A couple of weeks ago, Holly Ellis Spiegel shared some stories and tips about dealing with unsolicited parenting advice. Now, she’s tackling those pesky comments that pregnant women invariably get (i.e. You’re HUGE! Are you sure you’re not having twins?!!?) when they’re simply existing while pregnant.
Remember that it’s not about you, it’s about them. It’s like the Invasion of the Body Snatchers; and I’m not just talking about the alien life form growing in your uterus. As soon as you’re noticeably pregnant, you become an object of attention for everyone who sees you. I tell people over and over that being pregnant was like walking around Brooklyn with an enormous neon sign around my neck that blared, “tell me what you think about my body!” More often than not, people thought my body was “HUGE,” and they saw no issue in telling me so. And this wasn’t just random jerks on the street. These comments came from good friends! From other feminists who would be appalled if they heard someone saying these things to a non-pregnant woman. But for some reason, yelling, “you’re HUGE!” at your pregnant friend is totally cool: it’s practically a compliment.
Maybe the women who approach you with dire warnings that you’re gaining too much weight or drinking too much coffee are merely still struggling with the horrific memories of their own pregnancies. Maybe the men just can’t help themselves from saying something because the woman before them is going through something so mind-blowing that they just have to put it into terms they can understand. So they tell themselves: she’s not creating life; she’s just getting fat.
But, before you let these comments send you down a rabbit hole of self doubt, remember that they probably have very little to do with you and a great deal to do with how little the speaker knows about pregnancy and how much pleasure they get from trying to make you feel lousy.
Know that time is on your side. As patient mama Celeste* says: “My favorite comeback is time. When I was pregnant I allowed myself one cup of coffee and I got an overwhelming amount of crap from one particular friend. ‘Your baby’s going to be hyperactive due to caffeine! Blah blah blah. Buzzfeed told me, blah blah blah.’ Welp, guess who’s pregnant now and relishes her one cup of coffee? I politely reminded her of all the annoying comments she made while I enjoyed my little coffee. She apologized, and still apologizes to this day. It was way more rewarding than a spur-of-the-moment comeback.
Have a few snappy comebacks on hand. Sometimes patience just isn’t satisfying enough. For those moments where you just have to put someone in their place, here are some pointed (but polite) ways to tell them to step off.
Here are two interactions from my life:
Male friend at a party: So, you’re 5 months along now?
Him (staring at my stomach): You’re a little big for 5 months, aren’t you?
Me: Well, my doctor—who sees pregnant women on a constant basis—has never suggested she’s concerned about my weight, and all the pregnancy apps and books tell me that my weight gain is smack dab in the “normal” range…but you’re a single man, with no children. Why don’t you tell me what you think?
Woman at Grocery Store: God bless you and the baby.
Me (very touched): Oh, thank you!
She (leaning in dangerously close, with an evil glint in her eye): But do NOT get a caesarean! Do NOT!
Me (shrinking away): Are you a doctor?
Me: OK then.
Of course, I could have gone on to say that even if my labor had lasted for days, the baby’s heart rate was dropping precariously low and my obstetrician was screaming for an emergency C, I would cry, “NO! The lady in the frozen food aisle at Trader Joe’s told me not to!” But just walking away made it less likely that she would take offense—and that I could buy my ice cream in peace. (For the record, my baby was delivered vaginally, with minimal interventions, weighing a moderate 7lbs 9oz – crazy ladies wielding frozen vegetable biryani be damned).
Brooklyn mama Carrie* has two stories of awesome comebacks to the clueless confrontations all pregnant women endure:
Co-worker: Don’t worry, you’ll lose the weight.
Carrie: I’m not worried.
Co-worker: But don’t think it’s going to happen immediately, you have to be patient.
Carrie: I’m not worried.
Co-worker: But you know your body will never be the same.
Carrie: [why are you still talking to me?]
And another time Carrie bravely faced down some nonsense:
Friend of a friend: Oh, you’re pregnant.
Carrie: Yes, I’m due next week.
FOAF: You look great. How much weight have you gained?
Carrie: The right amount.
FOAF: But how much?
Carrie: Next time I go to the doctor and they weigh me, I’ll let you know!
Carrie’s comeback in both of these cases is confidence. Which, even if the other person doesn’t get it, you can always remember that you have it.
P.S. You’ll want to have these after the baby comes too. Here are a few ideas.
And finally, trust your body, trust your doctor, trust yourself. Ignore everyone else. No matter what, no one who says these things has your best interests in mind. They are ignoring the human being standing before them and thinking, “she’s no longer in possession of her body, so what does she care what I say about it?” But, as Brooklyn mom Stephanie* points out, “you would never ask me about my weight if I weren’t pregnant!”
So feel free to point out how unkind they’re being: “if you wouldn’t say that to a not-pregnant woman, don’t say it to a pregnant one.”
AND, finally a note to the non-pregnant readers out there. If you, non-pregnant-person, feel you just have to say something to that pregnant friend of yours, here are three words you’ll never regret: “You look great.”
*all names have been changed.
Holly Ellis Spiegel is a writer and freelance film and video producer based in Brooklyn. She’s produced four feature films including the Sundance-selected Prairie Love and countless videos for parents and families on CafeMom and other outlets. She is also a new mom. See her work at www.hollylynnelis.com.