A significant amount of time after the birth of my first baby, my husband, daughter, and I went to the nearby grocery store for our weekly shopping trip. All went well, until the very end. As we carried our bags and placed the cart in the corral, I was stopped by an employee who wanted to congratulate me on my pregnancy. The problem? I wasn't pregnant. There's a lot of things I wish I could've said to to this man, because I was nearly 24 months postpartum when he made that congratulatory comment. To this day, I think of that memory with such sadness.
My belief is, no matter how pregnant you think someone appears to be, you should never say a word about it until they do. In my case, I'd had a great day. I was wearing a flowing sundress that, for the first time in a while, made me feel beautiful. After a long bout of depression, I was starting to feel alive again. This man couldn't have known any of this, but the instant the words were between us, it was almost as if he stole my joy. All the progress I thought I'd made as a new mother with a postpartum body, and all the self-assurance I was sure I'd re-gained, was taken from me instantly.
I cried all the way home and on into the night. I remember my husband trying to console me but, at the time, I couldn't accept his comfort. I was so thrown by the preceding events, it sent me back into the depression I'd spent so much time fighting off. So if you're ever in this man's position, I urge you to read my words and think about the ways your seemingly harmless (and probably very well-intentioned) "congratulations" might affect a person's day, week, and even livelihood. Here are some things I wish I could've said to that man, and any other individual that may make the same mistake in the future.
"I Know You Mean Well"
I get it. You see a woman glowing with confidence and she happens to have a body shaped in a way that makes you think "pregnancy." You want to do something kind and articulate your happiness for her. You aren't coming from a negative place, and you honestly believe you'll make my day and I'll be grateful someone was kind enough to notice.
However, I urge you to stop for a second.
Think about what that woman (me) might be going through that you know nothing about. Whether or not I'm actually pregnant doesn't matter. I could have diabetes, cancer, a rare stomach or eating disorder — any number of things that cause weight gain. You may even trigger suppressed feelings if it was something I didn't want acknowledged. The kindest thing you can do, in this situation, is to literally say nothing.
"I Have Severe Postpartum Depression (PPD)"
At the time of this incident, I'd just come out of a long, grueling fight for my life. Diagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD), after suicidal thoughts began to take over, it took dedication and perseverance to stick with my treatment plan. This man didn't know of my struggles, or how far I'd come to walk through that store with my husband and daughter. Be empathetic to what others battle behind closed doors. You never know what small thing could set their progress back.
"I Was Already Insecure"
I've had issues with self-esteem my entire life. After battling eating disorders and watching my weight shoot up and down, I'd grown accustomed to walking with my head hung low. I never expected strangers to pick me out of a crowd and point out anything about me, let alone something that wasn't even true.
On that day — a rare day in which I felt pretty — this man stole every last drop of confidence I had in me. I never wore that dress again. I feared others would see what he saw, they'd point it out, and I'd never be able to regain any confidence or self-esteem.
"I Already Tried To Lose Weight & Couldn't"
By this time, my daughter was old enough to walk and talk. I'd already joined Weight Watchers and lost a few pounds of so-called "baby weight," but nothing noticeable. I didn't feel like myself just yet and, with additional, lingering PPD symptoms, my health wasn't the greatest. I tried to care of myself, but the overwhelm of being a new mother, working, and managing my depression had me pulled in so many directions, I didn't feel capable of much else.
Please don't look at a person and assume anything, ever. You just don't know what they've been through, you have no idea how healthy or unhealthy they are by their appearance alone, and you have no idea if you're throwing salt and already open and aching wound.
"I've Been Struggling To Have Another Baby"
Did I mention my husband and I have been trying to have another baby? We've yet to be successful. Assuming I'm pregnant, when I'm not, was a horrible reminder that I am not, in fact, pregnant when I so badly want to be. It's an excruciating pain I endure all day, everyday. As if my body deems me not worthy to carry another.
Once I go home and throw my dress away, I'll cry on the bed, wishing for the baby that hasn't come yet. But hey, thank you for reminding me of the pain I wanted to forget, just long enough to buy our groceries for the week.
"You've Hurt Me In Ways I Can't Explain"
While this memory will pass for you, kind sir, it never will for me. While I may touch on the emotions you've triggered in congratulating me on a pregnancy that doesn't exist, it barely scratches the surface of all I've buried inside. No matter how well-intentioned you are, you've caused a pain I can't seem to heal from. Your words made me feel as though everything I did to feel better about myself and my life, meant nothing. Almost as if you ripped my seams a part. One sentence, a few words later, you've triggered the avalanche that would send me back into depression. When it came down to it, I felt like I'd failed at all I wanted to overcome. I had no power. You did. Next time, I hope you'll use that power to simply move along, quietly.
"Please Think Twice The Next Time"
When I was a child, someone stopped my mom to ask her when she was due. I still remember the offense in her voice as she tearfully replied, "I'm not pregnant." The woman obviously felt bad she'd said anything at all, but it didn't replace the confidence her words stole from my mom (who also struggled with her weight and self-esteem).
No matter how confident you are that someone is pregnant, especially someone you don't even know, do everyone a favor and don't ask. Saying nothing may restrain you for the moment, but it also saves that woman from hours, weeks, and even years of the pain it could potentially cause.