asked, no strings attached, compassion, love and support.
If you can give your friend that, everything else should fall into place.
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Image by Blayne Ward.