“America loves pregnant women,” says Amazing Amy, the protagonist of “Gone Girl.” I laughed out loud at that line. Really? Maybe if they get murdered.
Four pregnancies in, I would put Amy’s point differently. Americans are fascinated by pregnancy. But they’re also kind of awkward about it. Which, when you think about it, is unsurprising.
For one thing, a lot of Americans live in bubbles of society (such as college campuses) where pregnancy either doesn’t happen, or is a total life crisis. It’s at the center of a zillion hot-button controversies: abortion, artificial reproduction, teen pregnancy, mommy wars, endless arguments about appropriate family size. Unsurprisingly, we have trouble seeing pregnancy as a normal life stage. (Even though that’s exactly what it is, for every person who is born.) It has to be a thing for us.
What kind of thing? It varies. The pregnant form stirs up a whole range of emotions in people. From the perspective of a healthy, low-key pregnant lady, it’s kind of amusing to watch people get all jumpy around me just because there are two of us. Relax, folks. If pregnant women make you uncomfortable, here are a few things you should know.
1. Pregnant Women Are Not Sick
Accordingly, there’s no need to treat us like invalids. No hushed “doctor” voices or asking if every food or activity is all right “for me.” (If it isn’t, I’ll tell you.)
This is a common confusion, because pregnancy is in a sense a medical condition. But it doesn’t mean my body is broken. It’s working. I realize that some pregnant women like sympathy over their aching backs, etc., and that’s fine, but it’s mildly irksome when people keep putting on their pity face when they notice that I’m pregnant. Nothing is wrong with me.
It’s especially good to keep this in mind if for whatever reason you find yourself in the presence of a woman in labor. In the intense final stage of my first delivery, a loved one (not my husband) told me sympathetically that I “looked pretty under the weather.” Uh, thanks. I didn’t reply (because I was in that zen, high-concentration phase where talking to people is just too much work), and I understand that he meant well. But it was sort of like running a marathon, and seeing somebody familiar standing along the road as I ran by. “Hey, try not to die! You look like crap!”
Childbearing is something women do, not something that happens to them. And I find that women who see it the other way tend to have pretty negative feelings about the whole process. Don’t reinforce it by treating us like sickies.
2. We’re Not Stupid
I’ve never understood this, but being pregnant seems to massively increase the number of people who speak to me like I’m a simpleton, as though my IQ drops 50 points because I’m gestating. What’s up with that?
“You see,” explains the store manager patiently, “it sometimes happens that people buy more of a particular item than we expect, and we run out. Then we order more, but it takes a few days for that new order to get here. Until it comes, you won’t be able to buy one at this location.”
Jeepers, mister, that sure was a fun teaching moment. But did you notice I’m a grown-up? You can save your slow, patient explanations for when I have my kids with me.
I guess “preggo brain” may be a real thing, but not the sort of thing that’s stopped me from, say, defending my dissertation in my third trimester. I suspect there’s some ugly stereotype underneath this attitude (maybe that smart, accomplished women don’t get pregnant, or at least have the grace not to lose their girlish figure when they do). But rather than diagnose it, I’ll just advise: talk to pregnant women like they’re, you know, adult human beings of ordinary intelligence.
3. We’re Not Crazy
I blame the entertainment industry for this one. Pregnant women in movies are almost always neurotic and intensely needy. (Except in “Fargo,” and that character is awesome.)
I’m not saying pregnancy hormones aren’t a thing. But you don’t need to worry about it unless you’re me, my husband or… actually that’s all. I’m still a perfectly rational person, who maybe just feels a little more bothered than I normally would when the orcas kill the baby gray whale in “The Blue Planet.” No big deal.
4. You Almost Certainly Will Not Need to Race Pregnant Women to a Hospital
Another ridiculous media trope. In movies, laboring women are regularly getting raced to the hospital by mailmen or pizza boys who happen to be on hand. Nervous fathers experiment with different routes to the hospital because that extra 45 seconds will probably spell the difference between life and death.
How often have you seen this happen in real life, where a pregnant woman is rushed out of a restaurant or mall because the baby is coming right this second? Probably never. There’s a reason for that. In most cases, labor takes pretty much forever. My deliveries take so long I could just walk the six miles to the hospital, except by the time I got there it’d already be full of people who had heart attacks because they saw a laboring woman strolling along the interstate.
