Last week, I cried almost every day because of comments made about my pregnant belly. Because I'm petite (5'0") and this is my third pregnancy, I popped even earlier than with my other two children. At nearly 27 weeks, my belly is large and in-charge. Throughout this pregnancy, I've had a positive self-image, but lately that confidence has dwindled.
Because nearly every day last week I had someone ask when I was due. When I would say in three months, I usually received a "WOW," as in, wow, you are big, and wow, that is a long-time from now, how are you going to make it.
It was always directed at my size. Always.
Me with 2 pregnant friends & colleagues who just had their babies last month
I would respond with a halfhearted laugh and a "yep, guess my body knew what to do this time around" or "downside of being short -- there's nowhere for the baby to go," but inside I felt shame and wanted to cry.
After having two people comment on my belly before 9 a.m., I called my friend Sarah as I drove to work. A petite mama like me who has four kids, I knew she would commiserate. She did, and reminded me that I need to remember that my body was doing what it was supposed to do -- growing to accommodate that beautiful little life being knit in my womb.
I'm not sure why some people feel like pregnancy is an invitation to make remarks about a woman's size, but after three pregnancies, I can attest that this is the case.
Friends, just because a woman is pregnant, that does not give us permission to talk about her weight, marvel at the size of her belly, or rub her tummy like she's Buddha. Just because a woman is pregnant, that does not make your oohs, ahhhs, & wows not "personal" -- pregnancy is always personal... Perhaps among our trusted inner circles these conversations are still acceptable. But that's for those who are pregnant to decide and not for the rest of us to assume.
The post generated hundreds of likes and dozens of comments from men and women alike with similar stories. It made me feel better to know I wasn't alone in my feelings of shame and frustration. It also demonstrated that though this has been said before, it needs to be said again today.
Pregnancy is a wondrous miracle that should be celebrated. The changes that a woman's body goes through are intense, both physically and emotionally. During the season of pregnancy, and in the months that follow, mothers should be treated with compassion, through actions and words. Pregnancy is NOT an invitation to remark on the size of a woman.
If you know a woman is expecting and feel compelled to comment on her pregnancy, ask about her or celebrate the baby. Be tender and say things like:
- How are you feeling?
- Can I help you in any way?
- You have that beautiful pregnancy glow.
- What are you most looking forward to when the baby comes?
Do not say things like:
- When are you due? (Unless this person is a close friend or family member, you don't really need to know.)
- Wow. ("Wow" should be reserved for things that are truly incredulous and never about a woman's size.)
- Are you having twins? (Unless this information is offered, it should not be suggested. Ever. When I was pregnant with Elias I had a delivery man who delivered to my office repeatedly ask if I was having triplets. Eventually I got so upset my office manager put him in his place.)
- Your belly looks small -- is the baby OK? (Though this hasn't been my story, I have had friends who have had this experience. If there is cause for concern about growth, the mother's doctor or midwife will raise that concern.)
- Can I touch your belly? (Because seriously, would you do this to someone who was not pregnant? Unless the mother offers, do not ask.)
Some might argue that asking about due dates or commenting on a woman's belly are not intentionally hurtful actions, but that isn't the point. What matters is how those comments make pregnant women feel.
When you were pregnant, did you have people say things about your size or state of pregnancy that hurt your feelings? What did they say and how did you respond?
A version of this post first appeared on The Mom Creative.