Pregnancy, childbirth, and becoming a mother are some of the most life-altering experiences a woman will go through in her lifetime. When a woman becomes pregnant, she essentially gives over her body to another human for 10 months (because let’s be honest, a full-term pregnancy is closer to 10 months than it is 9) and even longer if she is planning to breastfeed. During this time, her belly will grow, her breasts will grow, and other parts of her will most likely grow too. Her body will be forever changed after giving birth to a child. Her emotions, thought processes, and parts of her personality will also change as she becomes a mother.
When I was pregnant, I found that along with the changes my body was going through, came the fact that the people around me now thought they somehow had the right to comment on my body. It was open for discussion, comments and even unsolicited physical contact. I welcomed the warm smiles I received and enjoyed being told that I was glowing or that I looked beautiful. I felt beautiful. In fact, I felt more beautiful as a pregnant woman than I had at any other time in my life.
Unfortunately, not all of the comments I received were kind or thoughtful, and they were most certainly unsolicited. Now, I know that people don’t mean to be unkind when commenting on a pregnant woman’s body. However, as pregnant women, during this time of great transition in our lives, what you say to us does matter. Besides which, you would never comment on a non-pregnant woman’s body, so why is it OK to do so to a woman who is?
Getting pregnant was no easy task for me. So when the first signs of a baby bump began to show, I couldn’t wait to show it off. I was damn proud of that bump! Watching my belly grow meant that the baby inside was growing, and that was what mattered most. So when the unsolicited comments on the size of my bump began rolling in, I wasn’t sure how to respond. I expected to get some comments on my growing belly, but nothing could have prepared me for the seemingly endless commentary I would receive throughout my pregnancy.
Toward the end of my pregnancy, I found myself not wanting to leave the house for fear of what comments I might receive that day. My son was two weeks overdue in the middle of one of the hottest summers we have had in a while. I was hot, tired, uncomfortable, and yes, big. And I was in no mood for unsolicited commentary on my body or my pregnancy. I was tired of being asked how I was feeling and when my baby was due, and being told of some different method that was sure to induce labor. Trust me, I had already tried it. I wanted to be left alone. And I am sure I wasn’t the first pregnant woman to feel that way.
Here’s what I have to say to everyone who wants to comment on a woman’s pregnant body:
A woman’s body, pregnant or otherwise, is not up for discussion. Don’t assume that she must be having twins because you think her belly is large. Of course, it’s large. There is a human growing inside of it! And certainly don’t ask her if she is having twins. If you must ask, then accept her answer if she says no; don’t respond with, “Are you sure?” or “Oh wow, then that must be one big baby!” No woman wants the thought of some gigantic baby in their mind as she prepares to give birth. Do not use words such as huge, big, large, wide or massive when describing a woman’s pregnant belly, or any other part of her body for that matter. A lady never wants to hear those words in the same sentence as, “You are…”
On the other hand, if you think a woman’s belly looks small for how far along she is, do not tell her that either. What you may not realize is that perhaps her baby is measuring small for gestational age, and it is a great cause of concern and worry for her. Your seemingly innocent comment has now filled her with more worry and stress, two things that do not benefit her or her baby.
What you think about the size and shape of her pregnant body is of no concern to her. She did not invite you to share with her your thoughts on how she looks. She did not ask you to guess how far along she is, or if you think her belly looks too big or too small for where she is at in her pregnancy. She did not ask you to share the horror stories of your traumatic birth experience or the birth of someone you know, mere weeks before she is due. She did not ask you to guess the gender of her baby based on the shape of her belly. If she did want your opinion on what she is having, she would ask. She did not ask you to stop her on the street so that you could touch her belly. Would you rub her belly if there wasn’t a baby inside of it? Probably not. So don’t assume it’s OK to do so just because she is pregnant. And don’t tell her to “sleep now because once that baby comes, you’ll never sleep again.” Trust me, she is trying to sleep. No need for the reminder.
If you really feel compelled to comment on a pregnant woman’s body, try just saying a simple, “you look great” or “congratulations.” Tell her that parenthood is wonderful. Or, you could say nothing at all, and instead. give her a smile or hold the door open for her. A simple gesture such as that can go a long way.