People’s tongues are often looser around pregnant women, which I like to think is a side effect of excitement about the science-magic happening insider her body, and the cute baby that will hopefully come out of it. Maybe there’s a kind of evolutionary instinct to become overly involved in the life of a pregnant person because somewhere in our monkey brains we think, “I must offer her my unsolicited advice in order to help perpetuate our species.” But the rule is very simple: If you wouldn’t say the kind of things you’re saying to someone who wasn’t pregnant, then you probably shouldn’t say them to a pregnant person. And in case you’re the kind of person who makes a habit out of commenting to people about their bodies, maybe just… don’t say anything. Ever.
Sometimes pregnant women are treated very nicely: They are given seats on public transportation, priority seating on planes, and people are usually more understanding of their physical or emotional limitations. But often, pregnant women are treated as though they were adorable animals at a children’s petting zoo: They are touched without permission; they are cooed over. Guys, it’s not fun to be a petting zoo lamb. It’s even less fun to be treated as the subject of someone’s concern-trolling, which happens pretty frequently as well.
The thing is, I don’t think 95% of people ever mean anything bad by the things they’re saying when they comment on a pregnant woman's body. I think it's more a case of them just not thinking their words through (which, of course, tends to be a problem in all walks of life). So if you don’t mean anything negative, how can you know what to avoid saying to your pregnant loved ones? Well, I’ll tell you...
Look. I know my belly is big, but could you not? Could. you. just. please. not? Not only are women culturally programmed to want to be as slim as possible (which is annoying and problematic on many levels and hopefully ignored as much as possible, but it’s hard to ignore something that is being shouted at you through a bullhorn 24/7 from the time you’re about three years old) so being told they’re huge could be insulting and hurtful. Besides, whether or not she buys into that crap, pregnancy is weird. Your trusty old body seems to be betraying you at every turn—you can’t eat any of the foods you used to love without throwing up, you have sciatica, your nose is always runny—and it’s changing very dramatically, very quickly. It takes some getting used to. The last thing a pregnant woman needs amid reconciling all these changes is to have some a-hole gawk at her and declare her to be “so huge!”
"You're So Tiny!"
“But wait! You just said not to tell a woman she’s huge because it might be construed as an insult! So wouldn’t ‘you’re so tiny’ be a compliment?” Oh poor, naive you. Haven’t you learned that women can never, ever, ever win when it comes to their bodies? Since women with all body types are told that they’re bodies are wrong and terrible in some way since the time they’re little kids, and since humans are flawed, sad beasts who fight off insecurity daily, pretty much anything you say about someone’s body—even if it sounds like a compliment to you—is likely to trigger some latent insecurities, no matter how you mean it. Again, this is why we just don’t comment on people’s bodies.
While you may be trying to compliment someone on their adorable baby bump and don’t mean anything malicious, telling someone she’s so tiny might cause her to worry about the health of her baby, especially if her doctor has told her she’s measuring behind or may have to deliver early, or if she has a history of small babies. While I myself have zero experience in this arena (no one could ever have called my belly tiny: I had massive babies and a belly to match), several of my friends have bemoaned this “compliment” to me, some saying it actually triggered their preexisting anxiety. So just as the Lorax spoke for the trees, I’m speaking for the women who have been told their bellies are tiny: Don’t do it!
"I Can Tell You're Having A Girl Just By Looking At You."
Stop. Everyone knows “I can tell you’re having a girl” is code for “I think you look like crap.” Old wive’s tales hold that you’re having a girl if you’re gaining weight everywhere, you have acne, your face gets round, you don’t have that “pregnancy glow,” your boobs are uneven, and you’re moodier than usual. And then there’s the overarching, weird-ass myth that baby girls steal their mother’s beauty. (Sidenote: see how they pit us against one another before we’re even born, ladies?!) We all know these (not true) myths, so when you say, “Oh you’re having a boy/girl” we have a pretty good idea how you’re interpreting our physical appearance.
“I Had [Negative Pregnancy Attribute], Too.”
Don’t think just by saying you were once on the same team makes the fact that you’re telling someone they’re looking worse for wear any nicer. I know, I know you’re trying to offer sympathy and solidarity and maybe even assure them there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. But you should remember from your own time gestating a mini-human that, when you’re in the thick of it, pregnancy feels like it never. ends. I’m still convinced I was pregnant with my son for about 8 years.
"Look At You Waddle!"
I got this a lot from one particular student intern at work. He thought it was funny to point out how silly and slow my walk was. One day, I couldn’t take it anymore and I burst into tears and then he turned really red and wrote me an obsequious (and ultimately adorable) e-mail. If a pregnant lady waddles, chances are she knows it (particularly if she, like yours truly, is waddling on account of cripplingly painful sciatica). No one wants to be reminded that though look like a graceless buffoon.
"You Look So Tired."
Maybe because I am! For one thing, being pregnant is often very much its own job, and it takes a lot out of you. When I was pregnant with my first kid, I would go to bed at 8 p.m. because I could. not. keep. my. eyes. open. On top of that, I really think I got better sleep as a new mother than I did when I was pregnant and woke up 4-7 times a night to pee. Honest to God, there were times I considered peeing the bed and feigning embarrassment or surprise, but I didn’t want to do that to my husband or mattress. When I was pregnant the second time, I still had to wake up to pee constantly, but I wasn’t tired all the time—I had the opposite problem of being completely unable to get to sleep without popping a (midwife-approved) Benadryl. And sometimes, pregnant ladies look pregnant when they’re not even (mask of pregnancy, anyone?) Moral of the story: there are lots and lots of reasons a pregnant woman might look tired and never a reason to tell someone they look tired. Tired isn’t good. Who wants to look tired?
"Are You Having Twins?"
No, but you’re about to have both my feet up your ass, so it’s almost like you’re going to be pregnant with twins. WHY WOULD YOU SAY THAT?!
(Fun fact: Those two girls from The Shining? Not twins! It’s kind of obvious if you look closely, but I get that it’s hard to look closely when you’re hiding your eyes in terror.)
Images: J.K. Califf/Flickr; Giphy(7)