Plus, brilliant comebacks for the next time a stranger tries to touch your bump.
Once you start to show, the world knows you’re pregnant and the world wants to talk about it. A lot. It’s like the fact that another person is growing inside you gives every person on the planet permission to say anything and everything that comes into their head. Or to even reach out and touch your belly, something they would never think to do if you were not pregnant.
I recognize that many of these interactions come from a good place. There is something really magical—unbelievable, even—about the ability to grow a human being inside you. But a lot of people don’t know what to do with their fascination or how to connect with you. So you end up hearing a lot of repeated phrases, comments, and questions that can either feel like really fun attention, drive you nuts, or, in some cases, make you anxious.
- “You're huge! Are you having twins?”
- “Oh my gosh. You’re so little, I didn’t even realize you were pregnant.”
- “Better get your sleep now. It’s your last chance!”
- “You’re not going to get the epidural, right?”
- “Are you going to have a ‘natural’ birth?”
- “I didn’t think it was okay to eat deli meat during pregnancy.”
- “Looks like you won’t have any trouble breastfeeding!”
- “You’re about to pop!”
Getting sized up
If you are concerned about your weight gain in pregnancy, comments on your size can send you to Google for two hours researching gestational diabetes. For women who carry small, hearing comments like “You don’t even look pregnant!” can launch a host of worries in their heads about the baby’s development. “A lot about pregnancy is unpredictable,” says Kathryn L. Bleiberg, PhD, associate professor of psychology in clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, “but one thing you can predict is that people are going to comment on how you are carrying, and some of those comments you won’t like.”
Understanding that this is common for all women who are pregnant will make the comments feel less personal. It’s also important to know that the man in line at the grocery store or the woman at the gas station are not medical experts. Women carry in many different ways, and “only you and your OB know about your body and pregnancy,” says Bleiberg. So talk to him or her if you are concerned. As for that annoying comment on the bus? “You can address it, or you can change the subject,” says Jodi Rubin, LCSW, an eating disorder specialist in Manhattan who works with pregnant women. “Just say, ‘Thank you, I feel really good,’ and move on. You don’t have to have the conversation.”
Getting felt up
I’m pretty sure that there is some kind of invisible magnet inside a pregnant woman’s belly that attracts the hands of certain people. I get it. I have this urge anytime I am near a good friend who is pregnant, and I have to consciously tell myself not to act on the urge or to ask first. Not everyone is similarly restrained.
It’s totally understandable if touch from friends or strangers is uncomfortable to you, and it’s 100% okay for you to step away, ask people not to, or let them know it makes you feel uncomfortable. In fact, I wrote an article on the topic and my favorite comeback came from pregnancy etiquette expert Paula Spencer Scott, author of Momfidence!: An Oreo Never Killed Anybody and Other Secrets of Happier Parenting. “Just tell them, ‘Look, but don’t touch!’ or ‘You break it, you buy it.’” Humor is an easy way to set a boundary. But it’s also perfectly acceptable to be straightforward. “Tell them that it feels uncomfortable. You don’t have to be specific about whether it’s an emotional or physical response,” advises Scott.
Getting unsolicited advice and nosy questions
Many (all?) pregnancy and parenting choices are personal, and some you can’t prepare for until you face them, but that won’t stop people you barely know from asking if you plan to get an epidural, whether you want to breastfeed, and who will be staying home to take care of the baby. And these kinds of inquiries are usually served up with a healthy side of unsolicited advice.
Try these good pregnancy comebacks and distracting techniques:
- “Everybody carries differently. I’m feeling great.”
- “Growing a person inside of you is kind of amazing, right?”
- “Thanks, but I don’t really like talking about my body. Can we talk about something else?”
- “Thanks. I feel really strong. How are you doing?”
- “I know! Isn’t pregnancy crazy?”
- “Oh, great, another thing to worry about!”
- “We haven’t decided yet.”
- “How did you make a decision about that?”
- “That’s really a private matter between my partner and me.”
- “Hands off the merchandise!”
- “What was your favorite thing about being pregnant?”
- “What was the hardest?”
- “Would you excuse me? I have to go to the bathroom.”
To get our top stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter
Hearing worst-case scenarios
No scientific data on this one, but it’s safe to say that many people like to talk about themselves and their experiences. Put that together with the fact that the best stories usually involve conflict and drama, and you end up with people sharing their pregnancy, birth, and parenthood horror stories with you. I really don’t think people think it through before they share intimate details of the hemorrhoids they had after vaginal birth or give you the blow by blow of their sister’s emergency C-section, or drop a bomb like, “Sleep as much as you can now. I haven’t slept through the night in three years.”
Maybe they want to feel less alone in the experiences they went through, or maybe they want to share information with you they wish they had had. Whatever the motivation, these comments are all about the person sharing them and have no factual bearing on your pregnancy. And you are under no obligation to listen to them.
Practice setting boundaries now
Pregnancy is a great time to practice putting boundaries in place. When you become a mom, you are embarking on an endeavor that other people feel they have a stake in—whether they are close family members who are related to your child or random members of society who believe they have a say in how future citizens are raised. The fact is that you will be hearing a lot of opinions from a lot of people from here on out.
Take this time to explore your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, plans, and hopes for parenthood, to get comfortable not knowing exactly how you will act in a given situation, and to practice standing up for what matters to you and letting people know when you do or do not want their input. “'No' can be a really loving word,” says Christina Hibbert, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in Flagstaff, Arizona, who specializes in women’s mental health and motherhood, “because you are saying yes to something better—the fact that you are the authority on you and your family.”
Excerpted from STRONG AS A MOTHER: How to Stay Healthy, Happy and (Most Importantly) Sane from Pregnancy to Parenthood by Kate Rope, copyright © 2018 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin's Press. On sale May 1, 2018.