In the earlier stages of labor, I’ve cooked meals, gone grocery shopping, and engaged in spirited online debates about the moral implications of libido-enhancing drugs. (My interlocutors were a little startled when I disappeared for a few hours and then popped back in with a birth announcement. But I knew they wouldn’t be comfortable crossing swords with me if I told them I was passing the time between contractions.)
In any case, Random Nervous-Looking Stranger, you can just keep your keys in your pocket. You aren’t about to be drafted for an emergency hospital run.
5. It’s Not Your Job to Police What We Buy or Consume
A surprising number of people seem to think that pregnant women are automatic wards of the public. Nope.
That means you don’t need to give me the evil eye when I step into the coffee shop. (You don’t even know what I’m ordering. And also, it’s not your business.) There’s no reason to be scandalized if you see me in the checkout line of Total Wine. I might be going to dinner party, or getting something special for my husband’s birthday. Or maybe I am buying something for myself, which is completely fine, because guess what? I won’t be pregnant forever, or even (if it’s visible now) for very much longer. If the store is having a sale on the Lus’ favorite Shiraz, why shouldn’t I pick up a case?
Living in America, it’s an absolutely 100 percent sure thing that I am aware of the Surgeon General’s warning against the consumption of alcoholic beverages while pregnant. Relax and get back to your shopping.
6. Have a Nosy Question? Keep It to Yourself
Weirdly, some people seem to suppose that ordinary restrictions against asking nosy questions (“Are you getting an epidural?” “Planning to breastfeed?”) are lifted for the pregnant. Again, no.
I don’t mind if a question seems to arise out of genuine excitement for the birth of a new human being. For example, it doesn’t bother me when people ask about names or the child’s sex. (The proviso being, of course, that you should not express regret if the child is the “wrong” sex. Yes, four boys. Four wonderful boys. Exciting, no?) But asking medical questions of strangers is always rude, unless someone has just collapsed writhing on the floor. No exceptions for the pregnant.
7. Want to Help a Pregnant Woman? Here’s Some Things You Can Do
After so many points urging people to mind their own business, I’m worried of giving the wrong impression. A lot of people do feel goodwill towards pregnant women, and that’s nice. I appreciate genuine efforts to be helpful, even if they’re not always needed. There’s absolutely no chance that I’ll snap at you if you hold a door for me.
I was deeply grateful to the kindly gentleman who offered to return my grocery cart last week as I struggled to manage bags, car keys and recalcitrant toddlers. That’s a wonderful impulse, and much appreciated. Pregnancy can certainly be tiring, because even as you run around dealing with life, your body is busily engaged in fostering another life.
So what actually helps? Well. How about giving me a break if my clothes don’t quite fit? I think this one is tough for some people because (as already noted) the pregnant form causes them discomfort. But catering to all these delicate sensibilities is a real challenge, given that pregnancy is already a sartorial nightmare. It’s hard to stay tucked and trim when your body is changing size by the week. If I can keep my entire torso covered in some way, can we just say that’s enough? Postpartum, I’ll get back to being a fashion plate ASAP.
Dietary stuff. I’m pretty relaxed about it, but it’s not crazy to fret about listeria or the mercury levels in the fish. If a pregnant woman has a bunch of questions for the hostess or waiter, humor her.
Judging a pregnant woman for her weight gain is just mean. And you really can’t know what her story is anyway. My first pregnancy, I gained 40 pounds and felt panicked; it all melted away within five months. Since then I haven’t worried about it. Before my most recent pregnancy, I was at my college weight, ten pounds less than before I became a mom. (That probably has something to do with the calories I burn chasing all these wonderful boys.) In any case, the point is that people are different and this is an absurd reason to judge them.
Finally, if a very pregnant woman is slow or slightly late for something, you can help by giving her some leeway. Just think of her like someone who’s been working extra-long shifts or training for a big athletic event. She’s not a child or an invalid, just a little bit more burdened than usual. And that’s not just from the baby. It’s from all those silly people asking her whether she’s getting an epidural or if she’s heard of that recent study about pregnancy and coffee. Don’t be one of those people. Just pass the cream and sugar.