Having a baby is a lesson. It is a lesson in patience and humility, it is a lesson in generosity and respect for the power of a womans body. Unfortunately it is also a lesson in the power of careless words and speaking before you think. Now that our amazing baby is almost six months old I can reflect on Caras pregnancy with joy and wonder, and also a little cringing at some of the dumb shit people would say to us about the pregnancy. People often say hurtful or just plain stupid things out of ignorance or pure thoughtlessness, when you are saying these things to a person who is not only scared about all the many many unknowns of childbirth but also riding the waves of hormonal wackiness I believe a little more consideration might be in order. So think of the following blog as helping you to avoid accidentally saying some of the things that made me want to knock people’s teeth out when they thoughtlessly (though innocently) said one of those things one should never say to a pregnant couple.
1) The only thing to say about a pregnant woman’s body is “You look beautiful!”.
Lets face it, we live in a culture where women’s bodies are constantly and bizarrely open to public comment. The covers of countless shitty gossip rags are full of articles about how this or that person is “too” fat or “too” skinny complete with blown up photos of a cellulite thigh. Many women in our society were expressly told by their parents, friends, or boyfriends that their bodies were somehow imperfect, even the most independent and self actualized woman often harbors a fear of public comment about their bodies. So when some well-meaning person says “My god you look HUGE!” it doesn’t matter that said buffoon wa talking about her belly full of baby and may even mean it as a compliment, after 20+ years of being terrified of being called fat in public this comment carries a lot of psychic harm.
Consider that you are speaking to person whose body has radically transformed in months, not years, into something unrecognizable. A pregnant woman’s body looks different, feels different, occupies otherwise familiar spaces differently, also these bodies are producing tons of hormones that the mother is not used to, these may make the pregnant woman feel nervous, angry, protective, or depressed and the last thing they need is to deal with the fallout in their minds of a society that values woman primarily by their appearance at a time when that appearance is going crazy.
In short, if you must comment then keep the comment positive and accentuate the good aspects of the pregnancy on her body. Trust me on this, no matter how funny you think you are or how much “she must realize how big she is” you are going to get a pregnant lady karate chop to the throat if you go there.
2) We have already heard it.
What do I mean by “it”? I mean all of it. Any of it, and I guarantee that you are not going to be telling us something we fucking don’t already know about pregnancy. She shouldn’t eat sushi while pregnant? we fucking already heard that shit 400 times. Oh my life is about to change? Thanks for assuming im such a fucking idiot that I don’t realize that creating a new life that i will be responsible for clothing, feeding, loving, education, and protecting for 18 years might cause my life to change a little bit. Oh you read this great book? Thanks Bookie McReviewer, good thing you read my mind and realized I wanted to have yet more shit to read than the 5000 books every pregnant couple gets “gifted”. We heard what Dr So-and-so said, we heard about cloth diapers vs. disposable, we heard about what too much caffeine can do, we heard about playing music for the fetus, we read all about the hospital/midwife center/witch doctor that is a magical wizard when it comes to zooming babies out of the vajayjay and into a bassinet. Guess what, If we don’t Ask then keep your fucking nugget of wisdom to yourself.
Pregnant couples are already drowning is a sea of information, we obsessively read, watch, listen to any and all things relating to pregnancy. It’s like we dropped into a 9 month intensive college course where the final exam involves my wife pushing a live human out of her body, you don’t think were gonna do a little research on that shit!? So when you come up with this really important thing you saw on Ellen or on (that fucking) A Baby Story it is almost 100% of the time just adding another tiny little brick of stress to our lives.
oh and if the tidbits you wish to share with us is a fucking horror story about your or someone you knows shitty birth experience then. . . .
3) Keep your shitty birth experience story to your goddamn self.
You are not helping. You’re not. Telling my wife about your 500 hours of bloody fucking screaming labor, or how your poor baby had to have an extra toe removed from its precious goddamn skull or how the nurse laughed at you when you screamed for morphine and how you needed 52 stitches is not helping. It might help you to justify your pain and to process your traumatic experience, but you need to do that shit with someone who is NOT about to give birth in a few weeks or months. We already live in a culture which treats birth like a disease and there are actual television series (like that shit sucking A Baby Story) whose entire premise is “look how fucked up this birth thing is yo!” Our Doctors have already spelled out exactly how crazy and heavy this is going to be, we don’t need someone telling us about the horror story their cousins birth was.
Think of it this way, if your best friend was about to go on a plane and was terrified of flying, would you a) tell them it will be fine or b) describe about how your neighbors brother died in a fiery crash? Look, your experience is valid, and if you overcame some serious shit then you are a fucking hero (really) and I have nothing but respect for you, but can we talk about it after my wife has her own experience? Because scaring the shit out of us really is not a help at all, not even a little bit.
4) Don’t predict our doom.
Telling me that I have no idea about how shitty my life will be with a baby, sucks. Telling my wife that her body will be destroyed by birth or that she wont be able to handle the sort of birth she wants really sucks. Telling us that fraising kids is really hard and that maybe we wont enjoy our lives anymore (because they don’t enjoy theirs since kids came into it) sucks and is kind of sad. A surprising number of people seemed to take perverse delight in letting us know how naive we were and about how we would never sleep, have fun, travel, eat at restaurants, or “hang out” ever again. It turns out that they were all wrong, at least about our lives, maybe their lives suck that bad. I certainly hope not, but that’s what they seemed to be going through and confidently predicted we would too.
Maybe these people (and its usually guys) don’t like having kids, it certainly sounds that way. They have every right to feel what they feel but its a sad and desperate sort of attempt to project the fact that having kids is not their bag onto us before we’ve had a chance to try it for ourselves. Perhaps I could have hated it too, maybe I could have regretted my “loss” of “freedom”, but it was our experience to have and the smarmy predictions of how miserable we would be just added more worry to our minds when it wasn’t really necessary.
Even worse was when we told people that we were going to have the baby at a midwife center with no drugs, oh the looks of “yea right, good luck with that, hippy” followed almost every time with “Yea you say that now, wait til you’re in labor!” Well my wife did wait til she was in labor, and then the proceeded to have a baby while standing up feeling and every second of it. Guess what? she tells me she would do it again in a heartbeat. She is a bad ass, but lots of folks who consider us their friends predicted that she would crumble like a cookie and it sometimes caused us to doubt ourselves when we should have been pumped up by those we love instead of torn down with bummer predictions.
Even if you are right, and even if your dire predictions are going to come true, why on earth would you want to put that onto us before we go into one of the biggest moments of our lives? Are these the kind of people who tell their buddies right before marriage, “well, no more having fun for you!”? Think about it, are you that unhappy that you need to project that misery onto other people before they have their own turn at this thing called “being a parent”?
So basically the gist of this article is to say that for Cara and I (and, I’m guessing, lots of pregnant couples) there was a surprising amount of thoughtless or outright ignorant comments and while many were well-intentioned, the final result was to cause stress at a point when more stress was acutely painful. Pregnant ladies are sensitive, their babies daddies are protective, and at a time when the world seems chaotic and unpredictable a few kind words will (and did) do wonders for our mental state. So, what should one say to a pregnant couple? Unless specifically asked, I would keep my stories and medical opinions to myself, I would tell any expecting couple that they will do great, that their experience will be awesome, that mom looks beautiful and that I’m sure they will have a great birth! Even if you are wrong, who wants to be the one who predicted a tragedy in a friend or loved ones life. Keep it positive or keep it to yourself.