Becoming a new mother is arguably one of the most wonderful and bizarre life choices a woman can experience. Your body has been used as an incubator; you've literally had a baby either pushed and/or pulled from your person; you are responsible for another human life and, unfortunately,
people say things to new moms that they wouldn't dare say to anyone else.
The intrusive questions and/or comments a new mother gets are often odd and sometimes rude, and even if they're laced with the best of intentions, they're frequently inappropriate. After I gave birth to my wide-eyed son, people—both friends, family members, and relative strangers—seemed curious enough to ask me questions I couldn't have possibly imagined answering. Comments and inquiries ranged from the sex my partner and I were having before I got pregnant to the
postpartum changes my body was experiencing. Individuals seemed entitled to ask about my body, ask about my intimate, personal decisions, and even ask about my son's body. It was all so strange and weird and annoying and even a little infuriating. I was so busy trying to navigate motherhood and adjust to a new life that being constantly bombarded with personal questions and snide comments only added to my very real feelings of anxiety, exhaustion, and self-doubt.
Which is why a general rule we
all should follow is: if you wouldn't say it to anyone else, don't say it to a new mother. If we could all just give new mothers space and support them instead of interrogate them, perhaps people would stop saying these nine things to new moms: "Was This Planned?"
Asking if a baby was planned or not is asking someone about the sex they're having, which is just the most strange. No one is privy to someone's sexual history, or the manner in which they're having sex, or how often they're having sex. You don't need to know if someone was on birth control or used a condom, if you're not directly affected i.e. their partner. You don't need to know how often two partners are having sex, or the reasons why they're having sex. It's so strange that when a woman procreates, people seem to feel entitled to asking her intrusive questions about her sexual history. Just, no.
"Are You Sleeping?"
It's sort of fascinating that people seem infatuated with a new mother's sleeping schedule. Everyone wants to know if the baby is sleeping and, in turn, if mom is sleeping too. People lose sleep for a variety of reasons—work, school, military service, partying, you name it—yet they feel they're allowed to ask mothers, who they
know aren't sleeping at all, about it. "You Look So Tired"
If you wouldn't say this to the college senior who just pulled an all-nighter in order to write a term paper (guilty) or the minimum-wage worker who just finished working 14 hours in a single day (also guilty), you shouldn't say this to a mother. In fact, you just shouldn't say this to anyone, period. Chances are, they're aware that they look tired, so reminding them of their exhaustion isn't helpful.
"It's Just Going To Get Worse"
Why, people? Why? Are you trying to drive new mothers towards the very real, very palpable brink of insanity? Why don't we say this to college freshmen or new coworkers or high school graduates or, um, anyone else who ends up being an adult with bills and responsibilities? Of course motherhood is going to be—and continue to be—challenging, just like any other adult choice an individual chooses to make. There will always be good and bad in everything, yet the inevitable difficulties of motherhood seems to be the one thing that other parents, and even non-parents, feel entitled to comment on. What a new mother really needs is support, not the feeling of inevitable doom.
"Are You Going Back To Work?"
There are few instances in a woman's life where her ability and/or choice to work is questioned, with little or no thought or remorse. Thanks to gender stereotypes that have long pigeonholed women into the role of sole child rearer, it's become second nature to ask a mother if she plans on working and/or going back to work after she's had a baby. When's the last time you heard a dude with a new baby asked the same thing?
"You Must Have Strong/Weak Genes"
Why are people okay with commenting and/or asking about a person's genetic makeup? Commenting on how a baby looks in relationship to his or her mother—and surmising that a woman's genes are either "strong" or "weak" depending on who the baby looks like—is easily one of the oddest conversations a mother will ever have.
"Have You Started Working Out Yet?"
First of all, don't comment on
anyone's weight. Like, ever. Don't feign concern for someone's health or happiness but talking about their size, as a person's weight is not indicative of either. And while almost all women are under social pressure to adhere to specific standards of beauty—often unattainable—I'd argue that postpartum mothers are even more so. Instead of having the silent permission to enjoy their post-baby bodies in all their beautiful, raw glory, mothers are persuaded to lose the "baby weight" and shrink back down to a size our culture is arbitrarily most comfortable with.
Pregnancy is considered, by our culture at least, to be arguably the only time a woman gets a "pass" for taking up space, and even that isn't entirely true, as pregnant women are shamed for gaining weight, too. That acceptance comes with the caveat that as soon as the baby is born, the space the now-mom takes up is diminished. Which is why people feel entitled to ask about your postpartum workout regimen and ask if you're going to lose the baby weight and ask if you feel okay in your "new" body. It's so incredibly exhausting.
Anything About Her Genitals (Yes, It Happens)
Plenty of people seem oddly obsessed with a woman's vagina after she gives birth. We, as a society, forget that vaginas are incredible: they can expand and contract and shrink, they're used for multiple purposes. In short, they're pretty awesome. Still, our culture has this preconceived notion that birthing a child somehow "ruins" a woman's vagina. I was never asked about "down there" before I had a kid, but the moment I popped one out, it seemed that I was desexualized enough for people to ask me if I'm the "same" or if I tore or if I look different. Um, maybe don't worry about other people's genitals? I think that's a solid, easy rule to follow.
"Is Your Partner Helping?"
I don't recall every being asked if my partner assists in paying the bills or washing clothes or cooking dinner, prior to our successful procreation. However, as soon as we became parents, individuals started asking me if my partner "helps." Not only is it incredibly sexist and disheartening to be asked this questions, as it's indicative of our culture placing the bulk of parenting on women, but it was also just annoying. My partner doesn't "help" parent; he parents. He isn't a babysitter, he isn't a weekend warrior father, and he isn't a back-up to lean on when I'm tired or overwhelmed or in need of assistance. He has just as much responsibility as I do, so asking if he is "helping" is wrong and rude and just, no.